Joseph Gravellese: With the Boston College hockey team's season-ending awards banquet coming up this Sunday, it's time to take another look back at an unfulfilling 2014-2015 before starting to look ahead to next year.
Four of the awards handed out each year are the team MVP award, the most improved player, the best freshman award, and an award to the player who "Best typifies the values of BC hockey," given to a player who shows exemplary leadership, determination and effort.
I thought it would be fun to debate (or maybe be boring and agree entirely) on who should win these awards -- and also apply them to the women's side as well.
Let's start with MVP on the men's side.
JG: There's not a cut-and-dried choice here, for better or for worse. Nobody had a mind boggling season. But a lot of players contributed to the team in positive ways, allowing them to become a tournament team.
I would have to say that Thatcher Demko is the choice for MVP. He may not have been Gillies this year (though it should be noted, there are some parallels between Demko and Gillies... Gillies won the NCAA tournament his junior year... Demko is going to be a junior next year... make of that what you will), but his presence and reliability allowed BC to be competitive even without a stellar offense.
He played in all but two games, was almost always good, and certainly kept BC in a number of games with big saves.
Grant Salzano: Demko seems to be the obvious choice. There isn't really anyone on offense who I can even consider.
It's a tough choice. Demko never really did go ham and look like a dominant goaltender, but at the same time, he also put up great numbers while playing hurt.
JG: I would agree with that. Tuch and Sanford had good seasons, as did Gilmour, but none rising to "team MVP" level or outshining Demko.
Hanifin and Doherty should get shoutouts. Doherty faded at the end of the season but to me was team MVP as of, say, late January, when the team had hit its stride. The switch to forward coincided with a drop in his production.
Hanifin didn't have monstrous numbers but in terms of "value," he's a guy who was playing nearly half the game by the end of the season, and his improvement defensively was really a key factor in BC's improvement from the early season doldrums.
GS: I would have to imagine that honorable mention, were there such a thing, would go to Hanifin. He was the best skater on the ice for either team in a lot of games.
At least the women's MVP choice is easy.
JG: Alex Carpenter.
GS: Alex Carpenter.
Men's Most Improved Player
JG: There are a few good choices for this award. I'm curious as to your vote.
GS: I'm going to say Doherty before you get a chance to.
JG: To me, it's a tough choice between Doherty and Cam Spiro. I would argue that Doherty was really quite good when he got the chance to play last year and I was not surprised by the season he had at all. But the fact is as a sophomore he spent a considerable amount of the season buried on the depth chart, and became indispensible as a junior.
So the case can be made.
Spiro is another guy who didn't have eye popping numbers, but he became a regular after three years with a lot of time in a suit.
GS: I think there's more than "a case to be made" for Doherty. Like you said, he rode the bench for a while last year and then this year was leading the team in scoring through, what, January?
Surprised or not, that's one hell of an improvement.
JG: That's a good point. Of course, the "problem" is you could really pick Doherty for a lot of these awards. I guess that's why he's captain now.
Women's Most Improved Player
GS: This is tough. There are a couple players worth mentioning.
JG: The hard thing here is that the women's team's top players have pretty much all been good from the get go, and some of their other top players were freshmen.
Curious as to your nominees.
GS: 2nd runner up is Kate Leary. While only increasing her point total a little year over year, she really impressed this season. This year the superline played about half the game, and yet Leary still increased her point totals.
1st runner up is Emily Pfalzer. And there is a case to be made to put her at #1 for this. But her surge into the national spotlight started about halfway through the 2013-2014 season when she returned from injury and started tearing teams up from the blue line.
You'll recall that I -- correctly! -- said at the end of that year that she was a dark horse pick to be a Patty Kaz finalist. So she really took a strong second half from her junior year and carried that on into her senior campaign.
JG: Good call with Pfalzer though yeah, again, she was already really excellent.
I think I know who you're picking for #1 here. And I think I agree, now that I think about it.
GS: I think we're on the same page for the winner here: Lexi Bender.
JG: Oh interesting.
I was thinking Meghan Grieves.
She had three goals in two full seasons as a freshman and a sophomore combined, and then scored 8 goals this year. And she was part of a pretty stout fourth line that did well when they got playing time.
