Boston College men’s hockey closes out the regular season tonight with a game at 5 PM against the Northeastern Huskies. BC sits atop the league “standings” and Northeastern is in 6th with the postseason just around the corner.
To preview the matchup and take the temperature on this season, we spoke with Mike Downie and Mike Davis of the Northeastern Hockey Blog:
Joe Gravellese: Relative to preseason expectations how do you feel about Northeastern this year?
Mike Downie: Preseason feels like 600 years ago it’s hard to remember. Overall I guess they’re sixth in Hockey East and if you had told me they would be sixth in Hockey East that would have sounded about right. The way they got there (three freshman forwards dominating but Colangelo has 0 goals and isn’t one of them, no goaltender) has been unexpected.
Mike Davis: In the preseason NU was picked to be in the middle of Hockey East, and that’s where we are. So in that sense, performance is right on the money. The disappointment felt in some NU circles comes from how we got here- namely, dominating the teams lower in the standings with zero wins against upper-tier teams. That has led to some extremely frustrating performances this season, and results occurring when we thought wins could have happened.
JG: That combination - cleaning up on the lower tier teams while whiffing against top teams - to me feels like a recipe for missing the tournament unless they go on a little run here.
That said, I felt like NU looked like one of the faster teams BC played all year during the matchup at Matthews but had some abysmal goaltending that night. What’s kept them from winning some of the bigger games?
Davis: 100%. Even in a non-HEPI year, they would have to win the conference tournament to make the NCAA tournament. Not to dissimilar from 2016, where they also came into the tournament as a 6 seed.......
Downie: Yeah, that’s fair. Their RPI is actually considerably higher than their mythical HEPI which would help their relative position in a normal season, but it won’t here. Especially when we involve the eye test and smoke filled rooms, they’re 0-3-2 in 5 games against their closest comps of UConn and PC, who they’ll be fighting directly against.
Not to harp on [goaltender Connor ] Murphy because he’s a backup goalie who suddenly became an every game starter but in the games against top teams it’s hard to not have him in the story.
In 8 games against top five teams he’s allowed 3 or more goals every single time. A couple of high scoring ties and some losses. Not every game is on him, they’ve lost a couple of games handily as every team would, but NU has been a whisper from breaking into the top tier and falling short all year.
The BC game you mentioned had NU showing strong early then losing it on the back end late, helped in part by Murphy cramping up and leaving the game, making it look like no contest.
Davis: A combination of multiple things contributes to where NU is in the tournament picture. The offense has come and gone in different waves this year, and against different competition. To beat good teams you need to be able to score against good defenses (high quality analysis here), and there’s been multiple games where the offense just runs silent. Shots on goal become frustratingly non-existent, thereby making goals less likely to happen.
The second factor is between the pipes, where against teams seated higher than Northeastern, Connor Murphy has not allowed fewer than 3 goals in any game. That’s a tough way to win, spotting good teams 3 goals. Murphy has struggled with rebound control and positioning at times this year, and that has burned the Huskies more than once.
The Huskies also have not had a single weekend all year where they were 100% healthy. And not because of covid. Injuries strung together and as soon as someone gets healthy, another player comes out of the lineup. Lack of consistency certainly hasn’t helped
JG: No doubt, having an elite goaltender like Devon Levi was projected to be for Northeastern this year makes a big difference. BC fans obviously know all about that with Spencer Knight.
Davis: I’ve spent the last 7 years thinking Connor Hellebuyck was the best goalie ive ever seen in college. Knight has me seriously rethinking it.
JG: Yes that’s about where I’m at too. Knight frees up BC to be really aggressive in a way that plays to their strengths. It’s absurd how easy he makes the position look. We’ve been spoiled by good goalies for two decades now but he’s the best I’ve ever seen here.
Though Knight has a more mobile and deeper blue line in front of him than the unlucky Joe Woll ever did.
Davis: Murphy has more Beanpots than Knight though so whomst is to say who is better
JG: That is regrettably true.
The 2020 Beanpot still feels like a fever dream to me.
