BC's Kids are All Right
Eagles' Young Defensemen Carrying the Load
by Ryan Lambert/Columnist
PHILADELPHIA A lot of the time the teams that get to the Frozen Four are built on stability and experience. They tend to have a decent number of juniors and seniors leading the way. Guys who have been around the college game for a good long while by now. Guys who know the ropes.
In the case of Boston College, this kind of thing can be important, especially when it comes to this last part of the season, which carries with it so much magnitude. These guys have not only been around the block a time or two, they've purchased property on it; the Eagles may not make it to the Frozen Four every year, but no one seems to do it more often, or with so much success. Their being here feels as much a rite of spring as flowers sprouting once again from the thawing earth. It feels all too familiar.
But the thing with the Eagles this year is that the experience which has so often been present throughout their lineup isn't as prevalent as usual. There's a lot of youth on this team, which has just nine juniors or seniors playing everyday roles. While that's a lot of guys who have championship rings, it is perhaps not quite so many as BC has had in the room for title runs past. Being an upperclassman at Boston College means having climbed to the top of the mountain.
What's really interesting, and out of character for the Eagles, and atypical of many teams that make it to this point in the season, is that so much of that youth is concentrated where teams usually need experience the most: the back end.
They have just the one senior defenseman in steady old Isaac MacLeod. They have no juniors at all. Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty are the sophomores. Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen and Scott Savage are the fresehmen. In net, there's another rookie, Thatcher Demko, who began his college career when he was still just 17 years old. Some who pick teams other than Boston College to win Hockey East this season pointed to this fact – the almost complete paucity of having "been there" – as being perhaps their biggest hurdle to clear when it came to having whatever that allegedly intangible stuff is, from which champions are made.
"They were all 18 when they started that freshman year," said Eagles coach Jerry York, who's won a few games in his day. "They were young for college hockey."
But what reason has the general public been given to doubt Jerry York, who knew full well that he'd enter this season with as many as three freshmen defenseman in the lineup every night? This is a coach who recently took to collecting championships at absurd rates. He more so than anyone in NCAA hockey knows what it takes to win in today's college game. This is indisputable, and so when some predicted a fallow year, there was also an undercurrent of counterthought. "But it is BC, so you never know."
It's unlikely that anyone, even York, could have predicted defensive results this good, primarily from his freshmen defensemen. Praise MacLeod's calming influence on his entire team all you want, because there might not be a rock this side of Gibraltar as steady. Praise Matheson's gorgeous and creative and free-flowing (and yes, occasionally frustrating) game to the heavens, because the talent is so overwhelming. But there were many nights this season on which, if you were asked to rank the performances of the BC blue line Nos. 1-6, you would have had to put McCoshen and Santini and Savage on there 1-2-3. They were that convincing. And they were that convincing in the best top-to-bottom conference in the country.
"Obviously coming into the season there's a lot of questions surrounding us, with their kind of - not immaturity - but their being young and not having a lot of experience," MacLeod said. "They've stepped right in and been contributors for us all season. They're rocks back there and the coaches and the players have a lot of confidence in them when they're on the ice."
What they all bring to the game varies, as you might expect. Santini is physical and a little bit mean and looks to be a little bit like MacLeod if you sanded the edges to points. McCoshen has the look and feel of a minutes-eating horse if he hasn't reached that point already, and scored what is to this point the most important goal of BC's season: the game-winner against Massachusetts-Lowell that got the Eagles to this point. Savage is smart and mobile and helps that deadly BC transition when presented the opportunity.
"They were all 18 when they started that freshman year," York said. "They were young for college hockey. The maturity doesn't reflect their age. They really conducted themselves very professionally. I think all three, Scott Savage and Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen are vital cogs in how we played this year."
Not that they don't make freshman mistakes, because they do; few if any are immune to such gaffes. But they're not at all common, and in fact now come off as being something of a surprise. When they make a mistake, as they occasionally do, it's actually something of a surprise.
"You could tell from the very beginning that they were players," MacLeod said "Obviously there's a little bit of adjustment period for everyone that starts playing college hockey and some people's are longer than others, but I think they've done a really good job of learning and adapting as the season's gone on and bringing what they've learned, along with what they already brought to the table, to help our team be successful this year."
Now these three defensemen, seen prematurely as potentially being in some way detrimental to BC's title hopes, are instead viewed as integral. Matheson and MacLeod will likely get the most minutes, but the way these three fill in the gaps will probably make all the difference. They probably haven't faced a team like Union this season. Lowell (defensively) and Notre Dame (defensively and possession-wise) and Minnesota (offensively, defensively, and possession-wise) all seem like solid comparables, in ascending order of being most like the Dutchmen, and we know how the Eagles have done against those high-quality teams (4-4-2, just .500).
But, at this point in the season, these players neither play nor feel like rookies. They belong here, and they've been incredible credits to the team's title hopes. Maybe people didn't see that coming, but a lack of experience doesn't mean a lack of quality. They prove it just about every shift.
"As I look at that group and there is so much attention on our offensive ability, but you have to be very strong, I think in my opinion, to advance this far from the blue line back," York said. "They've exceeded expectations. I knew they were going to be good, but I wasn't sure they'd be at this level this early in their careers."