Weekend Preview: Boston College Eagles

One of my non-NU favorite pictures of all time. Via CollegeHockeyNews

The back half of the upcoming weekend will see Northeastern host their rival from Newton, the Boston College Eagles. BC started off the season 1-5-1, the worst start for the program since the 1930s, but since have rebounded with five straight conference victories in a row. The Eagles travel to Durham on Friday, taking on New Hampshire before coming back to Boston for their date with the Huskies.

So far this season, Boston College has been a puzzle that fans are struggling to figure out. They seem extremely capable of beating the bad teams in front of them (Merrimack, UConn, Vermont), but they have only one other win this year (Providence). Their losses have come against teams that should be in the NCAA Tournament conversation- Wisconsin, Quinnipiac, Denver, St. Cloud. Traditionally BC would be competitive against these teams, but this season the high-end skill that we’ve come to expect from the Eagles just does not appear to be there.

The Eagles have been carried by a trio of freshmen playing on the same line. Logan Hutsko is their leading scorer with 10 points in 12 games, while freshman Chris Grando is their top goal scorer (5 goals). The trio is rounded out by b, an Edmonton draft pick, who has 7 points (2 goals) on the season as well. Offensive contributions have come from Chris Brown (4-3-7) and Graham McPhee (3-5-8), but upperclassmen forwards have largely been quiet for the Eagles so far. On defense, Casey Fitzgerald returned and is once again a threat from the blue line, posting a 3-5-8 and putting 37 shots on net. As a matter of fact, BC shot totals are led by two defenseman, Fitzgerald and Michael Kim (32 shots).

In goal, incumbent Joe Woll has been lackluster this season, posting a 90.1 save percentage in his 9 games played. Backup Ryan Edquist has been stellar when called upon (93.9 save percentage), so the question exists whether or not Coach York will stick the Woll he built up or if Edquist will get a shot this weekend.

Looking at team statistics, the Eagles have actually had some solid possession numbers: 53. 3% Corsi overall, with 52.9% at even strength and 51.1% at close scores (tied or within 1 goal). This indicates that the Eagles are an average-to-above-average possession team that is likely getting a little unlucky in the goals department. As of this writing, Boston College is averaging 2.33 goals per game, 11th-worst in the nation. At the same time, they have a 7.5 shooting percentage, 5th-worst in the nation. This could be ominous news for the Huskies, as the Eagles may be due for an offensive explosion. The Eagles’ powerplay has been bad as well, with a 12.77% success rate, while their penalty kill has been successful 83.1% of the time, a quality performance.

I had the chance to speak with a member of BC Interruption and have a Q & A exchange with him looking ahead to this game:

NUHB: The year seems very strange for the Eagles. a 1-5-1 start has been followed by winning 5 in a row, but not against the best competition (Merrimack x2, UConn, Vermont x2). How would you evaluate the Eagles’ season so far?

BCI: This has been an extremely uncharacteristic team for Coach York to work with. There isn’t even a true senior on this team (not counting graduate transfer Kevin Lohan). While we have brought in a lot of solid Freshman talent in the likes of Chris Grando, Logan Hutsko and Jacob Tortora there still is not much cohesion amongst the team. However, I believe the rough start to the season was something that the Eagles needed. I view it as a brutal introduction for the new guys to the college hockey world where they are thrown right into the fire against top tier programs like St. Cloud and Denver to get an exposure of high-caliber hockey. From these games, it was easy to notice, as an Eagle’s fan, that this is going to be a season filled with growing pains and kinks that need to be ironed out. So far, we have seen a lot of progress. The Eagles have been able to bounce back, are currently riding on a five game win streak going into UNH on Friday and sit at the top of the Hockey East. This team has a lot of talent and when the team chemistry finally clicks, this team is going to be dangerous.

NUHB: Scoring was a big concern coming into this year for people analyzing Boston College. So far, the leading goal scorer is freshman Chris Grando, while fellow freshman Logan Hutsko leads overall scoring (10 points). Would you say that the Eagles are being carried by these young guns, and are you worried about scoring from upperclassmen such as Chris Brown, JD Dudek, and David Cotton?

BCI: I wouldn’t say that I am worried about the lack of scoring from the upperclassman. In fact, I am actually ecstatic to see these young guys carrying a lot of the scoring. This is a team with six freshman and thirteen sophomores. Brown and Dudek are the only two upperclass forwards on the team, so it has pretty much been a prerequisite for these new guys coming to Boston College that they have to find the back of the net. Simple because we don’t have many scoring options. Early on, these player’s showed signs of their youthfulness with them consistently being out-shot by their opponents and having a tough time getting to the net. However, the past five games have shown that players like Tortora, Grando and Hutsko are finding their grooves and have drastically improved at their goal-scoring abilities.

NUHB: The Eagles historically *always* have good goaltending. Last year Joe Woll was excellent, but his .901 SV% this year is less stellar. Are you concerned about Woll, and is there a chance Coach York would yield the game to sophomore Ryan Edquist (.939 SV%)?

BCI: While Woll has not been his best thus far, a lot of that has to do with simply poor defense at the start of the season. He was getting straight bludgeoned with shots against St.Cloud and Denver that he was bound to let a few get past him. Edquist has performed better staistically, but against lower-tier opponents. From what I have seen in attending the BC home games, I think that talent wise Woll is a better goalie. He is far more athletic and versatile and Edquist and I think a better choice to have in net going against NU. In the long-run, I am not concerned for Woll and I think that tightening our defense will definitely help in improving his numbers.

NUHB: What do you think BC needs to accomplish in this game to emerge victorious?

BCI: Crisp passing mixed with a stout defense. I have noticed that the passing has been sub-par with there being a lot of forced passes that have caused BC to lose possession in the opponents territory. Additionally, a lot of their passes have not gathered well on their sticks, thus leading to a lot of missed opportunities. Rubber cement should be a great solution. Jokes aside, BC’s defense also has to keep the Huskies out of their zone and off of the powerplay. If they can do both of these, I think we can put up a good fight and eke out a win.

NUHB: In addition to the players mentioned in our questions above, who else should Huskies fans keep an eye on for this game?

BCI: I am all in on freshman Jacob Tortora. The NY native is so much fun to watch. With his 5-8′ 162lbs frame he his easily the smallest guy on the ice, but he’s got the ‘Gaudreau gene’ (that’s a thing right). He is quick, elusive and can be really dangerous when he gets close to the net. Additionally, keep an eye on defenseman Casey Fitzgerald. He can play both ends of the ice extremely well with his strong slapshots from the blueline and his toughness on the boards. NU needs to shut him down early, otherwise he could pose as a serious threat.

Final Thoughts: Once again, I believe Northeastern to be the better team going into this game. The Eagles have struggled to put the puck in the net, and Joe Woll has struggled so far this season. While I expect a tightly contested battle, the potency of Northeastern’s offense, I believe, will outshine the Eagles’ stout defense, and that Boston College’s offensive struggles will be their undoing. One player I will be watching is freshman Jacob Tortora, who reminds me of the classic “small but fast and skilled forward” that Jerry York has molded so well over the years.

Predictions: (2 points for correct result, +1 for correct score, -1 for incorrect result)

Downie (4 points): NU wins, 2-1

Davis (3 points): NU wins, 4-2

Fallon (0 points): NU wins 4-2