After clinching the Hockey East regular season title last weekend, the Boston College men’s hockey team wrapped up the last weekend on their schedule with a hard fought 1-0-1 series against New Hampshire. Here are some final thoughts on both the weekend and the season as a whole as we turn towards the Hockey East tournament.
UNH A BAD MATCH-UP
The three games against New Hampshire this season were just not that fun to watch as a BC fan. They were low scoring games and UNH carried play for long portions of all three contests. The combined scores from the three games was just 6-6, and UNH remains one of just two teams to shut out the Eagles (the other being Denver).
New Hampshire won the shot battle both nights this weekend, including an enormous 50-27 advantage on Saturday night. BC scored two goals early in both games and spent most of the night defending afterwards. Even in their win on Friday, it’s hard to say they played all that well. These were two ugly games and BC was probably a bit lucky to come away without a loss.
Part of the issue is likely that David Cotton missed both games with an illness, but it’s still interesting that of all the teams in Hockey East, UNH may have given the Eagles the most issues over the entire season - with the possible exception of Maine. Fortunately, UNH couldn’t do enough against the rest of Hockey East and finished two points out of eighth place, so we won’t see them again this season. I have no idea why they seemed to match up so well against BC, but I’m glad I won’t have to spend two or three more games trying to figure it out.
A WILDLY SUCCESSFUL REGULAR SEASON
With all that said, let’s take one last look at the 2019-2020 regular season. Maybe I’m speaking just for myself here, but it blew my expectations out of the water.
Wind the clocks back a year. BC was once again preparing to play Providence in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, but as a 7 seed traveling to play the 2 seed. BC finished the season with a 10-11-3 conference record - good for just 23 points. And while they did manage to knock off Providence in three games and then somehow get past #1 seed UMass in the semifinals, it always felt like a case of prolonging the inevitable more than a team gearing up for a remarkable run.
This year is different. After a bit of a rocky October, the Eagles kind of rolled for about four months. They have exactly four losses since November 2 (five if you count the Beanpot game against BU) and before this last weekend, they had been smoking teams on their way to winning the regular season title. Players are contributing up and down the lineup and really, it’s a roster that doesn't have much in terms of noticeable flaws.
A 24-8-2 record is probably several games better than I would have hoped for after the last few seasons we have seen. Of course, this team will be judged for its postseason success, and that’s understandable. But whatever happens in the next few weeks shouldn’t take away from what was a thoroughly enjoyable 34 games to watch.
THE BEST FRESHMAN CLASS SINCE...
One of the biggest reasons for the massive improvement from last season has been the massive boost in talent provided by this year’s freshman class. Quite simply, the six freshmen who have been in the lineup all season are playing some fantastic hockey and the team would probably not be close to where they are now without all six.
Spencer Knight has had an unbelievable freshman season - putting up a .931 save percentage and playing in all but one game (in which he was unavailable due to playing with the United States World Juniors team). Marshall Warren and Drew Helleson have immensely improved a blue line that struggled mightily at times over the last three season. And the all freshman line of Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, and Mike Hardman has probably been BC’s best line for about a month now. Newhook’s been playing so well that he’s actually matched Julius Mattila for the team lead in points and Logan Hutsko for the lead in goals. Many of the returning players have stepped up their game, but the boost that the freshmen have provided is undeniable.
So that leads to my question from the header. When was the last time BC had a better freshman class? The 2009-10 class included Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kreider, and Parker Milner among others. Johnny Gaudreau was a transcendent talent, but he ended up being the only big name from the 2011-12 class. The 2014-15 class was small in number, but all three of Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, and Noah Hanifin made big impacts at BC and are now NHL players. If you wanted to go back even farther, I’m sure there are some other strong options too.
It’s probably too early to properly slot this year’s class with hopefully several weeks of games to play, but they’ve certainly made a very strong case to be near to top of this list.
REMATCH WITH THE FRIARS
As I mentioned earlier, while this is technically a rematch of last year’s Hockey East Quarterfinals with Providence, it’s hard to imagine two more opposite match-ups.
To begin with, BC and Providence ended their season series a long time ago, back on November 2 to be exact. Last year, the regular season actually ended with a BC-Providence game, so they actually played four times in a row including the playoff series.
BC and Providence split their two meetings this season, with Providence winning 6-2 on October 25 before BC took that November 2 game 3-2. Since then, Providence has been kind of up and down all season, and more down than up recently. The Friars went just 2-6-1 to close out the season - including a tie at Vermont and two losses in a home-and-home series with Merrimack. Then again, they were red hot to close the regular season last year and then BC upset them on their home ice, so maybe there’s not much to take from their recent skid.
It will certainly be interesting to see how these two teams play each other after ending their regular season series so long ago. BC is a completely different team than they were in early November and it stands to reason that Providence won’t be the same team we remember playing either. Hopefully we get a fun weekend of hockey and a few wins for BC.