Wednesday, March 12, 2014

An X's and O's Lesson on the Irish

Ya sure, we had a heck of a regular season, winning the Hockey East regular season title, losing just two (!!) conference games, swept our arch rival, and of course took home the coveted Beanpot trophy. By any measures, this was a regular season to remember but guess what, in this program, regular seasons don't matter. At all. We put all this emphasis on winning a regular season title and getting the #1 seed not because winning the regular season championship is a huge deal, but because it puts the Eagles in the best possible position to win a National Championship. To be totally honest with you, I kind of grew bored of it all Trust me, you can go to the moon and back, I bet you won't find a more competitive person than me. The past couple years, I wouldn't be able to talk for three hours after a loss but this year is different, the first thirty something games were just building up to the final eight. It's an eight game season. We win eight games, we win a National Championship.

Here's the problem, we ain't facing UMass or Vermont in the first round of the conference tournament. No, the Eagles will face-off against one of just five teams that defeated them this season, the University of Notre Dame. To their credit, the Fighting Irish have been playing some exceptional hockey as of late, in fact they have not lost since February 7th. For what it's worth, I would say Notre Dame is the worst possible matchup for BC not just in Hockey East, but in the entire country. Look at the opponents we've had the most trouble with over the past five years. Road games @ Merrimack and Lowell will probably top the list, why ? Because they play a sophisticated defensive system that totally takes away BC's ability to get the puck to their speedy forwards and generate offense. You don't lead the country in goals because you're an Irish-Catholic institution (talking about BC). No, you lead the country in goals because you've got speed, skill, and highly intelligent playmakers. The problem is those type of players don't have the time or space to make those special plays when they play teams that just pack the neutral zone and clog all passing lanes.

How do you get these guys out of their defensive first system ? A few ways. Number one, BC has got to find a way to make Notre Dame become the more aggressive team. When do you become the more aggressive team ? When you're trailing the hockey game. I was talking with someone that has followed the Irish very closely this season and he told me that the reason they struggled so much in the early part of the season is because their coaching staff believed they had so much talent that they could totally change up their system. In no way are my saying that they don't have skill or Jeff Jackson doesn't know how to coach. The guy is top 5 coaches in the NCAA, without a doubt. What I am saying is that their system is what makes them so good. When they tried to open it up and become a team that forechecked aggressively, tried to posses pucks, play with a lot of speed, and create/let up a lot of scoring chances, they could not adjust and therefore lost a bunch of games. As we learned the hard way two weeks ago, when they play within their system, they're a tough team to beat.

Guys have got to support the puck. The key to BC's scoring assault is their ability to get the puck to their skilled guys up front and posses the puck in the offensive zone. Wingers like Johnny G, Kevin Hayes, and Ryan Fitzgerald have got to find a way to create some sort of separation between them and the ND defenders and when they get the puck, the center and other wingers can't be on the other end of the ice waiting for a pass because that just isn't going to work against these guys. Sure, we can open up the neutral zone vs teams like Northeastern and UNH but teams like Notre Dame are not going to fall for these cross ice passes that quickly result in 3 on 2's. When the winger gets the puck on his board, the center has to be their to support him, not just stand their and let Notre Dame take the puck away. The same goes for the center, when the defensemen give him the puck off a breakaway, it's got to be quick, accurate, tape to tape passes that allow the winger to get a little room. We know what a lot of guys on our club can do with a little bit of space, especially #13 but in order to make those types of plays, the guys around them have to be helping create space. The worst possible thing BC can do this weekend is turn the puck over in the neutral zone. When there isn't a play, the puck has got to go deep in their end. The strength of their team is not their ability to break the puck out and create scoring chances off of that. They're going to have a passive forecheck. Everyone who watches college hockey knows Notre Dame sending a guy over the opposing blue line is as rare as it is BU winning the Beanpot. For us, it can't be like that. It's attack, attack, attack....force turnovers !!

Anyways, I am really excited for this weekend. I think each game is going to be a heck of a battle and I expect that Kelley Rink will be going nuts all weekend. Not a college hockey tempo expert ? Think of it this way. We kind of play like Oregon football. Everything is fast, fast, fast. I mean you should see how the Eagles practice. Everything is let's go, let's go. The faster the pace, the more points. On the other side, you've got a Notre Dame team that plays a slow, methodical type of hockey. Think BC football. No real dynamite play makers (although the Irish do have some in their arsenal) just a real solid, grind, grind, grind, hockey club. It's the high flyers vs the grinders and we shall see who wins.

Full preview tomorrow.

Go Eagles.

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