For a BC fan who hasn’t seen much of the Huskies, what does it look like this year when they are playing their best?
And a related question - how good is their best? Like if they’re absolutely on point, how deep can they go?
Davis: They can roll 3 lines with the best of them when playing at their peak. They are super aggressively in the neutral zone, and on offense, their cycle keeps the puck on their sticks like it’s on a string.
They’ve had consistent play from the Jacksons, Fontaine, and Solow all year. I’ve said all year Fontaine reminds me of Kevin Roy offensively. He’s a threat to score on ever shot he takes.
Downie: Their ceiling is probably limited at this point, even if Levi does break into the lineup he’s not going to have any time to build confidence and momentum, nevermind get hot at the right time which is ever-important in single elimination games. They’re a young and inconsistent team, especially at forward, but I think they can skate with anyone in Hockey East when they’re on. Their off is just also really far off of that.
Davis: Their defense is led by Jordan Harris, who is up there with Davies for best offensive defenseman of the Madigan era. The defense won’t contribute a ton offensively outside him, Struble, and Kesselring, but they blend size and technical skill to box off opponents.
Downie: Mike is right on Fontaine’s shot. Combined with the Jacksons it’s not much of a stretch to call them the best third line in the conference.
The high-end scoring has been missing since the 2018 kids all left other than Madden carrying the load himself and they seem to be on pace to bring it back.
Davis: When the Huskies are at their best, all their players are utilizing what makes them great. McDonough, his shot/one timer. Jozefek, his passing. Hughes, his speed and his length. DeMelis, his puck-control. Colangelo, in his short time, his puck control and his shot. When each player uses their individual skills *within the system*, rather than trying to do something not within their game, that’s when they succeed
JG: That depth matchup will be interesting as for BC I felt like they started to look a little thin beyond the Boldy line for a while, but then they made an adjustment, put once and current Eagle Casey Carreau on the third line, and they’ve been nails ever since. Marc McLaughlin is emerging as an offensive threat after a few years looking more like a defense-first player. It’s been great to see.
Without Hutsko I’ve been worried about forward depth but the third line has really come along. It’s mostly the line Hutsko himself vacated (the “1A or 1B” line) that seems to be lagging a bit at the moment.
Davis: McLaughlin his that classic college hockey player that you hate playing against but love on your team. Not a star or the best at any one skill but a jack of all trades who is very good at a lot.
Similar to Patrick Curry.
Downie: BC kind of perplexes me. They can beat anyone any day as is clearly shown by their... everything.
But when I see them against NU or BU this semester I can’t say I’ve really felt it?
JG: In doses, they’ve looked like the dominant force last year’s team was (smoking Providence, the second game against Maine, most of the Lowell series, the opening weekend against UMass). I actually thought their game at Matthews was one of their stronger performances. But even when not playing their best they’ve obviously kept winning for the most part. But there definitely have been stretches of the season where the wins were coming but it hasn’t necessarily always been inspiring.
Davis: BC also has strangely had not a great powerplay, which is ridiculous considering the individual talent.
JG: Yes, it was truly awful until Newhook came back. It’s been good since.
But that had been a baffling storyline all year.
Davis: Newhook will/could sign a contract and be a third liner in the NHL right now... I’m not religious but I am praying for it
JG: Nah. No thanks.
But yes he’s just noticeably quicker than everyone else even on a fast team with a lot of good skaters. He does so many things well, and is one of those players where when he’s carrying the puck through the neutral zone you just think “oh sh—, something is about to happen here.” And he’s got a cannon of a shot, which has been a key weapon on the power play. He’s good enough to personally carry BC deep if he had to, along with Knight.
And when he and Boldy are clicking, BC starts to look like King Kong BC from your school days rather than the team that had its flashes since 2016 but hasn’t been able to make it in to the NCAA field (2020 excepted).
Downie: Newhook can’t possibly come back next year, what does he have to gain?
(“A beanpot” is not a valid answer to this question.)
