BC coach Jerry York had planned on trying to replace Brian Gionta, Bobby Allen and the rest of the graduated senior class, but what he hadn’t counted on was also losing Brooks Orpik, Chuck Kobasew and Krys Kolanos to either the pros or junior leagues. Nonetheless, the Eagles have hardly gone from the penthouse to the outhouse. While they are no longer the consensus top team in Hockey East, they still have many of the necessary pieces to the Hockey East title puzzle. The question is whether they can develop the rest of those pieces.
“We still have an excellent core of players,” says York. “We’re going to get enough goals, I think, but we’re a little untested in goal and on defense. That’s probably my biggest concern early. We’ll have to really concentrate [on our play] from the blue line back.”
This year’s squad will look very different from recent veteran-laden BC teams. Only two seniors and four juniors populate a roster otherwise filled with 17 freshmen and sophomores. Mindful of that, York will be focusing on developing that young talent in the early going as opposed to staking a claim to first place as in recent years.
“Our goal is to be a much better team in January than we are when we start,” he says. “So I think in our second half we’ll see a team that’s matured a lot and is much more confident. We’re going to try to learn a lot that first semester.”
The biggest challenge will come on defense, where sophomore J.D. Forrest heads a returning class that also includes fellow sophomore Brett Pederson and junior Bill Cass. Forrest, nicknamed Mini-Motts for the way his playing style resembles former BC Hobey Baker winner Mike Mottau, actually tied seniors Bobby Allen and Rob Scuderi for the team scoring lead among blueliners with 23 points. He’ll quarterback the power play and could possibly log substantial playing time like Mottau did.
“Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik and Bobby Allen played the most minutes last year,” says York. “Now we have to play a lot of younger guys. I think J.D. Forrest is a real leader back there. We’ll have to depend on J.D. early even though he’s just a sophomore.”
Freshmen John Adams, Andrew Alberts and Taylor Leahy will all have the opportunity to contribute. Adams is the most offensively proficient of the trio while Alberts provides the most imposing physique at 6-4, 220 pounds. The two Minnesotans appear to have the inside track in the race for playing time. Sophomore Joe Schuman and junior Anthony D’Arpino may have more success cracking this year’s inexperienced lineup than last year’s veteran group.
With such extremely young blueliners, the BC goaltenders will likely be tested more often and more severely than in recent years. Will they be up to the challenge? No one really knows.
As a freshman two years ago, Tim Kelleher outplayed Scott Clemmensen for the first four months of the season. The heir apparent seemed poised to oust the veteran before his time was up. Instead, Clemmensen got hot down the stretch and became The Man for BC’s title drive.
Nonetheless, most expected going into last season that the two would again split most of the time in nets. Unfortunately for Kelleher, he got off to a terrible start and eventually contracted mononucleosis while Clemmensen turned in one rock-solid performance after another. By season’s end, Kelleher had logged only five games in what was personally a lost year.
Having failed to solidify his hold on the job, Kelleher now faces challenges from freshmen Matti Kaltiainen and Robbie Miller. As a fourth-round draft pick of the Boston Bruins, Kaltiainen may be tough competition
“Timmy is in the program now for his third year and he’s capable of giving us some real good goaltending,” says York. “We also think [a lot of] both freshman. But the expectation is that Matti Kaltiainen will be able to adjust from Europe to the United States type of hockey here and will be a real good player for us. I feel good about our goaltending, but we’re very inexperienced.”
Despite the departure of players who scored 117 goals and 281 points last year, offense doesn’t look like a problem. Gionta, Kolanos, Kobasew and Lephart are gone, but Ben Eaves, Jeff Giuliano, Tony Voce and Ales Dolinar return with a lot more firepower than most fans assume. Their combined total of 123 points tops all but Providence’s top four returnees.
“Those four forwards will supply offense,” says York. “We’ll depend on them a lot more this year. Down the stretch, I thought Ben Eaves was certainly one of the top players in our drive for the national title.
“There’s going to be very different personnel than Eagle fans have had a chance to watch over the last few years. We have youth in a lot of different areas, but we have some very fine players. We’ll just have to be patient as we develop other players up front.”
Freshmen Ryan Murphy and David Spina, both members of the U.S. Under-18 Team, lead a group of five newcomers who are all vying to fill the holes up front left behind by Gionta and Co.
“Ryan Murphy and David Spina might be two names that will stand out, but it’s really early,” says York. “It’s hard to stand out as a freshman, especially when you don’t have a lot of veterans on the club.”
York knows that BC fans, not to mention the coaching staff, may be in for a culture shock in the early going.
“It’s going to be a challenging year, but yet a very exciting and rewarding process that we’ll go through,” he says. “Our goal is to really keep it simple this year. Week by week, to just keep progressing. My overall goal is, ‘Hey, let’s just be way better the second half of the year.’”