The Boston College Eagles opened their hockey season last night with a 6-4 victory over the University of New Brunswick, in a highly competitive, fast-paced, physical game at Conte Forum. Alex Tuch was the highlight for BC, scoring two goals including one snipe on a breakaway in the second period. Thatcher Demko, Brad Barone and Brian Billett each took a period between the pipes, with Demko and Barone allowing a goal each and Billett yielding two.
Some observations from the game:
- First of all, it was just good to have hockey back. The offseason is long and boring. Even if it was just an exhibition, it was nice to see the team after all the offseason discussion.
- Sit, Straight, Smith: The "SSS" line started the game for BC and looked very good early. Quinn Smith in particular seemed to have a little extra jump in his step and was flying around in the first few shifts. Michael Sit roofed a goal early in the first period on a laser of a shot after Steve Santini picked him out with a cross-ice pass. The line was a little quieter the rest of the game, particularly after Destry Straight was briefly sent to the locker room after being on the receiving end of a crushing hit .
- Tuch, Calnan, Gilmour: As I mentioned above, Alex Tuch was the highlight of the game for BC, scoring two goals and leading the team with five shots on goal. Given that Tuch is a big, strong forward and that he's wearing #12, it was hard not to make Kevin Hayes comparisons. His poise and strength on the puck was Hayes-ian indeed. This whole line, I think, is going to be really fun to watch for BC. It's a different kind of top line than the ones we are used to with BC--more of a physical, cycling line rather than an up-and-down speed burner line. Calnan and Gilmour were such solid, smart players last year and I think both have potential to be star players. Calnan scored the sixth goal for BC, and Gilmour had three assists.
- Cangelosi, Fitzgerald, Sanford: This line was the biggest disappointment for me. They were largely invisible, with Fitzgerald and Cangelosi also each taking penalties within minutes of one another in the third period. Fitzgerald and Cangelosi ended up with one shot on goal each, and Sanford had none. They just didn't seem to get anything going the entire game. I'm not going to overreact to an exhibition, but I felt like Fitzgerald looked a lot better on the wing last year than he did at center; we'll see if he struggles to find his groove at center or if things improve in the real games.
- Spiro, Gaudreau, Linell: This was an interesting line that had a few strong moments during the game. Cam Spiro and Danny Linell executed a brilliant 2-on-1 goal in the second period when Spiro took the puck wide, waited until the perfect moment, then slid it across the front of the net to a wide open Linell, who stuffed it home. Hopefully Grant gets the GIF machine working so you can see just how nice this play was.
- Defense: The defense was a mixed bag after the talk all summer about how good BC's defense is going to be this year. UNB ended up with a number of dangerous offensive opportunities, especially in the second period when Brad Barone turned aside several breakaways and wide open shots before UNB finally cashed in on a shorthanded breakaway late in the frame. We are definitely going to see opponents get chances off BC due to the defensemen's willingness to pinch in and jump into the play.
While I was concerned by some of the breakdowns during the game, looking back there are some positives. First of all, UNB only had 24 shots on goal (to 23 for BC). Secondly, UNB only had one even-strength goal, scoring two PPG and one shorthanded goal.
- I liked BC's physical engagement in the game. Playing against an older team with a lot of size and strength, BC was very willing to dish out big hits and never appeared physically overmatched.
- The goaltenders looked pretty good though neither Demko nor Billett faced anything resembling a barrage, making 6 and 4 saves respectively. Brad Barone faced the stiffest test of any of the three goalies and did quite well, making 10 saves on 11 shots in the second period.
- For the most part, I feel pretty positive about the game. It wasn't great, but it was BC's first game, against a tough opponent, and they looked physical, engaged, quick, and ready to play. While the Eagles probably aren't going to thrive in a lot of ten-goal games this year, I think we'll see the penalty kill tighten up based on how successful they were last year. I also thought BC showed a few spurts of being an explosive, dominant team, both early in the first period and late in the second period when the Eagles built their 2-0 and 5-1 leads.
- One thing that concerned me: the ice was not very good. Hopefully this can be chalked up to the warm-ish rainy day outside but the poor ice conditions led to a jumpy puck in both the men's and women's games on Saturday. At one point during the men's game the ref had to bring out a broom to sweep up a puddle that formed in front of the UNB bench. Not good.
The Eagles return to the ice Friday night in Lowell for the regular season opener, in what should be a fascinating matchup between two teams that have to replace a whole lot of their top players from last season. Let's get it started!