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Hockey Banter, Week III: Not Jumping Yet

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Looking back at the game against Lowell, we're not too concerned with what we saw... yet.

Justin K. Aller

Joseph Gravellese: OK, that wasn't a great start for BC. I wasn't too surprised by the loss, which helps.

Let's start with what I think is good news.

Nobody in Hockey East looked great this past weekend, except BU, Lowell and Vermont. All teams playing out of conference were at least mildly disappointing. NU was bad. Maine was bad. And nationally, beyond Minnesota, who is feeling like a powerhouse? The North Dakota team that got squashed by Bemidji?

Grant Salzano: Weird weekend all around. I don't know if I would qualify Hockey East falling flat on its face as "good news," though. It's good news for BC's chances at finishing high in the conference. But I don't think how high we finish or how well we do in the Hockey East tournament (short of winning it) will qualify the season as a success. In fact, if we aren't one of the top 2 or 3 teams in Hockey East, then a struggling conference will mean we're on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament.

JG: Well, my point wasn't to say "all the teams that struggled in week one are going to suck." It's sort of the opposite. You can't judge too much from game one. Especially since with so much parity nationally and across the league, things are going to be up and down. So while the BC roster doesn't look stacked, that doesn't mean they can't develop into a team that can win hardware.

This is an obvious kool-aid drinker's reaction but my main takeaway from the Lowell game was to think UML is going to be better this year than people thought. They really didn't look all that different from the damn good team of last year. They looked fast, aggressive and defensively stout. They also moved the puck really well.

Though Boyle was pretty shaky between the pipes--which almost allowed BC to somehow tie that game in the third period when a puck squeezed between his legs and nearly went in to the net. Alas, it was not to be, which was probably fair and appropriate based on the balance of the game.

GS: You're right about Lowell, they did look good. It will be interesting to see how they can sustain that, because in a sport with a lot of parity (as there appears to be), game by game can see huge swings in who looks "good" and who looks "goddamn awful." See: NHL.

NCAA hockey is an order of magnitude away from the NHL in parity, but the point remains.

Back to your original point about the BC team developing into one that can win hardware. The last couple of years, it's felt like BC's gone away from its tried-and-true modus operandi of "get better every game." Both of the last two seasons, we've started out strong and then kind of rode that wave. The end result was that at the end of each seasons we started to win less convincingly and see the end coming. Last year it all caught up with us against Notre Dame. The year before we were smoked by BU and then Union.

BC not starting out strong could be a blessing in disguise. We need to get back to that feeling of not being head and shoulders above everyone else so that we feel the urgency to improve the little things game by game. That's a recipe for a strong season, and how BC can win the whole thing.

JG: Sure. But beyond that, I just mean...the roster is flawed, but whose isn't? (Again, other than Minnesota, who should absolutely run the table this year.)

This isn't to say there aren't things I was concerned about, watching on Friday. Some of the concerns were exactly what I expected; others surprised me.

Completely expected and unlikely to change: the bottom two lines were just really bad. Really, really bad. The bottom six forwards combined for a total of one shot on goal (Quinn Smith). The fourth line of Smith, Sit and Straight got pretty badly dominated territorially.

The third line looked slightly better from my perspective if only because Cam Spiro, once again, looked excellent and explosive. But the rest of them ranged from invisible (Linell, M. Gaudreau, Sit) to those who downright struggled (Straight--not to single him out, others struggled too).

So that was bad.

What did surprise me was some of the crappy defensive breakdowns in coverage that let Lowell score some goals that were way too easy, which SBN College Hockey did a good job breaking down.

What also surprised me was how poor the special teams looked, which was a factor I overlooked going into the season, especially the penalty kill. I usually consider the success on the penalty kill to be a system thing, but I think I underrated the fact that we lost a lot of good and experienced penalty killers.

The stats weren't bad on the PK per se as Lowell went 1-for-4 but the Eagles didn't look great. And the power play was bad, albeit in only two chances. They had an opportunity to tie the game on a power play halfway through the second period and could barely get any zone time.

