Taking some ‘Pot shots

There are many things I love about the Beanpot that wouldn’t change if it were played without a single participating team in the top 10: the energy in the student section (often expressed through some nasty clashes between the BU and Northeastern sections of the balcony), the excellent press meal before the first game (as notable for the camaraderie as for the food), the energy the teams bring to the ice, and yes, Parise help me, the Harvard pep band’s arrangement of “Born to Run.”

Of course, we did have three of the top 12 teams in the country at TD Banknorth Garden on Monday, which clinched it for me to come up and check out the tournament’s first day on Monday, keeping a special eye on Hobey Baker contenders Matt Gilroy and Colin Wilson of BU, Northeastern’s Brad Thiessen, and Brock Bradford of Boston College.

On Friday, I hinted that Gilroy had the most to gain from the Beanpot as a Hobey contender, because a larger audience would have an opportunity to see the contributions he makes that don’t show up on a scoresheet. As it turned out, that’s exactly what happened.

Looking at the box score, Gilroy was a -1 in Monday’s game with an assist on Nick Bonino’s power-play goal. However, to borrow a line from Mark Twain – who was borrowing from someone himself, mind you – that -1 is an illustration of why we say there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics.

When talking about the strong play from his upperclassmen on Monday, BU head coach Jack Parker singled out Gilroy as having a “great game,” as opposed to the “good games” several of his classmates were credited with. He earned it, blocking shots and breaking up passes, especially in the opening minutes, which bore a distinct resemblance to the first round of Balboa vs. Creed (“He doesn’t know it’s a damn show, he thinks it’s a damn fight). Later in the game, he was very noticeable in keeping pucks in at the line, helping to manage the power-play

Pretty common, really. Naturally, though, it doesn’t even begin to do justice to the kind of play Gilroy made to set up Nick Bonino for BU’s game-tying goal. Gilroy won a battle for the puck along the right-wing boards, absorbed contact, stickhandled toward the net and flipped a backhand pass to Bonino to tie the game. It was the kind of play that reminds you that Gilroy used to be a forward, and with good reason: the story of Gilroy’s rise from walk-on to All-American speaks to determination, work ethic and grit, but the fact is that he’s in such high demand at the pro level because he is a tremendously skilled hockey player.

In the long run, Gilroy is a very unlikely Hobey winner – at the end of the day, it’s still very much (too much?) a numbers game – but in terms of being honored as a finalist, Gilroy did himself a tremendous service on Monday.

As for his teammate, Colin Wilson, the numbers lie again. The nation’s No. 3 scorer was even for the game with three shots on goal, but that says nothing of the attention that he commanded when he was on the ice, or the plays he was able to set up. The problem is, though, that that’s not his problem. Everyone knows that Wilson is a force on the ice, and to some extent, the numbers show it. Unfortunately, there’s one place where the numbers really don’t show the impact Wilson has on the ice.

Wilson’s biggest obstacle toward a Hobey win is his goal total, which will probably need to be at least 17 in order for him to win the Hobey (20 would be best, but I’m not holding my breath for 20). He did nothing toward that on Monday night. Unfortunate that that’s probably what it comes down to, but history is against him.

History is also against Brock Bradford in terms of his Hobey chase – BC forwards under Jerry York have no problem being named finalists for the Hobey, but have never actually won it – and in truth, his performance on Monday didn’t do him any favors, either.

Honestly, Bradford wasn’t bad. He’s a good hockey player, and he did what good hockey players do: he put himself in good position to make plays, especially early on. Unfortunately for Bradford, those plays didn’t come together, thanks in large part to Brad Thiessen, whom I’ll get to in a second. Again, people following Hockey East know Bradford is a hell of a player. The Beanpot was a chance to show everyone across the college hockey landscape just how good he is – kickstarting his scoring in the process – and that didn’t happen. Bradford is now 15th on the national scoring chart, and his Hobey campaign is running out of juice.

Meanwhile, Thiessen’s Hobey campaign should get a major surge after Monday night. Thiessen made 45 saves in the Huskies’ 6-1 win over BC, taking full advantage of the spotlight the Beanpot provides. He did it in decisive fashion, too, continuing to shut down BC long after the game’s outcome was decided. Thiessen earned heavy praise for his performance from both BC head coach Jerry York and Northeastern coach Greg Cronin, and while the real big winner at the Beanpot won’t be determined until next Monday’s championship game, for now, Thiessen appears to be the big winner to this point.

I’ll elaborate on that more tomorrow, with some comments from Thiessen and Cronin, but for now, Thiessen and Gilroy are the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to improving your Hobey chances at the Beanpot.