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“I have a lot to prove”: An Interview with BC MIH Captain David Cotton

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The captain sits down with BCI to discuss his season so far.

Boston College v Massachusetts-Lowell Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images

When the 2018-19 Boston College men’s hockey season ended last March, all eyes were on then-junior David Cotton’s decision for the following year: would he go pro, or would he return for his senior season? After facing a 14-22-3 record on the season, many believed that he would sign with the Carolina Hurricanes, the team that drafted him 169th overall in 2015. However, he decided to return to the Heights for his senior year after being named captain for the 2019-20 season.

This year, he’s led the Eagles to a 15-7 record so far, good for fifth in the entire country. He’s second on the team in scoring with 28 total points, only behind his linemate Julius Mattila who leads the team with 30. While he and his line are still leading the team in production like they did at this time last year, it’s been a completely different season compared to last.

We talked to David about his BC experience, being captain, and the upcoming trophy season, before diving into a few fun questions.

Why did you choose BC?

David Cotton: I went to prep school at Cushing Academy about an hour away from here, which is when I first got exposed to the Northeast and college hockey. Once I started to become recruited around my sophomore year, I started going on college tours and [noticing] what I liked and didn’t like. I knew I wanted to stay in Hockey East because I didn’t want to live on the bus or fly every other weekend and that was a big factor once I started to narrow down my schools. I [also] knew I wanted to be around Boston so I kind of narrowed [my choices] down to Providence, BU, Northeastern and BC. Providence was a little too small for me, and for Northeastern and BU - I wanted to be near the city but not in the city. [I knew] I wanted to have a campus and to have an actual college experience, so then when I went to tour and visit BC I hit it off with the coaching staff, and [BC] kind of had that perfect mash of getting your college experience and your campus experience and you can still go into the city [and] have that big city feel [while] at the same time having a really good and prestigious hockey program, so it really was a no brainer for me.

Many people expected you to go pro after last season - can you talk about your decision to stay?

Cotton: I guess it was a two parter - one of them was [that] pretty quick after the season I was named captain and it’s one of the things that I don’t think should be taken lightly, especially at a school like BC. When you look at the list of previous captains it’s a pretty prestigious list of people and BC has meant so much to me for these past three years and just to even be recognized as one of those people is a pretty special honor for me. And then the second half of it was, coming to BC you have that expectation that’s just: win. Whether it be Beanpots, Hockey East championships, national championships; you’re just expected to be at that platinum tier. For me that was kind of my ultimate goal - to experience one of those things - especially the national championship. That’s always been a dream of mine. And we’ve come up short; we’ve lost the Beanpot a couple times, lost in the championship game twice in the Hockey East playoffs, and haven’t made the national tournament once. I had a conversation with one of our old coaches, Greg Brown, and he said if you leave, you’re going to have to deal with that. You have to ask yourself, “Is there anything left you have to prove before you leave?” And I think that was the easiest question to ask myself. I have a lot to prove and a lot of things I aspire to win so that was another big part of it.

How do you feel about being nominated for the Hobey Baker Award?

Cotton: I mean there’s a lot of nominees at the start. I think it’s one of those awards that - in college hockey with this many guys people kind of get lost in it because personally on our team I think we could have five guys nominated for it. So it’s nice to have that recognition, but I also think as I want to be recognized, other people on our team should be recognized just as deservingly. But I think Spencer for sure should be one of the top guys looked at for it.

You’ve had some big wins the past few weeks (against UMass, Lowell, and BU) and now you’re heading into trophy season as a contender. What does it mean to you to be experiencing this as a senior and a captain?

Cotton: It’s a little bittersweet, to be honest, because I know this is the last shot at it, the last shot at the Beanpot. So saying that, I think there’s going to be a lot of fire behind the senior class especially because we realize this is an opportunity that you only get to have four times and it all starts with the first game. And also the UMass game [on January 31], I think whoever wins this game sits first place in the Hockey East standings, so that’s also a big game for us, especially coming off of back to back losses to Maine which hurt. But yeah it’s exciting because all year you kind of build yourselves up for this part of the season and now that it’s finally here you get a little eager to play for something. A lot of the season is fun, don’t get me wrong, but these are the moments you play for.

You briefly touched on the losses to Maine - so you’re coming off a tough and emotionally draining weekend - what are you doing to bounce back from it, and how do you help the team move forward?

