Thursday, October 8, 2015

Army Preview

I remember walking out of the Dunkin Donuts Center six months ago with a deep sense of disappointment.  I was stunned and shocked about what had just happened on the ice versus Denver. One of the most frustrating seasons (it wasn't even that bad) in recent memory had just come to a conclusion. Questions swirled all throughout my mind. Would Bracco show? Would Hanifin stay? How many guys would leave school? There was a whole lot of uncertainty surrounding BC Hockey in April of 2015. Fast forward  half year and you've got a renewed sense of optimism that has engulfed coaches, players, and fans. Anybody who knows BC Hockey is aware of how special this season could be. Just under twenty hours from now, the 94th season of Boston College Hockey will commence with expectations higher than they have ever been.

Tomorrow night's matchup will be the 42nd all time between Boston College and Army. The Eagles have taken home 37 of those contests while Army has won 3. The teams have tied once. Two years ago, BC got the better of the Knights by an 11-0 margin at Kelley Rink but I can promise you one thing, tomorrow will not be anything like that. The Black Knights return 18 guys from last season's team, including their top 6 leading scorers. Sophomore Tyler Pham led the way with 9 goals and 20 assists, he was aided by fellow underclassmen Connor Andrie (17 points) and Joe Koziak (15 points). Army finished the 2014-15 campaign with an 8-22-4 record, good for ninth in Atlantic Hockey. Despite their bad record, Brian Riley's squad played national champion Providence to a 3-0 game on the road and also fought hard versus Coach Cav's Huskies. Offensively, the Knights were towards the bottom of the barrel as their 2.00 goals per game ranked 53rd in college hockey. On the other side of things, they gave up an average of 3.18 goals per game, which had them at 47th overall. Expect junior Parker Gahagen to get the nod in-between the pipes. He recorded a .913 save percentage to go along with a 6-15-3 record a season ago.

As for BC,  I'm really excited to see what they can do tomorrow night. There is unbelievable talent all over that lineup. Even during the exhibition game,  I was sitting there thinking about how much deeper this team is compared to last year's club. We have three lines that could be top tier combinations at the majority of Hockey East schools but that doesn't matter if none of those lines can't step up and play like a perennial top line. I always talk about how we need more scoring from the bottom six but at the end of the day, one of the hallmarks of great BC teams is an all world first line. Whether it's Bracco's line or Gilmour's line or Cangelosi's line, one of them has to step up and take control of this game early. The Eagles were 16-2-2 last season when scoring the first goal. Of course, things will be very different this season, especially on the offensive side of things, but I'd like to see them step up and exert their power early and often. Defensively, they don't need to do anything special. When Army gets the puck deep,  all BC's defense has to do is get it to the walls and start a quick breakout. That will allow the forwards to create plays through the neutral zone. Last season, we didn't have enough guys that could make plays in transition. Now we do. If the Eagles avoid turnovers inside their own blue line and put a on dumb penalties, they should be able to win this game.

In terms of special teams, it will be interesting to see what happens with the power play. They worked on it a good amount in practice this week but who knows if that will transfer over to a game. The staff has the luxury of trying different guys in certain spots if they want to. For example, maybe Cangelosi or Wood will get a shot on the second unit if things don't pan out early in the game. Unless something changes between tonight and 7 PM tomorrow, Brendan Silk will get the nod as fourth line right winger. Sophomore forward Alex Tuch missed Wednesday's practice but I think it was just precautionary after his injury at World Jr Camp in August. They seemed pretty set on going with Travis Jeke as the 6th defenseman but I thought Couturier had a solid week of practice so maybe give Jeke the green light tomorrow and the freshman out of Newburyport the start on Sunday. If anything changes, I will certainly tweet it.

I can't tell you what is going to happen a half a year from now in April but I can honestly say that I have never been more excited for the start of a BC Hockey season. This team, I would argue, is the most talented group of players Coach York and his staff have ever assembled. Tomorrow night is a special opportunity for everybody in that locker room to set this program back on the path towards greatness. Army is going to come out swinging like Mike Tyson, especially considering it is the biggest game they've hosted in years. Will this BC team, the youngest in college hockey, be up for the challenge? We'll see.

Scouting Army- 

2014-15 record- 8-22-4

Top returning scorers- Tyler Pham (accounted for 16% of team scoring), Connor Andrie (4-13-17), Joe Kozak (7-8-15).

2014-15 offense- 2.00 goals per game (53rd)

2014-15 defense- 3.18 goals per game (47th)

Top returning goalie- Parker Gahagen (2.83 GAA, .913 save percentage)

2014-15 power play- 11% (54th)

2014-15 penalty kill- 78% (51)

Keys for BC- 

1. Get a first line established early. One would hope that the Bracco, Tuch, and Sanford trio takes the game over in the first period.

2. The more penalties BC takes, the harder it will be to win. This team's formula for success revolves around persistent offensive zone pressure. That ain't happening if they're killing penalties all night.

3. Don't let this be a game in the third period. If the crowd is into it and Army is only down a goal or two, anything is possible. Let's put them away early.

Go Eagles.

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