Friday, March 11, 2016
If you asked me to list the most shocking losses I've experienced in my time following BC Hockey, the 2015 Hockey East quarterfinal against Vermont would be at the top. Despite last year being a difficult one for the Eagles, I didn't think there was a chance UVM would come in here and win that series. Then they did. A few hours after the third game, a YouTube video of head coach Kevin Sneddon dancing with a broom in the locker room surfaced and shortly after, UVM posted a behind the scenes clip of the team celebrating the win like it was the Stanley Cup. To say BC will have that on their minds is the understatement of the century.
Friday's game will be the third game in three weeks between the Eagles and Catamounts, as the former took the first two up in Burlington. UVM is coming off a surprising sweep of UConn last weekend in Hartford- the Catamounts had lost four in a row coming into the matchup, two to BC and two at Merrimack. Vermont's biggest issue over the course of the season has been their inability to put the puck in the net. Of the fourteen Hockey East teams, Vermont has the second lowest amount of goals scored (79) while BC, the highest scoring club in the league, has notched nearly double that number (134). Sneddon's squad was able to break out of that slump last weekend, specifically on Saturday when they potted home four tallies, which is the most goals they have scored since January 23rd at UMass. I think Vermont has more talent than they have shown for as Sneddon mentioned that he believed this forward group was the deepest he has had in his thirteen years at the helm. For whatever reason, goals have been hard to come by but guys like Mario Puskarich, Brendan Bradley, and Jarrid Privitera will pose a threat to BC. I expect Vermont to play a lot like Lowell did two weeks ago (at least in the first game). They won't create a ton of 5 on 5 chances, especially on the road, but they will capitalize on BC's turnovers and penalties, which is something the Cats failed to do in February. UVM is not going to win this series by getting into a track meet that allows for constant up and down play. When they can, Vermont will forecheck aggressively but once BC possesses the puck in their own end, you will see all five of Vermont's players clog the neutral zone hoping to stop BC from advancing the puck. UVM makes their living off strong defense but they won't have the services of stars such as Mike Paliotta and Nick Luukko, such was the case a season ago. Alexx Privitera, Chris Muscoby, and senior captain Yvan Pattyn will log a ton of minutes for UVM but it will be interesting to see if they roll six defenseman and twelve forwards versus a deep BC team. The major difference between the Vermont team BC saw a few weeks back and the one they'll see tonight is in goal. Junior Mike Santaguida is expected to get the start after missing over two months due to injury. Santaguida has played 19 games this season with a 2.54 goals against average and .916 save percentage.
As for the home team, I would be shocked if they don't come out firing. The two weeks off should have done them good because they had been playing a ton of hockey throughout the month against some very good clubs. It's an overused cliche but the playoffs are a different beast and anyone can beat anyone on any given night- the fact that BC has missed out on The Garden two years in a row is mind-blowing. BC had not lost a quarterfinal series from 2004 to 2014 (18 straight wins), before Notre Dame came in here and stunned the college hockey landscape. Coach York will have the guys ready to go and I'm sure they played the video of Sneddon dancing in the locker room over 10 times to the players throughout the week. History aside, the most important thing BC can do this weekend is to play their best hockey. When these guys are on the top of their game, no one in the country has a chance of beating them. In the regular season, they could get away with off nights from some players because their top end talent is off the charts but they are not winning a National Title unless all 19 skaters are in rhythem and playing at a high level. If BC can roll four lines on a consistent basis, at least through the first two periods, then it will put Vermont in a tough spot because they won't have last change. I know you are wondering about injuries and while nothing is set in stone, I think there is a good chance BC has a full roster tomorrow night. Coach York said on Tuesday that Chris Calnan was "doubtful" but they monitored the situation as the week went on and from what I can tell, he looks relatively healthy. I think he might play tomorrow night but it is not a forgone conclusion. Other than Calnan, there are one or two other question marks but again, I would be surprised if anyone was out.
There is no denying that it was a successful regular season, one of the best in recent memory, but at Boston College, teams are not remembered for what they accomplished from October-February. It's about March and April. This group of players has the talent to win every game between now and April 9th but that can only take place if they get contributions from everyone and most importantly, they have to stay out of the box. Vermont had 15 power plays when these teams met up in Burlington. If BC gives them that many opportunities, history could repeat itself. Statistically, Vermont has been abysmal on the power play and penalty kill but as we saw with Providence a season ago, if you get your power play going and avoid the penalties, anything can happen. More often than not, these games are decided by special teams and if BC is not disciplined, they won't be at The Garden next weekend.
Record- 14-20-3 (36th in pairwise)
Leading scorers- Mario Puskarich (10-17-27), Brendan Bradley (9-10-19), Jarrid Privitera (10-7-17)
Team offense- 2.14 goals scored per game (53rd)
Team defense- 2.65 goals against per game (28th)
Power play- 12% (56th)
Penalty kill- 78% (53rd)
Shots on goal per game- 31.70 shots per game (23rd)
Keys for the Eagles-
1. Scoring from all four lines. Coach York always talks about playing your best hockey when it matters and for BC, their faith will be predicated on whether or not they can get contributions from guys like Calnan, Gaudreau, Dudek, and Brown.
2. Stay out of the box. Hopefully the playoffs bring a renewed sense of urgency with regards to not taking penalties. I am not worried about the penalty kill but the operation runs a lot smoother when they aren't a man down.
3. Come out heavy. The two weeks off are either going to have a positive or negative effect on the team. On one hand, they could be jacked up but on the other, they could be out of sorts. If Vermont takes it to them early on, it could set the tone for the rest of the game. BC needs to be ready.
Notes- I think everyone will play. Not definite yet- there are a couple of question marks.