Greg Brown’s goals for this season are to build on the strides he made last year as head coach of the Boston College men’s hockey team. With a highly anticipated top ranked recruiting class making its debut on the ice this October and forward Cutter Gauthier returning for his sophomore year, there’s been a lot of talk about the team this offseason and BC is already being looked at as a national championship contender. They’ve even been ranked #6 in the country to open the season.
All of this is noise, which the coaching staff recognizes. “It’s so important to focus on the short term and really try to improve every day,” Brown says. “If you’re too anxious looking toward the end of the season then you’re not going to make the gains that you hopefully should and can.” It’s not an unspoken topic in the locker room this early in the year — the team has already had conversations about ignoring the chatter, with coaching staff reminding players to focus on the here and now. The players have been great at internalizing the message, Brown shares, with everyone just working to get better day by day even as practices have just started to get underway.
The incoming freshmen class in particular — boasting three first round draft picks in Will Smith, Ryan Leonard, and Gabe Perreault, as well as later draft picks Jacob Fowler, Aram Minnetian, and Drew Fortescue — have been “excellent” at staying in the moment and being present, despite the whirlwind of a summer that several of them had. Between the NHL Draft and the World Juniors Summer Showcase, it would be understandable if the players took a moment to get adjusted to being in school, but Brown says that they’ve all been great at getting focused and adjusting to BC. “I think they’re probably happy to be in school and have more of a routine,” Brown says, adding that the coaching staff hasn’t had to do anything extra to encourage them to be present.
Though there is raw talent and skill in the freshman class this year, Brown acknowledges that there will likely be an adjustment period for all of them as they jump from the juniors game to the college game. “They’re great players to be drafted that high, but any step up [in hockey] is a big step,” he says. He mentions that everyone in the program — players and coaches alike — know that they can’t put undue expectations on the first year students despite the accolades they earned prior to BC. “We hope they get assimilated and make that adjustment as quickly as possible, but you can’t just expect that from everybody and the team knows that,” Brown shares. “[We all] know, but the public has to be a little patient.”
Outside of the freshman class and graduate transfers, the Eagles return 13 players from last year’s roster. Most notably, forward Cutter Gauthier announced that he would be returning to BC for this sophomore season — despite going on record after the 2022 NHL Draft saying that his plan was to only play at BC for one year. “Obviously, getting your leading scorer back is a big boost,” Brown says, chuckling when I mention Gauthier’s initial plans. “He’s come back with a lot of intent and purpose,” he adds. Gauthier returning for another year not only boosts the offense this year, but also adds an extra level of leadership. Brown mentions that Gauthier has already embraced his role as a leader and seems very focused on what’s ahead, and they’re excited to see how he gets going when the season begins.
The Eagles are also pleased with their new senior leadership core. Eamon Powell and Gentry Shamburger haven’t hesitated to jump right into the captaincy and assistant captaincy roles to form the team and bring the guys together, Brown shares. Though it’s a little early to tell if any of the younger returning players will take on a more active leadership role with Powell and Shamburger, Brown notes that everyone from the sophomores to the grad students are demonstrating good leadership qualities. “We know that Eamon will be a great leader with Gentry, but they need support,” he says. “They can’t just be two lone voices; and it’s been great so far.”
Brown wants to continue building on the foundations he laid down last year. Though last season had its fair share of ups and downs, he describes it as “encouraging,” citing how he believed the team in March was better than it was in October. The Eagles finished the year 14-16-6 with a heartbreaking overtime exit in the Hockey East quarterfinals, but the buy-in from the players was very good, Brown says. “Obviously, we want to win more and be more successful, but it was a good first step.”
Brown’s proven ability to get buy-in from the players in just his first year as head coach puts the Eagles in a great spot for when they take the ice for their first game. Coming into this season already familiar with the majority of the players, Brown’s hope is that the team can start further along this season, as much of the beginning of last was spent getting acclimated with and getting to know all the players on and off the ice.
It’s too early in the year to know any specific hockey details, as the team had only had three practices when we sat down to chat with Brown. He’s not sure whether the Smith-Leonard-Perreault line will stick together to start the year, acknowledging that while the three of them broke records while playing together for the USNTDP U18 team, they may also benefit from having some more experience on their lines while they adjust to playing older competition on a regular basis.
Brown is also in an interesting position regarding the goalies this season. With Jack Moffatt and grad transfer Mitch Benson graduating and Henry Wilder transferring, the Eagles have three freshmen goalies on the roster. Although it’s too early to tell what the situation will be come October 7th, Brown hopes that all freshmen goalies get a chance to contribute over the course of the season in some manner, noting that goaltending is a big burden for any one freshman to carry.
The energy so far in the locker room and on the ice has been very positive to begin the year, Brown shares. On the ice, the players are pushing each other and pushing themselves to be better by holding each other accountable which Brown notes is a good place to start the year. Off the ice, the freshmen are actively working to be a part of the team and the older players are making sure to include them, so the team coming together is going as quickly as the coaching staff had hoped.
I ask if Brown is looking forward to anything specific coming up or if he has any games circled on his calendar, to which he shakes his head, “all of our focus has been on getting better and we know the first game is coming — I can’t wait to get to that.”
Almost exactly a year after we sat down with Brown prior to the 2022-23 season, it’s clear that his excitement about returning home to BC has not worn off. “It’s just been a dream come true,” he smiles. “It’s such a special place.”