Dammit, I was gonna say a Beanpot. Or being at BC while his sister is there on the women’s team. I can hope, right?\
So with Merrimack out it seems like even with a loss Northeastern is probably in a good spot to avoid the octofinals? It would be nice if we knew.
Davis: Yeah but that would involve the league showing transparency, and we cant have that
Downie: Yeah, it depends on who you ask. I don’t think it’s inconceivable that they could fall to 7 with a regulation loss and some help, some others disagree and think they’re now locked into a bye.
JG: So I’ve been racking my brain trying to come up with reasons why they would keep HEPI secret and I’ve only come up with two that make sense
1) they don’t have anyone on staff interested in writing an explainer
2) they wanna tweak it midstream if the results come back and look “off”
Either that, or actually it’s that it’s rigged for UMass... clearly #tinfoil
Downie: The current theory of our resident twitter math nerd (not to be confused with your resident Twitter math nerd) is that something like the games played weight is so high people would rebel against it.
Because when they release it this late in the game, SOMEONE SOMWEHERE is gonna take issue with “how could you weigh THAT THING so highly/lightly,” or something like that. And some coach or program or official will raise hell.
JG: The thing that’s especially confusing is that if they’re not articulating a particular thing that they’re measuring that’s unique to this season, why would you not just use measurements that already exist and are used in college hockey? It’s so weird.
Like say what you want about whether games played SHOULD be a factor or not - it would at least be a reason for a new formula specific to a plague year.
Davis: I also don’t understand what their formula is doing so different and special that the real RPI cant already do...we know HEA standings are only intra-conference matchups, so not playing OOC games does not matter
Downie: Well the question is really what’s different. Theories are the home/away weight (which explains Maine being so high) or the games played being weighted. Neither of those really make a lick of sense when there are empty arenas everywhere and/or you would be encouraging teams to try to play through things.
Like here’s the thing, they didn't release it and they doubled down in the face of having to not give trophies and in the face of public and private criticism by their teams and fans
JG: Yes. At least it becomes functionally a non factor in one more week. And then we can go back to doing things the same way we’ve always done them since the dawn of time, which has its weaknesses but would be comforting at the moment.
The things I would like to see carried over from the COVID era to the New Normal:
-More games on NESN
-More conference games as a percentage of the schedule
-I’m not afraid of an unbalanced schedule
-No UNH fans allowed to attend games
Davis: I actually think unbalanced schedules are great but I love OOC games so I would want to have as many opportunities for those as possible. Especially considering we all lose 2 per year for the beanpot.
JG: Ok enough grousing about the fake Hockey East standings. How do you see the game playing out?
Downie: Like I said NU can skate with anyone and I don’t think its inconceivable that one of these games against a quality opponent they’re going to finally put it together for sixty minutes and make it to the finish line.
Considering their last 8 attempts and their recent history at Conte it is unlikely but not impossible that that day is tomorrow
Also reminder that NU allowed 10 their last game at Conte so anything is an improvement
JG: True. Some folks forget.
Alright thanks guys, any last thoughts?
Davis: In the end I am just grateful for any season at all. I want to see Northeastern hockey play as much as possible, so if they play an octofinals, great, if they get a bye, cool. Whenever this ride does end, the pain of a season ending will be just like any other.
Downie: You should bench spencer Knight to make it fair, he needs to rest for the postseason.
Downie: To Mike’s point, not necessarily “I hope both teams have a good time” but I hope however this whole thing ends it’s on the ice and not in the campus COVID testing tent
JG: Amen to that - let’s get everyone over the finish line, it really has been a monumental effort by these teams to make it to this point.
Downie: Oh this is a fun fact if you missed it on @burntboats twitter
Hockey East cancelled at least one game for covid every week this season but 1...
That one was the week they cancelled a game because BU’s goalie fell on some ice.
Also no team was scheduled to play two different teams in a three day span the entire season including the tournament until it was necessary to get UNH a game this week.
“Creative, strategic, inclusive”
JG: Sounds like a great place to end this.
Enjoy the game!