Chess matches happen all the time in hockey.
Bench bosses Jerry York of Boston College and Dave Hakstol of North Dakota waged one during their NCAA semifinal on Thursday at the Bradley Center. In the end, BC won 6-5.
Two pawns in this match were 6′-5″, 220-pound defenseman Matt Smaby of NoDak, and 6′-7″ 240-pound center Brian Boyle of BC. Whether or not either coach would care to discuss it, there was no doubt that with the amount of ice time each logged against the other that they were being matched.
North Dakota was the home team, and with Smaby a defenseman and Boyle a forward, one can deduce that North Dakota was concerned with Boyle’s size getting to the net and being a pest in front of Sioux goalie Jordan Parise.
BC likes to forecheck aggressively, and Boyle is a big man who can skate and bang down low, thereby negating the physical presence of Smaby.
North Dakota has size up front, and on the power play, they can jam the net with the best of them. Boyle was utilized as a defenseman on the Boston College penalty kill, and his presence helped to keep the slot clear in front of Cory Schneider. It also allowed the Eagles to have three forwards on the ice when down five-on-four, and their interchangeable system of the weak side forward dropping low when Boyle decided to ride the puck carrier on his side high was very effective.
Boyle is a linchpin to a team loaded with small, fast stars. His ability to use finesse with power is a rarity in today’s game as the new NHL has given an opportunity for the small finesse star to once again roam free (think T.J. Oshie, T.J. Hensick, Chris Collins.) However, in the mold of former Vermont Catamount John LeClair, Boyle is developing into a premier power forward.
The battle between the big men was a classic. Smaby plays a lot, and when he was on the ice, Boyle rose and got ready to jump. Boyle’s knack of getting himself on the ice when Smaby was out there gave Boston College a physical presence needed to combat North Dakota’s size.
It was a small subplot to a big win by BC, and a date in the finals.
From the chalkboard: Give a shout to the Boston College transition game, and also compliment the Eagles’ adjustment to the North Dakota transition game. North Dakota was in charge early, but more and more the BC defensemen began stepping up in the neutral zone and were well-covered on a tenacious back check by the BC forwards.
Boston College has mobility in this area. Brett Motherwell, Mike Brennan and Anthony Aiello all cover ground well and can defend against the rush. With his experience, Peter Harrold picks his spots well and knows when to step up. He broke up two rushes by doing nothing more than being where he should be and gapping up.
BC can score, but make no mistake about it: The Eagles are among the most tenacious of defensive teams when they want to be. However, North Dakota showed that they can be physically overwhelmed a bit in their own end, a concern all season.
Speed: North Dakota can skate, and the Boston College staff talked about it afterward. However, it was the speed of the Eagles that took this game over.
BC’s transition improved as the opening period went on. From midway through the period, they were consistently bottling up the line and able to spring their speedsters in transition. One thing that stood out was that the Eagles did a better job defending the line. They did have some trouble against North Dakota in even man situations on the rush as North Dakota did a lot of area and chip passes behind the BC defense.
However, in the end, it was goals on the rush that powered the Eagles.
Goaltending: If I were offered Jordan Parise in a big game, I’d take him. However, Parise showed what many feel is a weakness, and pattern seemed to repeat.
Having seen Parise play 15 games in the past three seasons, one thing I have noticed and said is that his glove positioning is not great. I’m not a believer in the glove facing the ice — as opposed to the way it has been done for the last 50 years, with the glove out and open.
Parise likes his glove, and thinks it is a strength. However, when he gets beaten high-glove, especially early, it seems to unravel him — and it did early. After BC’s opening goal, Parise was shaky, and when the goalie is shaky, karma tends to go awry. Motherwell’s goal was a work of art, as he drifted towards the left side as a left shot and sold the defenseman and goalie that he would drop the puck to a trailer.
But Motherwell, as he did many times in the USHL, waited out the “D.” When he saw that the goalie had drifted too far toward the short side, he went top shelf across the grain. Parise was caught, and the puck went top glove side. Boston College had the first goal and control of the game after a slow start.
Brennan’s hit: Mike Brennan ran the third power play this season for Boston College, and it was nicknamed the “Bomb Squad.” Why? Because he’d come in late and fire away whenever he got the chance. He anchored a shooting power play that was effective in making opposing PK units drop back and play “pick up sticks” in the slot to prevent rebounds.
However, it was Brennan’s huge open-ice hit on John Prpich at the North Dakota blue line in the second period that also made an impression on the game. The penalty came late in the period, but it was a penalty that the BC staff could live with. Brennan is encouraged to be an in-control guided missile and keep forwards honest, and he does it well.
Win the next shift: Here is where BC did well, and in one case NoDak did it also. Goals out of a power play can be even more deflating than scoring on the power play to an opponent.
When a team scores a power-play goal, it is somewhat acceptable. You do have a man advantage and good skill on the ice. However, when a team kills a big penalty, it gets confidence and momentum from it.
In a key moment of the game, which made it 5-2 Boston College, the Eagles scored six seconds after the power play expired. The play, helped by a nice regroup in the neutral zone, came as North Dakota had just done a very good job on their kill. BC never allowed the Sioux to get the puck back five-on-five, and the goal was a turning point.
All in all, Boston College was better at winning shifts after goals, or shifts where momentum was about to swing against the Eagles, and that was a factor in them playing with the lead.