Hard as it may be to believe now, ten days ago at about 11 PM things were looking pretty good for the Boston College hockey team. After hammering three weak opponents, BC won a Friday night thriller in Denver, 2-1, to improve to 4-1 on the season. The next night, the Eagles were around a minute away from closing out a 1-1 tie and coming home with a 4-1-1 record.
With a flick of a wrist shot past Thatcher Demko, Denver snatched a hard-earned win over BC, and sent the Eagles into a small tailspin in the form of what is now a three-game losing streak, with losses last week to UConn (1-0) and BU (5-3) bringing BC's record down to 4-4-0.
The schedule hasn't been easy on a BC team still trying to find its identity and deal with a major injury to one of their most important defensemen. After flying out to Denver for two games, the Eagles had a midweek game just four days later at UConn. Following that disappointment, they had just two days to turn around and get ready for one of the biggest games of the year. Now, after just three more days off, the Eagles are back at it again, facing the Harvard Crimson tonight at Conte Forum. Even after this, there's no respite, as BC has to fly to Michigan State on Friday night for a game against the Spartans, before finally getting the customary week off.
While the team would never use the condensed schedule as an excuse for failing to live up to expectations it certainly hasn't helped the Eagles as a number of problems have been able to build themselves up into minor crises in a short period of time. The biggest problems come on offense; BC's goal output in the past four games: 1, 1, 0, 3. And their power play goal output? 0, 0, 0, and 0, and not for a lack of opportunities, either. These are real concerns with the regular season now, remarkably, crossing the quarter pole.
The good news is that the team effort all around looked much better against BU than it did against UConn or even Denver. The Eagles looked energized and ready to play, and created a number of grade-A opportunities beyond the three that went into the net. They could have easily won that game against a BU team that is deservedly considered one of the nation's best right now.
While I hesitate to call a game in November "must win," tonight's home game against Harvard is a key opportunity for BC to try to put themselves into a better pairwise position (and avoid falling below .500). Neither Harvard nor Michigan State are expected to be powerhouses this year but both present opportunities for BC to flip a lot of "common opponent" comparisons come March. (No, it's never too early to think about this.)
Tonight's game won't be easy. While BC has handled Harvard with relative ease in recent years, these two teams come into tonight's game feeling a lot differently about their early season form. Harvard is 1-0-2, with a win over RPI and ties at Dartmouth and Union. Not exactly BU's start, but not bad either. It seems like every year, Harvard comes into the year with some manner of hype surrounding their usually strong recruiting classes,but they almost always disappoint. This year, they were not included in the preseason top 20... so maybe this is the year they exceed expectations somewhat.
The Crimson's problem has never been talent under coach Ted Donato, and this year is no exception, with Harvard featuring 8 NHL draft picks. Jimmy Vesey is probably the biggest star on the team, with the US World Junior forward off to a strong, 4-point start in three games. Senior defenseman Patrick McNally, a draft pick of Vancouver, also has four points, while goalie Steve Michalek - another drafted player, of the Wild - has a .944 save percentage.
Despite Harvard's talent, if the Eagles are up for this game and bring the energy and tempo they brought to the BU game on Saturday, they should be OK. If not, it might be time to get a little more worried.