There have been a few notable exceptions - 2006, 2009, 2015 - but generally speaking, almost every time Boston College hockey has rolled in to Agganis Arena since the building’s construction, they’ve been the “better” team on paper.
Things are a little bit different this year. Boston University is the overwhelming favorite in every poll to win Hockey East this season, and after a few early bumps in the road, they seem to be finding their stride. The Terriers have won four straight and are 6-1-1 in their last 8, boosting them in to a tie for 4th in the PairWise Rankings.
Perhaps the most important and impressive night of the season for BU came last Thursday. With a bevy of players absent due to the World Junior gold medal game, a shorthanded BU squad defeated #10 Union in overtime. While their teammates were pulling off that win, Keiffer Bellows, Clayton Keller and more were playing a huge role in the US taking down Canada.
All this is to say: BU is feeling pretty good right now - as they should.
What makes this weekend’s series so intriguing is that BC has also looked good when they’ve had their full lineup (which they may/should on Friday night). It would be an exciting and dramatic twist in the long-standing rivalry if BC and BU simultaneously established themselves as legitimate Frozen Four contenders this year, something that hasn’t really been the case since 2006. If BC comes out of this weekend looking even with or better than the Terriers, both will certainly look like real contenders at this point.
The other intriguing thing about this series is that the underdog role may well suit this Boston College team. They seem to play best when playing with a chip on their shoulder.
The Eagles’ hot start to Hockey East play has been fueled by freshmen and role players. The year over year improvement of players like Matt Gaudreau, Chris Brown, JD Dudek and Michael Kim has allowed BC to exceed the expectations of some who pegged the Eagles as the #6 team in Hockey East. Jerry York in particular seems to really be embracing this team’s attitude, making a point of talking about how much fun they are to coach.
Given the two teams’ ranking, BC goes in to this weekend without the favorite’s burden, and with the knowledge that even a split would be a great success. Anything more than that would be a landmark weekend.
Though it’s been a while, BU having a top team on paper is not an entirely unfamiliar experience.
When BC’s run of success began to really crank up in the mid-2000s, BU was still recruiting either even with or better than BC most seasons according to the experts and based on pedigree. But year after year, BC put together a team that combined stars and role players that more often than not outperformed BU teams that were just as good if not better on paper.
Toward the end of Jack Parker’s tenure, BC began running laps around BU on the recruiting trail, bring in in the series of stacked classes that formed the core of the last 5 years or so. But David Quinn and his staff have turned that around, and are out-recruiting just about everyone at this point, racking up a huge series of recruiting wins for BU.
This year’s team, of course, features 4 first round picks and 4 second round picks - a collection of blue chip talent that no team in the country can match.
As BC fans know well, however, having the most blue chip talent isn’t always a guarantee of anything.
This weekend will be a great test for the Eagles, and if they find some success against the Terriers, it will be a lot of fun - for fans and players alike. It’s not often that BC hockey gets to play the role of the underdog.