Cotton: I think especially coming off of break - we were playing unbelievable hockey before the break, and since we’ve come back, I don’t think we’ve gotten back to our 100%. We haven’t been able to play a full 60 minutes, so I think - as bad as it may sound, those losses could be the best things for us because it’s kind of a reality check. We’ve been winning games, but I don’t think we’ve been playing the games as a “no-doubter” kind of a win. So I think if we use the losses in the right way, which I think we are going to do especially with the conversations we’ve had in the locker room and the practices we’ve had so far, and take a look in the mirror and a step back and realize that we have to start getting back to it. We’ve put ourselves in a good position, but that doesn’t mean we’re going to win anything just because we’ve done that so far. So I think it’s one of those things that you get the message to hit hard, especially with the two losses at home - you just have to use it in the right way. You don’t have to hit the panic button because Maine’s a good team, also. You just got to take it game by game and kind of reevaluate what you’ve been doing and what hasn’t been working.

From an outsiders’ perspective this year’s team seems particularly close/seems to get along really well. How do you foster that environment?

Cotton: I think a lot of it is the effort that everyone has put in to get to know each other and be close with each other. Personally, this is by far the closest locker room we’ve had in the four years that I’ve been here. A lot of the teams we’ve had - they’ve been close, everyone’s obviously bonded with each other, but a lot of it has been the upperclassmen are tight, the underclassmen are tight with each other but there’s not much mixing and mingling with each other. But this year we have seniors and freshmen hanging out all the time - the freshmen are always at our dorms hanging out, the sophomores and juniors are mixed and living with each other, so I think those interactions make it so much easier to play for each other if you have those close bonds. In college hockey you have such a limited time frame, so I think if you’ve bought in and are genuinely happy for the person next to you, that’s going to go a long way.

Who do you draw leadership inspiration from? (or, how do you describe your leadership style?)

Cotton: I think - I’ve read some things and I’ve watched videos on effective leadership styles but I think the most effective leadership style is being as transparent as you can. I feel [that] you [can’t] try to be someone that you’re not, especially because I’ve been around the guys in my class for three years now. They already know the type of person I am and I can’t change who I am just because I have a letter on my jersey. I think I was picked captain for a reason and I’m just trying to be the same person I am, maybe take on a bigger vocal role because I am more of a quiet, lead by example kind of person. So I’ve pushed myself out of that comfort zone [by being] more vocal and [reaching] out to the underclassmen and [being] there for an outlet. I know that freshmen struggles are real and it can be tough. But I think the most effective leadership style for me is don’t try to change too much and just try to be who you are and there’s a reason I’ve been chosen and just trust that.

Going back to hockey, your line (with Julius and Logan) has had special chemistry since Coach put you together - what do you attribute that to?

Cotton: There’s some guys that, whenever you just play with them, you just have that instant connection, and I think that’s just one of the things. Our three playing styles are pretty different from each other but they complement each other really well. Julius - he’s a 200 foot player, personally I think he’s one of the most underrated players in college hockey - he doesn’t get a lot of the awards or accolades, but he’s more than deserving to be up for the Hobey Baker or First Team All Hockey East or any other awards. He plays a 200 foot game, can pass, skate, shoot, everything you’d want in a centerman. Then you have Logan, who has that flash, has that flare. He’s a very smart and intelligent player, very crafty, [and] he’s always available for those explosive plays that he scores on every time. What I pride myself on is trying to be an unsung player, I try to get into the dirty areas a little bit more, I get most of my production in front of the net - they don’t really ask how, they ask how many. I think when you put all three together and start to work and find each other and get into those areas, it’s a pretty difficult line to shut down.

How do you balance preparing for huge games like the Beanpot with staying in the moment and being ready for other games?

Cotton: I think we do a really good job with that because personally I try to keep each game important. Obviously it’s hard to whenever you play for a Beanpot or you play against Boston University or you play against Northeastern. I prepare the same way for each game but I feel an emotional component for those games that you draw out that kind of amplifies your game. So I think the games that I prepare for, I do the exact same routines - but for Beanpots, for UMass lately because they’ve been such a good team, there’s such a big emotional component and you understand how big the games are so it just amplifies your emotions and your focus and it just heightens everything and then you play a little bit better.

Okay, so that was my last sort of “serious” question and now I have just a couple of fun ones. What’s your favorite dining hall meal?

Cotton: [takes time to think, because this is a very important and difficult question] The Blazing Bowl. (which they apparently got rid of this year, and it’s somewhat upsetting to me as a recent graduate.)

Favorite class at BC?

Cotton: Living Truthfully with Fr. Tony Penna. Lots of good conversations in this class.

What song are you currently playing on repeat?

Cotton: Life is Good by Future & Drake

Favorite non-hockey BC memory?

Cotton: Last year a bunch of the guys went on a boat cruise [at the end of the season] and I thought it was pretty cool. It was just really fun [and] a really nice day out, so that’d be my favorite non-hockey related memory.

Okay, favorite hockey memory then?

Cotton: Frozen Fenway.

A huge huge thank you to David for taking the time to sit down with us! Good luck the rest of the season!