One of the most difficult things to do as a college hockey program is to have consistent success year in and year out. That success is defined differently program-to-program and sometimes those definitions can progressively become more difficult to live up to.
Such may be the case for Boston College. The Eagles have captured four national titles since 2001, including three in a five-year span between 2008 and 2012. Over than same stretch, the Eagles dominated in Hockey East play, winning the regular season title twice and the postseason title four times.
So when you consider that the Eagles couldn’t win either Hockey East title and were knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the opening round, it’s easy to say that last season was a bit of a disappointment.
There are dozens of teams out there who would like to have a taste of BC’s disappointment. But for a team that defines itself by trophies, 2012-13 didn’t yield the desired results.
That’s the bad news. The good news for the Eagles is that they return some of the best players from last year’s team.
At the top of the list is forward Johnny Gaudreau, one of Hockey East’s biggest game-changing forwards. Gaudreau led the nation a year ago in points per game, potting 21 goals and 30 assists in a 35-game slate shortened by an appearance at the World Junior Championship.
Joining Gaudreau will be returning forwards Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes, both of whom put up decent numbers a year ago. Hayes was sidelined with injuries for more than a quarter of BC’s games last season but still finished fifth among forwards on the team in scoring.
On the blue line, the Eagles will miss the services of Patch Alber (who missed a significant part of last year with a leg injury) and Patrick Wey. But Michael Matheson is one of the nation’s top sophomore defensemen after a freshman campaign in which he scored eight goals and 25 points.
And fellow sophomores Teddy Doherty, who showed flashes of offensive potential on the blue line, and Colin Sullivan, a solid stay-at-home defender, also return.
The biggest question for the Eagles, thus, may be in goal. With the graduation of Parker Milner, who led BC to four Beanpot titles, three Hockey East crowns and two national titles, there is a significant hole in net.
Brian Billett was given limited time over the past season and is unproven and will be joined by a highly touted recruit in Thatcher Demko.
“There’s a pretty good battle for goaltending between Brian Billett and Thatcher Demko,” BC coach Jerry York said. “That will be an interesting scenario to watch for me.
“Demko brings a lot of size, he’s 6-foot-4 and he’s played World Championships for the [U.S.] Under-18 team, so he’s got a lot of experience.”
If you’re looking for the biggest changes this year for the Eagles, it won’t be on the ice. After having the same coaching staff in place for the last nine seasons, half the staff this year will be new. With associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh leaving the Heights to become head coach at Connecticut and longtime goaltending coach Jim Logue retiring, there will be two new faces behind the BC bench.
Former New Hampshire standout goaltender Michael Ayers will replace Cavanaugh and take over the duties as goaltending coach as well as running the penalty kill and defensemen. Former Eagles and NHL veteran Marty McInnis will become the team’s volunteer assistant.
“Change is always hard to go through,” York said. “Marty, of course, brings a lot of NHL credentials to our program. And Mike Ayers has been with the national development team for the past couple of years and he’s going to bring some new ideas, some new thoughts on hockey to our staff. Both are welcome additions.”
So the question remains how good can BC be? Can the Eagles maintain an every-other-year national championship pattern as they have since 2008? If this club can stay healthy and get solid goaltending, you have to think that’s possible.
About the Eagles
2012-13 overall record: 22-12-4
2012-13 Hockey East record: 15-9-3 (second)
2013-14 predicted finish (coaches’ poll): Tie-first
Key losses: F Steven Whitney, F Pat Mullane, D Patch Alber, D Patrick Wey, G Parker Milner
Players to watch: F Johnny Gaudreau, F Bill Arnold, D Michael Matheson, G Brian Billett
Impact rookie: With the departure of Parker Milner between the pipes for the Eagles, look to rookie Thatcher Demko to see some significant time in net in his first season.
Why the Eagles will finish higher than predicted: With Johnny Gaudreau leading the way, the BC offense should be strong. But it will be the defense that needs to click to make this team successful, particularly in goal where there are plenty of question marks.
Why the Eagles will finish lower than predicted: Simply put, BC has losses at every position from a year ago, none bigger than goaltending. It’s whether there are players who can step in and fill the holes in the Eagles lineup that could dictate success or failure for the Eagles.