Boyle Takes One for the Team
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
BOSTON Brian Boyle was drafted by the NHL's L.A. Kings as a forward — he had played almost his entire college hockey career as a forward — but as his career winds down, he might be better remembered for his defensive efforts in his senior season.
The senior captain was asked to move back to the blue line after the Eagles' defensive corps was ravaged with injuries. The captain not only embraced the move, but he was dominating all weekend as Boston College captured the Hockey East tournament championship.
"It started because of the defense I played on the penalty kill last year," Boyle said. "We got two injuries and coach called me into his office and said, 'We really want to use you at defense, I think it will be the best for the team,' and that's all he had to say."
BC Coach Jerry York believed that it was the right move because, as he put it, he has never coached a player quite like Brian Boyle.
"I've never had a player that could make that switch at this level," York said. "He has a great feel to be able to turn and get the puck up ice. At the next level, I see him being a defenseman. That is of course up to the Kings or wherever he goes, but just to me he seems much more dominating as a player playing defense.
"He had played some back there for us on penalty kills, but really we were out of options. We just made a decision that turned out to be greatly beneficial to our team. He can play both positions, but like I said, he just seems so more natural on defense."
Boyle, who led Hockey East in scoring, had all the tools to play back on defense — especially his 6-foot-7 frame.
"If I use my reach as well as I can, that will be beneficial to me," he said. "I try to keep guys to the outside and reading when guys are shooting and I try to get my stick on it. Keeping guys away from the net really — that's what I am trying to do."
Playing forward provided a different perspective for Boyle, one that few others that play on the backline have had.
"Having the perspective of being a forward, I know that we like to get the puck moved up to us as quickly as possible," he said. "Knowing that, I try to get the puck and move it up the ice as quickly as I can for guys like [Brock] Bradford and [Nathan] Gerbe. You obviously want to do that anyway, but having the different perspective of being a forward certainly helps me there."
Boyle's partner on defense has also help transition one of Hockey East's best forwards into arguably one of its best defenders.
"Mike Brennan has been talking to me and he has been immense in this whole switch," Boyle said. "Whether it is on the bench or when I have the puck, he is shouting out and helping me along."
The challenge of the quick UNH forwards in the title game was the ultimate test for the Eagles' newest No. 1 defender.
"I didn't tell any of the other guys, but it was certainly running through my head trying to go to bed last night," Boyle said with a laugh. "The forwards they have, there is amazing quickness. They have the unbelievable ability to turn an odd man rush for us into an odd man rush for them and I had to respect that ability."
The first-round pick had some work on the blueline this summer — but not even he is sure what is ahead at the next level.
"I couldn't tell you," Boyle said. "My college future is on the blueline and that's all I can really worry about right now. This summer the Kings used me a little bit on defense at the development camp and they told me that it's an option and I told them that I'm fine with whatever.
"It will be a lot work no matter where I play in the NHL because it's such a different game. Quite frankly that's a lot of thinking that I don't have time to do right now, especially in tournament mode. Hopefully I can round out my game and be as complete a player as I can be."
Brock Fills the Void
With Boyle moving back, forward Brock Bradford stepped up his game in a big way winning the MVP award.
"He along with Ben Smith and Nathan Gerbe really allowed us to make the change," York said. "Brock got to the point where he and Gerbe's games weren't all that different.
"Obviously we were a little afraid at first because you take the leading scorer in Hockey East off of a line, and then what does that do to those other players, but Brock and Smith have really blossomed — it's been great to watch."
Bradford, a fifth round pick of the Boston Bruins, didn't feel the heat after Boyle moved. At least that's the story he tells. However the sophomore is playing the best hockey of his young career at the most important point in Boston College's season.
"Obviously it's a big loss when Brian is off your line," Bradford said. "Nathan and I were confident though because we saw the improvements that Ben [Smith] was making and we were excited to play with him. He has done a great job getting pucks and getting them deep and it was great seeing him getting rewarded as well this weekend."