Here are some things we learned during BC's easy strolls to victory over two Atlantic Hockey foes, UConn and RIT, last week...
1. The Eagles are a resilient bunch. A commenter (I forget who) brought up a very good point after the RIT game - the last time a BC team had a blistering start to the season was in '12-'13, and that team was unable to keep up its play and faded big time after the Holiday break. That's a valid note of concern, particularly since that '12-'13 team dealt with a tougher schedule than this team has so far.
However, what makes me worry less about this team's staying power is their continued demonstration of their resiliency. Top recruit bolts midweek? They come out over the weekend and pick up their best win of the season. Fourth line stalwart gets hurt? A walk-on, healthy-scratch defenseman slots in to the fourth line, scores a goal and plays well. Chris Calnan goes down with an injury? Chris Brown slots in and scores a goal. The Eagles have bounced back from early deficits; they've scored late winning goals; they've killed penalties at key times; and they kept on churning ahead even after the disappointing setback at RPI and being beaten down at home in exhibition play. This group has demonstrated a resiliency and a mental toughness that will come in handy when the games get more difficult.
2. Playing from behind is no longer a huge concern. I know, they were playing RIT. But even against a team of RIT's caliber, if BC went down 2-0 last year I would have thought game over. When a team is so limited offensively it can be pretty easy to key in on shutting down what little offense they do have, and spend a lot of the game gumming up the neutral zone. That was pretty much the case last year; if Tuch, Sanford and Gilmour weren't pulling BC out of a hole, nobody was going to do it. And odds are, nobody was going to do it. Not so now.
3. Matt Gaudreau continues to cement his place on the team. It's hard to believe that at the start of the year, our informal conversations here were about whether or not Gaudreau would play every game, or if he'd be platooned or possibly behind enough freshmen to spend significant time riding the pine. Gaudreau looks like a different player than the guy who played as a freshman. He's always been quick and gritty, but he's added some serious savvy and improved strength to his game. Far from looking out of place alongside Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald, he's helped make them even better. And Gaudreau is rocking a career-long point streak after a goal at UConn and a trio of assists against RIT.
4. BC can, indeed, play stretches of penalty-free hockey. And when they do, the results are enjoyable. BC was almost entirely penalty free in the first two periods against RIT, aside from picking up matching minors at 17:16 of the second. During that stretch of play, BC outshot RIT 31-8. Oh, the humanity. According to College Hockey News, BC's possession numbers when the game is close and at even-strength are #4 in the country with 59.4% CF in those situations, behind Penn State, Minnesota Duluth and North Dakota, but ahead of Quinnipiac, who have been a #fancystats machine in recent years.
5. Progress will not be linear for UConn, but progress will occur. To add to the list of common logical fallacies, I'd like to put together a list of Sports Fan Fallacies (anyone want to work on this project with me?). One of the great ones that exist is what I call the "linear progress fallacy" - the idea that if you put the right pieces in place, that PRESTO! things are going to get better bit by bit in a linear manner until you ultimately reach the top. The place where I've seen this the most is in American soccer. There has always been this sense among US fans that now that the country has demonstrated that they care about soccer and are willing to invest in it, that we'd get better in a linear fashion and then ultimately eventually be on top of the world. Of course, sports don't really work like that. Everyone else is working on making themselves better too, not just you, so progress is going to be a lot more uneven.
It was easy to fall in to the linear progress fallacy with UConn hockey - they finished 9th last year, so they'd naturally do a little better this year, a little better next year, etc. on the elevator ride to the top. It looks like it's going to be more of a bumpy road for the #icebus this year, however, and based on how things are going now, they're probably going to be locked in to a fight for positions 10 through 12.
That said, that program will still grow and progress. Watching them in person for the first time all year, I could see the speed and skill in guys like Max Letunov and Tage Thompson. They're clearly high level players who will make a big impact for the Huskies throughout their careers, but it's going to take time and patience for the team to build in to a consistent winner.
6. Unsustainable stats are still unsustainable. When Thatcher Demko's save percentage was in the .970 range, it was pretty obviously eventually going to take a dip, because hockey just works that way in the long run. We've seen it happen over these last few games, and Demko's sv% is now a more Hellebuyckian .953. (Hellebuyck's sv% in 2013 was .941, so that seems like a pretty good and sustainable target.) While we're talking unsustainable stats, Teddy Doherty has 6 goals on a shooting percentage of 30% (!). I love that it's still early enough in the season to see goofy stats like that.