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Boston College Men’s Hockey Midseason Roundtable

How have the Eagles been playing compared to our expectations?

2016 Beanpot Tournament - Championship Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

1. How has the team played in comparison to your preseason expectations?

Laura: Results-wise, this season has gone about how I expected so far. A few great wins, some bad losses, and a better Hockey East record than out of conference record. Defense has been weaker overall than I expected though.

Grant: Well, it’s hard to see anyone saying they’ve underperformed, right? I mean, hell, if the season ended today they’d be in the national tournament. I know we all were hoping to see them on the tournament bubble, and they’re on the right side of it.

So nationally, they’re doing rather well. In-conference, you’d have to say they’re doing exceptionally well. They’re already done with most of the top teams already -- BC is 1st, and they’re done with #2 (NU), #3 (PC), and #4 (BU). Not only that, but they didn’t lose a series with any of them! UMass-Lowell is the only top half team they have left. Hopefully with a softer 2nd half, we see BC continue to play strong and we see some further development of the young players.

Steven: Unsurprisingly with a team this young, I think it has mostly been a mixed bag. They're currently sitting atop the Hockey East standings and they do have wins over good teams in Providence and Northeastern as well as a BU team that I'm convinced will get better as the season goes on. But man, that out of conference play was uninspiring to say the least. There was a six game stretch early on where BC got run over by Wisconsin, swept by St. Cloud State, and beaten 6-1 by Denver in a game that honestly could have been worse. And sure, those are some of the best teams in the country and no one really pegged BC to be at that level yet, but seeing just how big the gap is was a bit concerning. But as good teams do, they righted the ship shortly thereafter and won a whole bunch of games in a row against lesser opponents. Now they're set up for a good run in the second half, which is about all you could ask for after the start of the season. If I had to give a letter grade, I'd probably land at a solid B, leaning slightly closer to a B- than a B+.

Bailin: I really don’t know what I expected from this team. There was a wide range of possibilities from this team, from a ton of struggles to defying expectations. In reality, it was kind of in the middle, and that really doesn’t surprise me a tremendous amount. The new players took some time to get used to the college game, and the Eagles struggled against some of the nation’s best teams. The team has its footing now, as was anticipated, and now the team is probably a little bit better than anticipated, but that a lot to do with how bad the league is this year.

2. What's your biggest concern as the season moves forward?

Laura: I’ve been concerned by the amount of defensive breakdowns we’ve seen. It is tough to win when you’re giving up chances, and our defensemen are better than that. BC also needs to cool it on the penalties because they are out of control.

Grant: BC is 14th in the Pairwise and 13th in KRACH… but they’re 38th in team offense and 30th in team defense. I get that we had a tough schedule to start the season, but things calmed down considerably in the second quarter of the year. Almost every one of our wins have been close. Those are going to start going the other way eventually. We really need to find a way to win games a little more comfortably, otherwise I worry that we’ll start losing these close ones and fall on the wrong side of the bubble.

Steven: There are two things about this team that I find most concerning. I think only one is fixable.

The problem I don't see changing is that this team really lacks the high end skating talent at forward that they're used to having. Not everyone is going to be a Chris Kreider or a Miles Wood, but this year's team just doesn't seem to have the skating talent to play the fast style of game that Jerry York wants. They have a few good skaters, Logan Hutsko and Jacob Tortora are impressive for freshman, but there just isn't enough of that right now. They can survive against most if not all of Hockey East, but teams like Denver will continue skate all over them in all three zones.

The issue that I hope is fixable is the powerplay. The powerplay is, in a word, horrendous. They're hitting at 14.3 percent right now, somehow a step down from last year's 16.3 percent. To me, there are a number of reasons behind this. For one, the powerplay is far too perimeter oriented. Too many possessions end with a slow developing shot from the point that gets blocked and cleared immediately. The Eagles have also had a really tough time entering the offensive zone with possession on the powerplay, too often settling for a weak dump in that gets settled by the goalie and sent back down the ice. And at a more subjective level, I don't love all the personnel choices that have been made on either of the two units. Historically, the BC powerplay has been best when they use a 4 forward, 1 defensemen look instead of the traditional 3 and 2 style that they have gone with this year. Hopefully some changes get made in the coming weeks, because a team that lacks a ton of 5-on-5 scoring options needs to be clicking at a much better rate on the man advantage.

Bailin: BC has some very tough tests coming up in the second half of the season, with more games against Northeastern and Providence and BC’s three games against Lowell. That’s a brutal look ahead. I’m worried that the grueling schedule (along with some cupcakes) might wear this team down.

3. What has impressed you about the team so far?

Laura: This team has a lot of heart. Even when things start to go south for them, the players keep fighting and keep their heads in the game. That kind of grit can lead to comebacks, and it is particularly impressive for such a young team.

Grant: It’s been pretty nice to see some decent depth. They don’t have any superstar players, but they have a whole bunch of guys who find the net every now and then. That’s been pretty enjoyable.

Steven: For a team without any true seniors and with a roster that has so many underclassmen, the Eagles have actually been really good on the road. They're 7-3-0 when they play away from Conte Forum, and that includes wins over Providence and Northeastern, the two teams directly ahead of them in the pairwise rankings. For comparisons sake, last season's team went 9-5-1 on the road and 2-6-1 in neutral site games. Two of their three losses came in the early season to St. Cloud State, the team currently ranked #1 in those same pairwise rankings. That's a pretty encouraging sign as this team continues to grow and develop of the course of the season.

