November 9, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Unfamiliar Territory

Boston College Hoping Things Have Turned Around After Early Struggles

by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer (@MikeMcMahonCHN)

Boston College was never going to have a typical hockey season, and the Eagles have been anything but typical as teams reach the quarter pole.

But that's not news. BC head coach Jerry York knew that before the first player took the ice. But the point was hit home, hard, after the Eagles found victory just once in their first seven games. No matter how much struggle was expected, it's still jarring for a program used to being among the elite almost every season for the better part of two decades.

Still the mindset never changed. BC had played the toughest schedule in the nation to that point, according to KRACH. With early departures to the NHL hitting what was supposed to be an electrifying junior and senior class — Alex Tuch, Miles Wood, Zach Sanford and others were all gone — and first-round pick Eeli Tolvanen’s college career stopping before it began this past summer due to a transcript issue, York knew this club could rise above the early-season adversity. But, they would have to do it differently than in the past.

“We’re a gritty club,” he said. “We’re a hard-nosed club with outstanding goaltending and that’s going to be our mantra this year. We’ll certainly have some players emerge, but it’s more of that type of club. We embrace that role and we’re going to continue. If we do win, it will be because of goaltending and good defensive play. It’s been awfully hard for us to get to two or three goals.

“Part of being a good team is handling touch stretches,” he added. “We’re 1-5-1 and no one was jumping off the boat. They said, 'Let's work harder today.' The mindset was good through that. We talk a lot about team. Our club is going to get better and better as the year goes on. There will be ups and downs, it will never be linear.”

The Eagles have now won three straight after a weekend sweep over Merrimack (3-1 and 2-1) and then beating Connecticut, 2-1, on Tuesday night at Conte Forum.

All three games were played the way York expected: they were close, they were low-scoring, and the Eagles relied on defense and goaltending.

“This is the typical weekend I foresee for us if we’re going to be successful,” York said.

The close, tight-checking games hasn’t been something BC usually needs to pride itself on. Last season the Eagles outscored opponents by 0.7 goals per game and averaged 3.3 goals for, and even that was uncharacteristically low. The Eagles averaged 3.8 goals two seasons ago and outscored teams by an average of 1.8 goals per game.

So far this season, the Eagles are averaging under two goals per game (1.9) and have been outscored by nearly a goal per game (0.9).

“A game we’re going to have to get comfortable in, with our team this year, is a low-scoring, very tight hockey game,” York said. “We’ve had three in a row now. I think as we get deeper into our season, we’ll even gain more of a comfort level with it on the bench. You get tight when it’s 2-1. We have a lot of great hockey players in the room, but the one thing we do lack is experience.”

On any given night, BC usually dresses four juniors, with the rest of the roster typically comprised of freshmen and sophomores. There's only one senior on the roster, Kevin Lohan, a transfer from Michigan who saw his first action as an Eagle on Saturday night.

Captain and top defenseman Casey Fitzgerald, one of those juniors, missed last night’s game with an ankle injury — a bone bruise — after blocking a shot over the weekend against Merrimack. York said he hopes to have him back in the lineup this weekend in a two-game series at Vermont.

“Casey Fitzgerald has been so good for us from the start,” York said. “He epitomizes our team this year. He’s a hard-nosed, gritty kid."

York already sees growth, despite the season being, like his team, very young. These past three games against teams like Merrimack and UConn, who grind really well, have helped the Eagles solidify that area of their game.

“We knew it would be a low scoring game with the style of play Merrimack plays, so so you need to capitalize on every opportunity you get because there won’t be many,” said junior forward JD Dudek, who scored on Friday night.

“We mimic each other a little bit this year,” York added. “We have a lot of good players we just don't have a lot of experience. As we get that experience and we play through, I can see it. We’re way different now than we were when we played Quinnipiac, Wisconsin or St. Cloud State. We’re showing some great experience and we’re gaining experience as we go through it. I feel very excited about coaching this type of team.”

On top of team improvement, he’s seen signs of individual improvement across the roster.

“Connor Moore had a really good weekend for us as a defenseman,” he said. “He’s emerged as a sophomore and has gotten a lot better. Julius Matilla has taken a big step forward.”

York said that this new style for BC will have to include offense coming from the team’s transition, particularly when they are able to turn pucks over in the neutral zone.

Moreover, the Eagles can’t rely on the pretty play. Dudek’s goal last Friday was a snipe from just off the left-wing wall, but that’s not how all scores are scored, even if it’s the type of goal the Eagles have been known for in the past.

“We’re getting good offensive chances, we’re just not scoring goals,” York said. “Transition, especially if you’re in a good defensive mindset, can become an offensive weapon for us.

“A lot of goal scoring is two feet from the crease, whacking and hacking getting second or third rebounds. It’s a mindset to get in there.”

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