BC Freshmen Making Quick Impression
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
BOSTON Freshman defensemen often take the longest to adjust to college hockey. They're facing players who are older, bigger and faster than their previous opposition, and their mistakes are more noticeable, especially if the puck ends up in the back of the net as a result. For those reasons, Boston College expected to have some growing pains early in the season.
The Eagles returned just three defensemen from last year's national championship squad, leaving four freshmen — all 18- or 19-years old — to fill the three vacant spots. Teddy Doherty, Michael Matheson and Colin Sullivan have played every game for the Eagles so far, while Travis Jeke hasn't yet cracked the lineup.
There has certainly been an adjustment for that group, but it's also become evident that they have what it takes to succeed in Hockey East. They helped BC earn consecutive shutouts against Northeastern and Massachusetts-Lowell, then jumped into the offense to help complete the sweep of Lowell with a 6-3 win on Sunday.
"I think they're all doing a great job," said goalie Parker Milner. "They all came in a lot stronger and bigger for their age than any of us could've expected. I think they're getting used to the pace. They played at a high level in high school — a couple USHL guys, a couple prep guys. I think the transition's been easier than it might be for a normal freshman."
One sign that this group isn't intimidated by the college game has been its physical play. Doherty, Matheson and Sullivan threw their bodies around all weekend against Lowell and showed they weren't afraid to mix things up. Even more encouraging was that, for the most part, they did it without crossing the line.
"I think it builds confidence if you know that you can compete physically in a league like this," Matheson said. "You just feel more comfortable out there knowing that you can stand up and play in this league. It helps you build that confidence that you need to know that you deserve to be out there."
Doherty and Matheson also showed what they were capable of offensively on Sunday. Doherty set up three goals by moving his feet to create shooting lanes — something easier said than done. His first assist came 4 minutes, 23 seconds into the game when he walked in and took a shot that Bill Arnold tipped home. The second came on a power play later in the first. He shot wide, but the puck bounced back right to Kevin Hayes at the right post. He tallied his third assist late in the second when Destry Straight collected his rebound and popped it over Doug Carr.
Matheson, who went 23rd overall to the Florida Panthers in this summer's NHL draft, added two assists of his own. Early in the second, he led a rush down the left wing before centering for Arnold, who then dropped to Hayes for BC's third goal of the game. Later in the second, he made a great steal in the neutral zone, took the puck the other way, and found Johnny Gaudreau cutting to the net for the goal.
"Mike Matheson has been outstanding since Day 1," said assistant captain Patrick Wey. "He's a great skater. He moves the puck well. Teddy Doherty, my partner, has gotten more solid defensively as he's gotten used to our systems. And as you could see [Sunday], he definitely contributes offensively. They've been great."
Sullivan, a seventh-round pick of the Montreal Canadiens in 2011, is more of a stay-at-home defenseman. He has a team-worst minus-4 rating so far this season, but his coaches and teammates have seen plenty to be encouraged about. He is probably the most physical of the group, and he did a good job winning battles down low against Lowell.
"He's been playing better and better each game," Wey said. "He's been really solid moving the puck around. I think just getting acclimated to our systems has helped him a lot, helped him be more comfortable."
Of course, there were bumps in the road this weekend, too. Doherty took two holding penalties Friday night when the speedy Ryan McGrath turned him around, and Matheson took an interference penalty in the third period Sunday that gave Lowell a chance to get back in the game. There will be more mistakes along the way, but if the freshmen continue to improve, BC will once again have a strong defensive corps in front of Milner. According to their teammates, they've already improved a lot in just one month.
"Every day in practice, they keep getting better and better," Arnold said. "If you go around the locker room, everyone has tons of faith in them. We know that they're gonna go out there and do their job. We have to make sure we get back and get open for them, just like we have in past years. I think all three of them are taking huge strides every game. It's a really special group of players."