Friday, March 25, 2016

Harvard Preview

Tonight, for the first time ever, Boston College will face-off against crosstown rival Harvard in the NCAA tournament. The contest will mark the second game of the season between the Crimson and Eagles, as the good guys took home round one in the first game of the Beanpot. Harvard continued to slip after that crushing loss, losing three of their next four games, but Ted Donato and his crew righted the ship in March and made it all the way to ECAC championship, where they fell to top seed Quinnipiac. To date, the Crimson are 19-10-4 with just two of those wins coming against NCAA tournament teams (Ferris State and Notre Dame). Unlike BC, a team that has made a habit of getting to the Frozen Four via Worcester, Harvard has not played at the DCU Center since 2003, when they fell to Boston University in the opening round.

Of course, the Crimson will be led by perhaps the best player in college hockey- senior forward Jimmy Vesey. The North Reading native is in the midst of another outstanding season, notching a team high 46 points in 32 games played. Many pundits expect Vesey to be a finalist for the Hobey Baker award. The senior alternate captain is not without any help though, as linemates Kyle Criscuolo and Alexander Kerfoot rank amongst the top point getters in the ECAC. As we said the first time around, the key to beating Harvard is keeping this line at bay. BC has last change so I expect Wood, Cangelosi, and Brown to be out there against that line unless they struggle early on. BC has to find a way to limit Vesey's space and not allow Harvard to get on the man advantage. Even though the Crimson have had a tough time finding the net over the past couple of games, they carry one of the most dangerous power plays in the country and if BC spends most of the evening on the man down, it won't be pretty. Although that first line gets all the attention, Harvard has some other forwards that can do some damage. The second line of Luke Esposito, Mike Floodstrand, and Colin Blackwell, despite not playing well against BC the first time around, possesses a lot of speed that can easily burn you on the outside. Freshman Ryan Donato, their third line center, has had an impressive rookie season, recording 13 goals and 8 assists, good for fourth on the team.

The one area where I think BC has a distinct advantage is the blue line. Defense is Harvard's weakness and it won't help that one of their top guys, Willy Sherman, is not expected to play due to injury (per the Harvard student paper). They don't have a go to pairing that can shut down BC's top line (a new trio) but I would expect St. Sebastian's product Des Bergin and Clay Anderson to eat up a good amount of minutes. Anderson leads all Crimson defenders in points with 14, while Bergin is tops in plus minus (+15). In order to exploit this aspect of Harvard's game, BC needs to get sustained zone time off the cycle, something they have been unable to do in the past three games. Not only are the Eagles a fast team with skill, they have a lot of big bodies that can fend off defenders up against the boards- they need to play to their strengths. It's similar to football when a team gets the ball and goes three and out. BC's offense as of late has been one shot before the other team comes down with an odd man rush thanks to the Eagles' inability to get pucks below the goal line before working it low to high. In the Beanpot, the Eagles did a tremendous job of wearing Harvard down, which is why the Crimson were unable to generate any chances of their own late in the game. It sounds cliche but the more time BC spends in the offensive zone outworking the opposition, the better chance they have of winning this game.

I've read a lot of predictions and analysis over the past week and I can't recall coming across a single piece that had BC winning this regional. Given the way they played against Vermont and Northeastern, I don't think you can blame some of the experts for picking against the maroon and gold. However, anyone who knows this team is aware they have a level to their game no other club in the country can attain. When they're playing fast, getting out in space, and avoiding costly turnovers, they're the best team in college hockey. Everyone in the program had high aspirations for this year's team and anything outside a Frozen Four berth would be a devastating blow but I know Coach York will have them ready to go. When it's NCAA tournament week, there is a totally different feeling surrounding Kelley Rink. In my mind, they had an outstanding week of practice- it was uptempo and had an all business feel to it. Unlike 2015, the talent is there. I often say on the blog that you can't win a horse race without a big time horse but that is not an issue with this squad- they have all the horses you can ask for. I know they can have success in this tournament if they get back to playing Eagle Hockey.

Scouting Harvard- 

Record- 19-10-3

Leading scorers- Jimmy Vesey (24-22-46), Alex Kerfoot (4-30-34), Kyle Criscuolo (19-13-32)

Team offense- 3.48 goals scored per game (9th)

Team defense- 2.33 goals allowed per game (16th)

Power play- 28% (4th) *******

Penalty kill- 83.5% (23rd)

Shots on goal per game- 32.45 shots per game (15th)

Keys for the Eagles- 

1. Have to stay out of the box. This has been BC's kryptonite all year and if it continues, it may be the sole reason for their inability to win a title. They cannot give Harvard power play after power play.

2. Guys like Sanford, Cangelosi, and Gilmour must step up. Expect some different line combinations but that won't change anything unless certain players take their games to another level. BC is the deeper team- hopefully they use that to their advantage.

3. McCoshen needs to be a beast out there. I think Ian would be the first to tell you that Friday was not his best game. In order for BC to make a run, they need him playing well against other teams' top lines. I don't like signaling out one player but BC's defense lives and dies off of #3.

Notes- Expect lineup changes. It won't be the same look as last weekend.

Go Eagles

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