Stop the presses! Boston College is picked to finish first!
Then again, don’t bother stopping the presses. BC being predicted to finished first is so … yesterday.
After all, this is now the fifth time in the past seven years that the Eagles have been so honored. Last season and in the national championship year of 2000-01, they followed through on that promise while adding another first-place finish in 2002-03 when pegged for third place.
In the two years they weren’t selected, however, top picks Providence (2002-03) and Boston University (2001-02) stumbled badly, so whether top billing ranks as an honor or a bullseye to be avoided may be subject to debate. What isn’t up for debate, however, is whether BC is loaded or not. It is.
“It’s a good sign to be picked high because that means you have good players,” coach Jerry York says, “but our objective again will be to try to go wire-to-wire [as the top team]. We have high expectations. I’d rather enjoy that way than trying to be an underdog trying to [move] up.
“We’ve got a lot of veterans. We’ve got 10 seniors on our club this year, ranging from a backup goaltender to a returning All-American in Andrew Alberts. They all have a bearing on how we’re going to play this year.
“It’s good to have a lot of seniors,” York says before adding with a laugh, “as long as they don’t get tired of listening to the coach for four years.”
The strength in the lineup begins up front. The Eagles boasted the league’s top offense last year (3.67 goals per game) and even though they lost Ben Eaves and Tony Voce, they still return All-Hockey East selections Ryan Shannon and Patrick Eaves.
“It was hard to lose those two guys; Bennie and Tony were two of our really dominant players,” York says. “Patrick Eaves is right there and Ryan Shannon, but there are three seniors, [David] Spina, [Ned] Havern and [Ryan] Murphy that we’ll be looking to really step up their game.
“If they do that then we could have a whole cadre of good forwards. It’s hard to win with just two or three; you’ve got to have a lot of good forwards.”
The BC defense is as strong at the top as the forwards, but depth is more of a question mark following the graduation of J.D. Forrest and Brett Peterson. Alberts, an All-American, is the clear leader.
“We have three real top-level players, upper class players: John Adams, Andrew Alberts and Peter Harold,” York says. “We’re looking for a fourth and fifth guy to step up. Greg Lauze has had some experience. Mike Brennan is probably a freshman that is closest to jumping in for that fourth spot. [Finding the fourth and fifth defensemen] will be our objective.”
The most intriguing position, however, is goaltender. Senior Matti Kaltiainen (1.76 GAA, .907 Sv%) has been in the unenviable position the last three years of being perceived as a piece to the puzzle when the team wins and The Problem when it loses. Despite that, he earned Second-Team All-Hockey East honors last season.
Which in most cases would be more than sufficient to guarantee the starting job for his final year. Bring the incoming freshman along slowly, let him learn the ropes from the veteran and hand the job over to him at season’s end.
Not so fast.
That’s because the freshman is Cory Schneider, a first-round selection in June’s NHL draft, the only Hockey East player so honored. He and Michigan’s Al Montoya became the first pair of collegiate netminders ever selected in the top round.
As a result, the idea of bringing the freshman along slowly while deferring to the senior may match reality.
“It will be interesting how Cory develops,” York says. “Certainly he’s got the capability to really challenge for that [number] one spot. I think it’s going to be very, very competitive.
“I imagine that early we will be alternating goaltenders and watching how they develop. Matti comes back with some great statistics as far as goals against average and save percentage, but yet the young freshman has a chance to be very, very good. It will be interesting to watch how that position develops.”
As will be this entire team, once again loaded for bear.