Will the real Boston College men’s hockey team please step forward?
Seriously. We’re almost at the holiday break, and the defending national champions, a team most people thought (including myself) that they might threaten Maine’s 42-1-2 record from 1993, seems to be caught in the middle of a Jekyll & Hyde performance.
Good games are followed by bad games which are followed by good games. Aside from an impressive road sweep of Denver in early October and a two-game sweep of Maine two weekends ago, the Eagles haven’t gotten two wins in a weekend. Splitsville has been the way of the world for BC, and last weekend was no exception.
The Eagles showed little in a 5-3 loss at Merrimack on Friday afternoon, dropping the season series to the Warriors for the first time in 15 years. But on Sunday, BC looked like a team determined. Everyone was firing on all cylinders, three lines scored goals and the Eagles routed Vermont, 6-0, barely letting the Catamounts get a sniff at their own net.
Head coach Jerry York says that the major problem has been players not bringing a solid effort each and every night.
“I don’t think we’ve been as cohesive as a team to be successful,” said York. “You have six guys playing defense and they all have to be in sync. Same goes offensively. It’s been creeping into our game where you have one guy really working hard and one guy not supporting him.”
Against Vermont, BC had that cohesion. Against Merrimack it was missing. Taking no credit away from the Warriors, BC shot themselves in the foot. Trailing 4-3, the Eagles made a march to the penalty box over the game’s final minutes, taking a neutral zone tripping penalty and a careless high stick topped off with Brian Gibbons taking a run at a Merrimack blueliner during the penalty kill and getting a five-minute major for boarding.
If that wasn’t enough, Steven Whitney decided to sucker punch a Merrimack player at the buzzer – from the bench no less – to earn himself a game DQ and a one-game suspension.
For a team that has won two national titles in three years, with hard work and discipline the center of those championship teams, Friday’s BC performance was anything but what York and his staff expect.
I guess the Eagles deserve some credit. The poor play doesn’t happen in streaks. BC is perfect 5-0-0 in games following a loss. That’s a bit different from the Eagles 2008-09 team, which followed a national title with a pedestrian 18-14-5 record, missing the NCAA tournament for just the second time since 1998. The other time BC didn’t make it to the big dance was 2002, the season following the 2001 National Championship.
Both of those teams were decimated by early departures following the title. This year, that’s not an excuse. BC lost no players to the pro ranks, and last year’s senior class was comprised mostly of role players as Ben Smith was the only player in the top 5 in scoring to graduate.
So what gives? Is this a national title hangover? At this point, York isn’t ready to make that concession.
“I never sensed a complacency with our club this year, but I saw some awfully good teams play us, whether it was at Denver or at Vermont,” said York. “Even for a national championship team, it’s hard to have success at this level. We never expected it to be easy, and it hasn’t been easy.”
It won’t get any easier this weekend when BC plays a home-and-home with archrival Boston University beginning Friday night at Agganis Arena. The Eagles and Terriers enter the weekend tied atop the Hockey East standings with 14 points each. BU has a game in hand, which BC can erase the effects of with three points or a sweep.
If that’s going to happen, though, the team that swept Denver and Maine and destroyed Vermont will need to put on the maroon and gold. Otherwise, it’s going to be a very long couple of days in the Eagles locker room.