GS: She's a great, great choice, and Grieves is one of my absolute favorite players on the team. But I have another award in mind from her.
Bender, though, went absolutely nuts from the blue line this season. Last year she put up 17 points, this season a whopping 29 -- again, as a defenseman. Bender was always a good player but made a huge, HUGE leap this season.
She put in an incredible amount of work in the offseason before this past year and it really showed.
Best Freshman, Men
JG: All three freshmen were key contributors for BC This year: Tuch, Sanford and Hanifin. Without any of them BC would have been in some trouble. But I think Hanifin is the clear cut-above choice here, for the reasons outlined in the case for his MVP candidacy.
GS: Yep. It's got to be Hanifin. And he really started to take over games as the year went on.
Tuch is #2 but I feel like he sort of came in spurts.
JG: Definitely. There's more to come from him and I'm looking forward to seeing it.
Best Freshman, Women
JG: This is another category with a whole bunch of choices. I think I'm going with Katie Burt. She came in after accelerating and was immediately a hugely valuable part of the team, providing stability in goal that BC didn't know they'd have at the start of the year.
JG: That really sums up the choice of Burt well. Goaltending was a massive question mark at the start of the season. And as a 17 year old she led the nation in both GAA and save percentage into February and settled into the top 3 or so when all was said and done.
It's pretty goddamn remarkable when you think about what she did and how young she was when she did it.
Our bombs-away offense kind of kept her out if the spotlight but her abilities in goal really allowed BC to play the style they wanted to play.
Most Typifies BC Hockey, Men
JG: This one you can obviously interpret however you want. My vote is for Doherty though I know we sort of gave him every award I think, including possibly the Lady Byng, so if we're looking to mix it up here, Quinn Smith is another player worth getting props for the effort and leadership he brought each night.
GS: You stole my thunder with Quinn, man!
JG: Sorry 'bout that.
GS: Quinn Smith had a disappointing season, numbers wise. But I challenge you to find a shift where he wasn't busting his ass harder than everyone else, in the corners, fighting to win battles, etc.
Everyone does that at this level, but that kid left it all on the ice this year. He really did.
JG: For sure. That's never been a concern with Smith who will definitely be remembered fondly for his contributions to BC over four years, including being a big part of the 2013 Beanpot victory.
Most Typifies BC Hockey, Women
JG: I assume this is the award you had in mind for Grieves. Great choice and definitely an example of persevering through good times and bad to make an impact.
I am going to cast a vote for Pfalzer here, because I think her leadership and her play had a huge impact on BC this year. The entire D's ability to turn defense into offense is what really set this team apart (aside from the brilliance of Carpenter and Skarupa obviously) and she really led by example on that front. She's also been a well-respected captain and a consummate "pro" (well, amateur, but you know what I mean. Though she'll be a pro next year. Hooray, NWHL!).
GS: Yeah I hinted at it earlier, but Grieves deserves this award. I have no inkling whatsoever who will be among the BC leadership next year (other than Captain America being the obvious choice for the "C") but I hope Grieves gets at least an "A" for her senior season.
JG: I'm on board with that.
GS: Grieves put up very, very nice fourth line numbers this year, but more than anything just seemed to win battles and take the game play out of BC's end an awful lot. She has worked her way up from getting not a lot of ice time to being a crucial part of the team's identity.
This is going to be a sappy feel-good paragraph, so skip it if you want, but the entire women's hockey team deserves a shoutout for being some of the best women on campus. We know personally from Friend Of The Blog, wwhyte, just the kind of impact that these girls have on the young girls who come watch the team. It seems like they have a Skate With The Eagles every month, and they seem to absolutely love their time with the kids.
In the middle of the season this year, half the team went out to a local community rink to support wwhyte's 8 year old daughter while she played in goal for her U10 team. They made signs and generally made her feel like a rock star. And it wasn't just the things they did for her, it was everything they've done for all the girls who support the team and how well spoken and likeable they are.
Anyway that's my sappy Grant Moment. Hockey! Yeah, hockey. I miss hockey.
JG: We'll get to see it again in like...3,594 days, approximately. That's about how long the offseason feels. On we go.
GS: Too long. But there is a lot of optimism for both teams next season. Here's hoping it's all worth the wait.