Thursday, January 10, 2013

Previewing the #4 New Hampshire Wildcats

In what might be the biggest weekend of the regular season, the Boston College Eagles, who will be without Coach York, will take on long time Hockey East rival New Hampshire Friday night @ Conte and Saturday in Durham. It's pretty difficult to put into words how big this weekend is in terms of the pairwise, Hockey East standings, and the overall outlook of the remainder of the season. Look, everyone knows that the team has been struggling after getting demolished by the Golden Gophers and suffering through a tough tie at home vs Yale but help is indeed on the way as Johnny G is set to make his first start in an Eagle uniform since the early December home win vs BU. Yea, the Eagles struggled in all three of their games without him but if you've watched the team at all this year, you know that it's a whole new ballgame when #13 hits the ice. Johnny being back will not fix anything however if some guys don't snap out of their own little funks as too many guys slept through the Yale game looking like they didn't even care to be there. That needs to change and if you can't get motivated to play in games like the two this weekend, then you shouldn't be a part of this hockey team. Big games like these are the type you want to play in and are a big reason why guys commit here.

As for the Wildcats, they don't have many flaws. They lead the league in special teams net, have one of the best netminders in the country, have the best D core in Hockey East, and have a couple of high powered forwards that are among the countries brightest. UNH has only lost two league games this year and just one of those came on the road when they fell to UMass in early November by a 3-2 (OT) count. Their other loss came at home vs the the Terriers. Leading the Cats up front will be Jr Kevin Goumas, who has a team high 26 points to go along with a +17 rating and sophomore Grayson Downing who is second on the team with 8 goals and 7 assist along with a +12 rating. It's going to be fun seeing the two best lines in Hockey East go against each other for the first time as I hope the addition of Johnny G will help rejuvenate the play of Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney. On the defensive side of things, the Wildcats are 1st in scoring defense as they have only given up an average of 1.94 goals per game (the second most is Lowell who is averaging 2.35). In order to put more pucks in the net, BC is going to have to try and get a consistent attack on the UNH defense, something they were not able to do at all vs Minnesota and Yale. It's certainly a lot harder for BC to win when guys like Whitney, Mullane, and Straight are not scoring at the rate they should be. Hopefully, the return of Johnny Hockey helps those guys get the puck into the back of the net.

All in all, it's hard not to get excited for this weekend after the tough games the team has had over the past two weeks. When it comes to the defenseman, we can only pray that another week of preparation and practice does them good and hope they will be able to do their jobs. For guys like Sullivan and Jeke, their role is simple. Play your position in your own end, remember to always be covering your man, do your best job of avoiding turnovers, and help start fluent breakouts that will lead to odd man rushes for the Eagles. If they can keep it simple and not try to do too much with (and without) the puck, then I believe we will start seeing better results out of them. As for the team as a whole, they've got to find a way to stop taking so many penalties. It's not an excuse for the bad performances as of late but it certainly doesn't help when you're taking a penalty every 5 minutes. I look for a weekend full of fast paced and exciting hockey which means that whatever team brings their absolute best effort on both nights will almost certainly walk out with a victory.

Keys for the Eagles-

1. Stay out of the box and capitalize when given man advantages. UNH doesn't take a lot of penalties but BC has been flying high on the PP as they currently rank #1 in the country.

2. Make life easier for the defenseman by keeping the puck in the offensive zone. Cycling and forechecking are going to be key tomorrow. BC needs to do a good job in both those categories because the more time they spend in UNH's zone, the better off they'll be.

3. Need the first line to get going. It would be nice to see them return to the form we saw earlier in the year when they were by far the best line in the country. With 13 back, they should be able to pick up the pace.

Taking a look at UNH-

Best wins- vs BU (x2), @ Denver

Worst loss- vs UMass

Top line- Goumas-Burke-Henrion

Pairwise Rank- 3

Power play rank- 5th

Penalty kill rank- 1st

All Time Series-Boston College is 64-62-12 vs UNH and enters the series on a 5 game win streak vs the Wilcats. BC also won the last meeting in January of last year up in Durham.

Prediction- I'll go 3-2 BC tomorrow

Go Eagles

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