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What’s Up With Boston College Men’s Hockey?

The Eagles are 1-3-2 in February.

2016 Beanpot Tournament - Semifinals Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Boston College MIH is one of the best teams on campus year in and year out, and Coach York is one of the most respected guys in hockey. Being one of the top teams in the conference and ending the season on the NCAA Tournament bubble would be a good year for most teams, but for Eagles fans this feels like a let down.

BC looked decent for much of the season, but they’ve struggled a lot in the past month, going 1-3-2 in February. This team has talent but is struggling to win. So what’s going on?

(I’m not in the locker room or at practice, so obviously these are just my perceptions as a fan. Also I believe in this team a lot, despite my criticism.)

  1. Starting off with something that isn’t BC’s fault, we have to talk about officiating. I’m generally against blaming the refs for losses. There are going to be bad calls in games, and if a team is good enough to win they should be able to win in spite of those bad calls. But it can’t be ignored that the Hockey East refs aren’t great. They are inconsistent with their calls, miss obvious penalties, and recently cost BC a big pairwise victory against Northeastern by calling off a good goal. So the officiating certainly hasn’t helped BC this season. (Although BC could certainly reign it in a little to try and get fewer penalties.)
  2. Building off of that is the fact that BC’s special teams play has been rough this season. The penalty kill is just okay at 82.7% and the Eagles convert on power-plays only 15.4% of the time. When you’re spending a lot of time playing shorthanded, you need to be really solid on the PK and you need to be able to take advantage of the times when you actually have a man advantage. The Eagles have traditionally had a very strong penalty kill and there are many games that they would have won but for power play goals by their opponents, so this in particular is concerning. The penalty kill will likely improve next year with an older group of core defensive players, but the coaches are going to need to figure out how to teach this team to score on the power play.
  3. Defense in general has been a problem for the Eagles this year. The 3 “veteran” players on defense this season are: a senior (Scott Savage), a sophomore (Casey Fitzgerald), and a sophomore who joined the team 2nd semester as a freshman (Michael Kim). Growing pains are to be expected, but it seems as though the defense has been breaking down more lately as compared to a couple months ago. There have been some great defensive plays, but the defense needs to be more consistent and needs to continue to ensure that they aren’t getting in Woll’s way.
  4. Joe Woll is a great goalie. He has the potential to be one of the more skilled goalies to play at BC. But his reflexes have been slow since the Beanpot, and he’s let in some easy goals because of it. He could be playing through injury, he could be too in his own head, or he could just be tired from starting every game in recent months and facing so many shots. If the coaches keep making the decision to start him, he must be performing much better than the other goalies in practice, but it’s hard not to think that it might be time to let him rest for a game and give Edquist a shot.
  5. Woll isn’t the only player to look tired - they all do. Energy in pre-game practice looks lower than usual, and the team seems tired out by the second period. The younger guys in particular need to learn how much they can give each period in order to not be totally wiped partway through the third. Coaches and captains also need to keep morale up (which is something Coach York is good at).
  6. This could just be because the whole team seems exhausted, but team chemistry has looked off. At the beginning of the season I thought this team looked like they were gelling really well, but lately a lot of the players seem to be having trouble knowing where their teammates are on the ice, which has resulted in a lot of sloppy passes and a lot of giveaways. This has been one of the biggest problems across the board. Injuries and illnesses resulting in line changes probably haven’t helped with this.

Everything isn’t bad this season, despite the fact that I just said a lot of negative things. Ryan Fitzgerald, Matthew Gaudreau, and Austin Cangelosi have been fairly consistent and have been playing well. The freshmen have work to do, but they’ve been improving - David Cotton’s stamina is better, Julius Mattila has had great hustle lately, Graham McPhee has shown some nifty puck handling, and Connor Moore leads the team with 43 blocked shots. I’d be much more concerned if we weren’t seeing improvement from the younger players.

A lot of these problems are likely due to the fact that BC is such a young team, but not a young team with first round talent. And that isn’t a bad thing - the Eagles have a group of talented freshmen and sophomores that will likely stay four years and develop into really solid players. Eeli Tolvanen joining the team should be a big boost next year, although BC will miss the offense from Gaudreau, Fitzgerald, and Cangelosi. Hopefully players like David Cotton and JD Dudek will step up to make up for those losses. The coaches are going to need to figure out how to fix the defensive breakdowns and weak special teams play, but I’m cautiously optimistic about where this team is headed.