Well, that was ugly.
The Boston College men’s hockey season came to an end on Saturday night and at least for me it didn’t feel sad or upsetting, but just kind of inevitable. We’ve known for a while now that this team just wasn’t that good and even though they put up a bit of fight and strung together four straight wins before losing to Northeastern, this always felt like the way the season would eventually end.
The Eagles finished the 2021-2022 season with a record of 15-18-5 and 9-12-3 in Hockey East. They finished eighth in the conference and even that was only because they beat BU and then swept UMass Amherst to end the season. A lot of these games followed a similar script, with BC struggling to possess the puck for long stretches of time and getting pinned in their defensive zone for a few shifts in a row before they either gave up a scoring chance or finally managed to clear the puck. The passing this year was noticeably worse than we usually see from a Boston College team and to say that it had a negative impact on breaking the puck out is an understatement. There was just a lot of uncharacteristic sloppiness that never really got cleaned up as the year went on and it’s hard to win games if that’s the case.
To be fair, there were some good moments mixed in, particularly near the start of the season. The season started with a shootout win over a good Quinnipiac team, the home opener saw the Eagles take down Northeastern in front of a great crowd, and there was even a pretty dominant 5-1 win over a Denver team that finished the regular season with a 25-8-1 record and a #3 ranking that looks truly unbelievable a few months later. Jack McBain and Marc McLaughlin were truly great players all season while Patrick Giles, Drew Helleson and Marshall Warren all had strong years. And there were some cool individual moments too, like McLaughlin’s overtime winner against UNH and Gentry Shamburger’s first career goal and his ensuing celebration. As rough as it was at times, there were some fun times along the way.
Unfortunately, if there’s something that we’re going to remember about this season, it’s probably going to be the losing streak. After knocking off Dartmouth 6-1 to improve to 10-5-3 on December 31, BC wouldn’t win another game until February 18. Between those two games, they lost ten games in regulation, one in a shootout, and tied with Harvard in the consolation game of the Beanpot. Many of the games were uncompetitive blowouts, especially when BC was without their three Olympians (McBain, McLaughlin, and Helleson) for a few weeks. There was no saving the season after this.
So why did it go so bad? Well, just taking a look at the most basic of stats, the team averaged almost a full goal less and allowed almost a full goal more per game than they did last year. It’s pretty simple to see what happened. The team lost three of the most talented players they’ve had in a while in Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, and Spencer Knight and couldn’t replace them. Really, they didn’t even come close. They attempted to do so by bringing in more transfers than it feels like we’ve ever see them bring in, but those guys just didn’t work out. Brandon Kruse was fine from a raw points total, but three goals from a guy playing in your top six isn’t great. Justin Wells was never anything more than a third pairing defenseman and Sam Sternschein struggled as a bottom six forward. Eric Dop wasn’t going to live up to what we saw in net from Knight, but even with a few really strong games to end the season, what we got out of him was still mostly disappointing.
The transfers aren’t the only reason for the struggles this year, however. Something we talked about before the start of the season was the importance of the sophomore class. The gaps at forward were obvious even then, and the only way to really fix that was for one or more of Nikita Nesterenko, Colby Ambrosio, and Trevor Kuntar to improve on what were three pretty good freshmen seasons. And for the most part, that just didn’t happen. All three guys had their moments (I thought Nesterenko’s game against UNH in the Hockey East tournament might have been the best of his BC career), but both Ambrosio and Nesterenko scored at a lower points per game clip than last year and while Kuntar’s number went up, it wasn’t close to a significant jump to make a major impact. Couple all this in with the fact that almost the entire freshmen class (with the exception of Aidan Hreschuk and maybe Mike Posma) was just not ready to contribute at the collegiate level and you’ve got a bunch of holes on the roster that were never able to be filled.
This season was kind of familiar to the other down year from recent memory, the 2018-2019 season. The top line from that year of Julius Mattila, Logan Hutsko, and David Cotton did just about everything they possibly could to keep the team in games, but there just wasn’t enough behind to make it count (seriously, David Cotton scored more than a quarter of the team’s goals that season, there was zero depth there). The good news? That team came back the next year and looked every bit like a title contender before a pandemic shut the season down. The bad news? That team actually returned the trio of Mattila, Hutsko, and Cotton while also bringing in Knight, Boldy, and Newhook as freshmen. It doesn’t feel like we’re necessarily trending in that direction, but that’s a topic for another day. For now, it’s probably best to remember the fun great moments from the season and do our best to put the rest of it out of our mind.