How do you set expectations for a team with 13 freshmen? It’s not easy, but we give it our best shot as we get ready for the Boston College hockey season, which begins Friday night against Air Force.
Our hockey writers tackled the following question:
What are your expectations going in to the season? What are you looking at as benchmarks for success? What would make you happy? What would leave you feeling dissatisfied?
Joe Gravellese —
I think it’s important to kind of zoom out from BC for a bit and look at the bigger picture in college hockey to set BC’s expectations for this year. In recent seasons, there have been maybe 7, 8, 9 teams that have broken away from the pack in Pairwise, then from like 8/9 down to 21ish is often one giant logjam, where one or two wins can be the difference between being a 3-seed or not making the tournament.
That’s a long-winded way of saying BC is probably going to be in that logjam where they will surf the tournament bubble and one or two crucial games will decide if they make it or not, sort of like 2014-15.
The Eagles are still going to win a lot of games in Hockey East. First of all, they’re going to roll out two lines that can punch with just about anyone - Colin White and Ryan Fitzgerald will anchor one of the best lines in Hockey East, and Austin Cangelosi and Chris Calnan will form a solid core for line 2. Joe Woll might have some growing pains in net but he’s got great pedigree and should do well.
The bottom 5 teams (UNH, Maine, Merrimack, Vermont and UMass) really should still be pretty bad, if not worse. UConn is still growing. Providence lost a higher percentage of their scoring than even BC did this offseason.
I expect BC to be 4th or 5th in Hockey East, which should be enough to put them solidly on the bubble depending on how the nonconference games shake out.
What would be a success? I’d say finishing 4th in HEA, advancing to the Garden and making the NCAA tournament. That would be a great foundation for this freshman-laden team to build on next year.
My expectation is that the team is going to take a little while to settle in, but once the freshmen have some time to get adjusted to the college game and lose their nerves BC will be a decent team. I have high expectations for White and Fitzgerald Sr. (and after the exhibition, Dudek) - at least for the first couple months I expect most of our scoring to come from that top line.
If they can make the HE semifinals and the NCAAs I will consider the season a success.
I mean I'd be happy if they exceeded everyone's expectations and killed it. But I'll also be very happy if they can hang on and come in 2nd to BU (ew).
I'll be dissatisfied if they fall to the middle of Hockey East. I know the team is young and HE has some great teams, but I'm going to be displeased if they can't make at least 3rd or 4th in Hockey East.
My expectations for this team are for a slight, but not severe, drop from last year. You simply cannot have the amount of attrition the Eagles had and perform at the same level. That said, there is still a lot of good carryover from last season; Colin White returning in particular is important. I expect this team to be around the 3-4 spot in Hockey East and on the bubble for the tourney.
I think a lot of parallels can be drawn between this year's team and the 2014-15 iteration. Therefore I think the benchmark win total will be 21, equaling the win total from that year. I think this team is better than that team, so I expect them to eclipse it.
I would be happy with a 2-3 seed in the NCAA tournament and a victory out of the Beanpot–not necessarily the trophy but just a victory in the tournament.
I would be disappointed in the Eagles not getting a bye in the Hockey East tournament. Despite the attrition, I still think this team could be a T-4 contender.
I think in an optimistic season, BC is looking at being in that huge crush of teams battling for the NCAA tournament bubble. That optimism does hinge on if the freshmen turn contribute.
Keep in mind with so many teams on the bubble, there is really only a difference of a few games separating making the NCAA tournament and being ranked in the 20s in the Pairwise.
Where I worry, though, is when I look back as past precedent on teams that had rosters gutted. Just look down the road — BU went from 21-16-2 in ‘12-’13 to 10-21-4 in ‘13-’14, the program’s worst season in over 50 years, and their first under .500 in a decade. And then there’s Wisconsin, another one of college hockey’s seemingly untouchable programs. The Badgers went 24-11-2 in ‘13-’14, before completely cratering to a whopping 4-26-5 (!!) in ‘14-’15.
That’s not to say that it always happens. North Dakota and Minnesota, for example, have managed to avoid such drops despite losses of talent. But they are not immune either. College hockey’s wildly increased parity means that the elite programs no longer have separation above the rest of the country, and cannot afford to continue to jettison talent to the NHL early if they hope to compete.
The benchmark for success this season is the NCAA tournament. Given what was lost, that’s where BC fans should feel satisfied, given that this year’s recruiting class should give a strong foundation for the next few years. An NCAA tournament berth, not reaching the Garden, and not winning the Beanpot will probably still be a disappointment given our history, given the landscape this year, setting the bar at making the NCAA tournament is probably an attainable goal.