Bailin: There is a ton of grit on this team, something the team last year was lacking. This team doesn’t get beat easily, and there is a ton of resiliency. That’s a big change in the team, and something that shouldn’t be discounted.

4. MVP so far?

Laura: I’ll give it to Casey Fitzgerald. He contributes on both offense and defense, and is a strong leader. He’s got 9 points, including 3 goals, and he leads the team with 21 blocks. (Fewer penalties from him would be nice though - BC needs him on the penalty kill.)

Grant: Is there an MVP? Woll’s been pretty good. No one on offense has been amazing, but they’ve all been decent. No one on defense has looked like the “best” of that group either.

So I’m going to give it to the entire country of Finland. What a great country. Finland, you are truly the real MVP.

Steven: Joe Woll. Woll is currently sitting at a .913 save percentage but it really feels like he's been better than that. In their seven game winning streak, BC allowed more than one goal just two times. Woll doesn't have a shutout on the season yet, but he was BC's best player when they very much needed him to be their best player. The team is still young and there are going to be defensive lapses and breakdowns that come as a result of that. They also haven't been scoring at the rate that we are used to. Woll has been the one constant through the first half, and they'll need him to keep up his strong run of play as the season goes on.

Also here's a fun stat, Woll has somehow managed to pick up four penalties and 19 PIM on the season. Joe Woll is currently third on the team in penalty minutes. As a goalie. I don't think I love that, but let no man say he isn't passionate about his job. [Ed. note: For a goalie I do love that.]

Bailin: Go Finns.

5. Most improved so far? (either between last season and now or just from October to now)

Laura: Julius Mattila. Mattila leads the Eagles with 14 points and is tied for the team lead in goals (5) and assists (9). Last season he had 16 points the entire year. In addition to showing clear improvement on paper, Mattila’s shooting accuracy has definitely improved and he is much more noticeable on the ice (in a good way).

Grant: Graham McPhee. 2-8—10 last season over a full year, and 5-5—10 already in less than half as many games. I like his chances to hit 25 points with the softer 2nd half schedule.

Steven: I spent most of last season thinking that Graham McPhee was just another bottom six forward who would probably stay there for his whole career. He did a little work on the PK but nothing about his game really stood out to me. Then, completely out of nowhere, he scored one of the prettiest goals of the entire season with a shorthanded beauty against UMass Lowell in the Hockey East Championship Game. It was only his second of the season and the season ended later that night, but it was a play that stuck with me coming into this year.

Through the first half, McPhee has already matched his point total from last season with five goals and five assists. He's tied for second on the team with two powerplay goals and he's become a solid presence who can fit in pretty much anywhere in the lineup. He's been getting top nine minutes playing mostly on Christopher Brown's wing and it's hard to say that his jump in play from his freshman season to his sophomore campaign hasn't merited as much.

Bailin: No one really stands out.

6. Any thoughts on the freshmen?

Laura: The freshmen have looked better than I expected. These are guys that should develop into strong, 4 year players. They might not be superstars, but they’ll keep improving and getting stuff done - this is a good class to build off of. BC’s other newbie, transfer Kevin Lohan, has been a clutch addition to the team - his size and willingness to throw himself in front of the puck have been major.

Grant: Our top 3 players in +/- are freshmen. Isn’t that weird? So not only are there a ton of them putting up some points, but they’ve been playing responsible hockey.

It really feels like this is the kind of class that you can build an excellent 4-year core out of. I love what the team’s makeup is going to be the next few seasons. We’re coming back!

Steven: The freshmen have mostly been good! BC needed at least a few to step up and produce immediately for them (especially with the loss of Eeli Tolvanen) and they've gotten just that. The all freshman line of Logan Hutsko, Christopher Grando, and Aapeli Rasanen has been a joy to watch and Jacob Tortora has cemented himself on one of the other top lines for the entire season. There are certainly some issues, MIchael Karow definitely needs some seasoning and the same can be said for Casey Carreau, but for the most part, it looks like another really solid if unspectacular class for the Eagles. A lot of these guys should be important pieces for the next four years, and that's never a bad thing.

Bailin: There are a lot of really good freshman like Rasanen and Hutsko on this team, and there is a lot to be excited about because of that. If BC can keep most of the freshmen together that is definitely solid to build off.

7. How would this season need to end for you to consider it a success?

Laura: If BC makes the Hockey East finals and at least gets into the NCAA Tournament, I’ll consider this a successful season.

Grant: Let’s make the NCAA tournament and go from there. Winning Hockey East would be pretty incredible too, but that will get us into the NCAA tournament, so that counts. It’ll be cool seeing the young players hit the tournament after a full season and see what they can do with a second shot against some of the top teams that they were thrown into the fire against at the beginning of the year. Who knows if they’ll make any noise, but with all these underclassmen it would be cool to see them make it back. You could kind of call it ahead of schedule.

Steven: With the schedule that they've had to play and the position that they've put themselves in, the fact that BC is right around the Pairwise bubble is no small accomplishment. It also carries some expectations with it. Before the season, I said I thought they would be an at large bid for the NCAA Tournament and I'm sticking with that. What they do once they get there remains to be seen, but I do believe that they will make at least an appearance.

Bailin: I think if this team can make the NCAA tournament that’s success. A lot of people wrote this team off earlier in the season, so to pick up a tournament berth would be a great way to end the season.

8. GIF that describes how you feel about the season so far.





What do you think of the season so far? Let us know in the comments!