We’ve reached the college hockey winter break marking the unofficial midway point of the regular season. Women’s hockey starts and ends earlier than the men, though, so we’re actually a bit past midway, with 15 games remaining out of a 34 game regular season schedule.
Whatever. We’re the bosses around here and we’ll call it “midseason” if we please.
Let’s recap. At the break, the Eagles are 15-1-3 with their only loss coming in a 2-1 defeat to St. Lawrence in the north country. The Saints are a top 10 team and are on the tournament bubble, so there isn’t much shame in that. But the top of the rankings have been surprisingly deep this season, with Wisconsin on top with just one loss and Clarkson, Colgate, and the Eagles in a virtual tie battling for positions 2-4 (or 3-5, depending on what you think of Saint Anselm).
So what grades did the Eagles earn in the first half? Let’s break it down.
Team Offense: A+
Remarks: BC is a leader and a positive role model for other students.
Among full-time D-I programs, the Eagles currently sit at #1 in the country in team scoring with 4.32 goals per game. Coming into the season, it would have been more than a little bit surprising to see the Eagles that high, given that last season they were 4th and lost two of their top forwards to graduation and their two best defensemen to the Olympics. A third Olympic defenseman, Cayla Barnes, started the season with BC before getting an Olympic call-up herself.
Normally in an Olympic season you see some other teams make a run at the top of the stat sheets thanks to the nation’s top players taking a redshirt for the college season. But the fact that the Eagles are #1 in scoring despite missing more Olympic players than any other team in the country is pretty remarkable — particularly when you consider that a big chunk of BC’s scoring prowess typically comes from the blue line.
Add in the fact that BC has two of the odds-on favorites to win the Patty Kazmaier Award playing forward in Daryl Watts and Caitrin Lonergan, and you can’t help but award BC’s offense top marks for the first half.
Team Defense: C
Remarks: Frequent absences are affecting BC’s schoolwork.
Boston College is 10th in the country in team defense. That’s not terrible, but it’s also not where the Eagles want (or, frankly, need) to be. BC has allowed 2 or more goals in 15 of their 19 games played — kind of eye-popping, really — and has only posted one shutout all season. The stark reality, though, is that while BC does have Toni Ann Miano back this season (who will probably make the Patty Kaz top 10 list at the end of the year), there’s only so much you can do when you lose three of the best players in the world for the season thanks to Olympic centralization.
For the second year in a row, head coach Katie Crowley has been forced to play with a short-staffed blue line, and converted forward Bridget McCarthy has put forth an admirable effort to fill in at defense in an unfamiliar role. There’s hope yet that the unit will gel in the second half — McCarthy in particular has been working hard and making good adjustments — and that’ll be the key to BC making a deep postseason run.
Power Play: B+
Remarks: BC displays an enthusiasm for learning.
Truth be told, Boston College’s power play has been quite good this year, especially after a slow start the first couple weekends. In fact, BC roared all the way back to have the nation’s top conversion percentage at one point. They’ve since leveled off just a bit (though they still sit in 3rd at 25.9%), but given the Eagles’ prolific scoring numbers at even strength, it feels like there’s room for improvement.
Coach Crowley has been throwing out a hero line of 4 F, 1 D lately on the top unit, with Watts, Lonergan, Newkirk, Kent, and Miano* having first dibs on the advantage over the last few games of the first half. There’s so much skill on that unit that it seems almost impossible that they don’t score every time. They haven’t been rolling this line all season, though, so it’s possible if they do stick with this unit over the second half, you might see some good chemistry start to form.
*that is an absolutely ludicrous power play unit
Once the playoffs come along, any extra boost BC can get will go a long way. Their power play is already doing well, but if BC can end the season with the nation’s top power play to match their already-top team scoring numbers, you’ll like their chances against peer programs in the playoffs.
Penalty Kill: D+
Remarks: BC needs to keep their hands to themselves in class.
Team defense has been just ‘meh’ this year. BC’s penalty kill, on the other hand, has really been a problem. 14 of the 41 goals the Eagles have given up this year have come on the penalty kill.
It’s been a two-pronged problem for BC: the rate at which teams score when BC is shorthanded is bad (21st in the country), and the number of shorthanded opportunities the Eagles allow is even worse (26th). Both numbers have been somewhat steady over the course of the first half without much improvement or decline as the season’s gone along.
That’s got to change, especially with trophy season fast approaching. General improvements in the defense will help, given that the blueliners won’t need to clutch and grab to make up for being caught out of position. But it remains to be seen if that improvement is going to come.
Remarks: BC does well in class when focusing on the task at hand.
The Eagles are right about where we kind of expected them to be at the start of the season, batting for a home ice spot in the NCAA tournament. They currently sit in 4th in the Pairwise (or 5th, depending on what happens with Saint Anselm — and who the hell knows at this point what the committee will do with them), and are just a whisker below Clarkson and Colgate (a virtual tie, really) for 2nd.
Wisconsin is going to finish atop the Pairwise this year as the clear #1 team in the country, so it’s going to be critical for the Eagles to end up in that 2/3 slot and to stay out of their bracket. We can probably expect Clarkson, Colgate, and BC to stay neck and neck in that second tier.
The Eagles still have a lot to work on if they want to move from championship hopefuls to championship contenders, but Coach Crowley and Coach Kennedy have become pretty much universally recognized as two of the very best coaches in the country for a reason. After losing Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa to graduation two years ago, BC had a somewhat slow start last year and finished with a strong second half. This season, the Eagles are very clear on what they need to work on. We’ll see just how high they’ll go in the new year.