So those were big concerns. I think the special teams and the defense will get better. I would think we're kind of stuck with what we see out of the bottom six, who are what we thought they were, unless Silk really comes on like a savior, or some other unforeseen development shakes things up, like finding new combinations that spread the top forwards among three lines.

GS: You're right to not really worry about the special teams, I think, if only because power play and penalty kill units tend to be pretty up and down. We'll see how that plays out over time.

I could not believe how bad the defense looked, particularly in the first period. 3 goals on 10 shots and it really wasn't on Thatcher Demko. Too many chances. They did improve, though, allowing 9 shots in the 2nd and just 5 in the third, with just the third period goal against (as back breaking as it was) the rest of the game.

And in fact, looking back, I'm kind of surprised to see that they only allowed 24 shots. Particularly when we were able to get so few shots of our own. Other than some good stretches it felt like we were chasing Lowell around for most of the game.

JG: Well, I wouldn't necessarily give the D too much credit for Lowell only getting 24 shots. You're talking about a team that stifles you with possession and puck movement when they have it, and by clogging up the neutral zone when they don't. Especially with a two goal lead, they didn't need to get a lot of shots to be dominating the game.

But yes, things got better as the game went on, on offense and defense. BC really did turn the tide for about 15 minutes of game time.

From the Fitzgerald goal late in the second, straight through the failed power play in the third period, BC looked good.

And the top two lines scored in exactly the kind of ways I would expect those lines to score. Calnan's goal was a result of going hard to the net, with Tuch quite literally crashing the net. And Fitzgerald used a little tiny bit of space to create a slick goal out of nowhere.

GS: In all, it was disappointing to lose, but there were some signs of life. And like we've already said, part of it too was Lowell looked really good and seemed to pick up right where they left off last year.

Plus it's early. Guys are going to have to develop into new roles this year, and that will take time.

I will feel a lot better if the defense can get into the best-in-class form that I think we're expecting. Or at least hoping for, anyway.

JG: Yeah. One thing that stood out to me as a positive surprise that I didn't necessarily notice live was that the defense, as one might expect from this team, had a lot of shots on goal.

I think we all have sort of unrealistic superhuman expectations from Hanifin so the fact that he didn't score a hat trick and crush fools like Santini made some folks disappointed in his debut, but he actually led the team with 4 shots on goal.

All in all the defensemen took 11 of BC's 21 shots.

GS: Oh my God. haha

JG: Get used to that. Those shots will eventually start either finding the net or finding guys in front to tip them home, with time and practice. Especially with some of the bigger players on this team. I envision that first line really learning how to use the defensemen's shooting ability to their advantage. But it will be a work in progress.

And against lesser defensive teams, at least the top two forward lines will be a little more potent in terms of generating chances. I do think the goals are going to come. Maybe, hopefully even this Saturday.

GS: I'm really hoping that BC can beat a team that managed to put up 1 goal on 21 shots against Clarkson. If not, then I'll probably start to worry. It'll be a tough, tough road environment, though.

JG: Well, yeah. I certainly am not looking past this game because it's a young team going on a long (long, long long) road trip and going into what's going to be a very hostile and enthusiastic environment, against a very fired up team.

So this certainly will not be an easy game for BC. But on paper, it's one that they should win. RIT was not very good last year, finishing 7th in Atlantic Hockey. They will be better this year, I think, but on a neutral site you'd really expect BC to win this game very often.

GS: I don't really know what to expect from RIT, but 7th in Atlantic Hockey is not good.

Sorry New Guy.

If we lose to the 7th place Atlantic Hockey team I may bail on that BC vs. UConn game. Hell, UConn was 4th.

JG: 7th in Atlantic Hockey is definitely not good. But I expect their best foot forward. They do have some veteran players and some intriguing freshmen, particularly 21-year-old freshman twin brothers Chase Norrish and Brady Norrish, both out of Saskatchewan.

GS: Twin 21 year old freshmen from Saskatchewan.


JG: But yeah, I hear you. This should be a game where BC can score some goals. Hopefully they respond well to the environment, tighten up defensively and get a nice win to get some feel-good vibes going into the season's first homestand.

GS: That'll about wrap things up. Hopefully we're feeling good after a nice win this weekend to get the monkey off our back. We'll see you next week.