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Boston College Hockey Season Post-Mortem, Part I: What Went Wrong?

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A look at the hockey season.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The 2014-2015 Boston College hockey season is over. The Frozen Four will take place in Boston next weekend and BC won't be there. While this is disappointing, it's not entirely unexpected. At the end of the day, this was not a championship team. They battled hard to recover from a sluggish start to the season and make the NCAA tournament, but the odds of them making a deep run were always slim.

Let's take a look back at the season, starting with disappointments and what went wrong.

Scoring from the upperclassmen

This is the most important point, and it wasn't at all unexpected, but I'm putting it first because it ultimately was the most important factor. Attempts to focus on other factors first and foremost will largely fall in to the category of over-analysis.

Of the top 10 BC scorers, 8 of them were freshmen or sophomores. The two who were not were junior defensemen, Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty. The first upperclassman forward who appears is Destry Straight, who ranked 11th on the team with 14 points. As a whole, the senior class combined for 44 points (Straight, 17; Smith, 17; Spiro, 9; Sit. 6; Linell, 1). The juniors and seniors added up to 96 points in total, anchored largely by Matheson and Doherty.

By contrast, Providence got 259 points from juniors and seniors this year. BU got 235. Lowell, another very young team, got 143. Notre Dame, 185. You get the picture.

None of this is intended to pile on the junior and senior classes, who ultimately gave as much as they could give. Their effort was never in question. But we had hoped that one of the junior or senior forwards would make the big senior year jump that has happened in years past. It just never happened. Cam Spiro showed some flashes early in the season of having the speed and high-end skill to put up a lot of points, but ultimately ended up a 4th line contributor. Smith and Sit were 4th-line grinders and key PK contributors all four years but never became anything beyond that. Danny Linell's career was plagued by injuries, and he filled in admirably in a number of roles for BC, but never emerged as a scoring threat.

Particularly in a world where many of the top college hockey teams have players aged 22-24, it's hard to rely on 18- and 19-year-old freshmen and sophomores to carry you to the mountaintop. You need upperclassmen to lead the way, and allow the freshmen and sophomores to develop in their shadow rather than being rushed into first line roles.

That was probably never going to happen this year; BC was always going to be dependent on the youth movement. The young players did well, but not quite well enough to make up for the lack of production from the older players.

Waiting for Gostisbehere

One of the reasons why I felt reasonably optimistic about this team's chances to score goals this year despite the lack of high-powered forwards in the junior and senior classes was that I expected a lot of scoring contribution from the blue line. I believe I foolishly invoked the name of Shayne Gostisbehere in my season preview, as an example of the impact Mike Matheson, Noah Hanifin or Ian McCoshen might be able to have on the BC offense.

That never really materialized. Matt Grzelcyk at BU put up 37 points this year; Hobey candidate Joey LaLeggia starred for Denver with 41 points; Union's Jeff Taylor slid up the depth chart for the Dutchmen and contributed 31. I was looking for something like that from the blue line at BC. Instead, our leading scoring defenseman was Mike Matheson, #15 in blue line scoring nationally with 25 points. Hanifin and Doherty each had 23, and McCoshen had 16.

To what do we attribute this?

For Matheson, you could argue that he got unlucky not to score more. Matheson had 107 shots on goal, tied for 9th among defensemen, but only 3 of them found the back of the net—a shooting percentage that suggests bad luck. He also had numerous shot attempts blocked, though looking back, it feels like he put a lot of shots into heavy traffic that had a high likelihood of being blocked. His final game as an Eagle on Saturday was one of his best all season; he scored an absolute bomb that nobody was going to block, contributed to numerous attacking zone rushes, and had an assist on BC's final goal of the year; it makes you wonder what could have been if he stuck around.

For all of the defensemen, the general weakness of the power play can be blamed for the lack of points. Of course, you could argue that the defensemen were expected to be a bigger part of the power play, so the blame could go in either direction.

Hanifin took a little while to heat up and adjust to the pace and strength of the college game, but once he did, he looked phenomenal. He seems poised to be one of the very top defensemen in college hockey next year if he comes back; let us not forget that he was 17 at the start of the season. Once he found his legs he was one of the most important players on the team.

Additionally, you could argue that the system BC employed in the attacking zone didn't encourage the blueliners to let it rip enough. Matheson was top 10 among blue liners in shots on goal but after him you had Hanifin 30th, McCoshen 61st, Doherty 69th, and Savage 76th. With the amount of skill BC had on the blue line, they should have been encouraged to let it rip more often.

All of the defensemen suffered down the stretch from the burden of the team rolling 5 D after Danny Linell and Brendan Silk got hurt and Jerry York decided to play Teddy Doherty as a forward. I thought that decision disrupted the blue line rhythm that BC had going during their success in January.

Can't Break 'Em Down

When a team is playing a well-executed neutral zone trap it's hard for any team to beat them, but BC has particularly struggled against good trapping teams in recent years, even with good teams. With this year's team, once they fell behind to a defensively stout team, it felt like an impossible mountain to climb sometimes, with the Vermont series serving as the perfect example. In Game 1, when BC scored first and forced Vermont to open it up, the Eagles gashed UVM for three more goals; when the Catamounts scored first in games 2 and 3, BC couldn't recover.

Another struggle BC had this year was with teams who packed in their players in the slot in the defensive zone. Vermont was good at this, as was Denver. I feel like teams got a read on what BC was doing well in terms of scoring "greasy" goals down low, which accounted for many of the Eagles' goals during their January hot streak; they were able to neutralize this. BC didn't have the speed to score on the rush like they have in years past, nor did they have the tape-to-tape passing brilliance to break down packed in defenses.

Santini's Injury

In addition to missing Santini during the long stretch he was out for (basically all of November and December and a few weeks of January), Santini also never quite looked 100% upon his return. His shot block numbers were halved this year despite playing on a team that spent more time in its own end, and he was never quite the same imposing physical presence upon his return.

When healthy, Santini is one of the best defensive defensemen in college hockey; let's hope he's ready and 100% in October.

No Focal Point For The Sophomores

BC has a very good crop of sophomore forwards. Any team would love to have a class of Ryan Fitzgerald, Austin Cangelosi, Adam GIlmour and Chris Calnan. What we were hoping for this year is for one of them to emerge as a true focal point in the offense, however, and that never really happened (though Gilmour was very good when paired with Tuch and Sanford). Fitzgerald looked early in the season like he might become the flashy, high-end threat the team needed, but it just didn't happen. Cangelosi had an inconsistent season. Calnan played well and spent a lot of the season playing with lower-line players, but again, he didn't take the huge leap.

I would argue that this is a function of being asked to do too much for many of these guys. You could point to the fact that Fitzgerald and Cangelosi's numbers went down from last year to this year and say they didn't develop, but the flip side is that last year they had the Gaudreau line to be the offensive focal point and allow them to get more favorable line matchups and carry less of the burden.

Next year, these guys will be juniors, and there should be more offense stacked up and down the roster; the hope is that we will see at least one of them become a star scorer.