The Boston College Eagles narrowly averted what would have been a three-game losing streak last Saturday night at Yale. Trailing 2-1 late, the Eagles got a short-handed goal from Barry Almeida with 2:19 to play. Then, a player who is perhaps having the best year of what has already been a successful hockey career at the Heights scored the game-winner with just 39 seconds remaining.
Chris Kreider, tied for the most overall points among Hockey East players (10 goals, eight assists, 18 points), scored on a designed faceoff play in front of the Yale net, using his large frame to slide the deciding goal past Yale’s Jeff Malcolm and turn what would’ve been another tough loss into BC’s most exciting win of the season.
“Sometimes hockey changes so quickly,” said BC coach Jerry York.
That statement can be true not just for Saturday’s game but also for its hero. In the past two years, Kreider has seen his season change on a dime — both times for the positive — as the calendar changed for the new year.
If you compare statistics in Kreider’s freshman and sophomore seasons, you’ll see a distinct difference in months October through December and January through April each year.
As a freshman, Kreider had two goals and three assists before the new year (finished with 15 goals and 23 points). Last year was a tiny bit more balanced, as Kreider had five goals and six assists (finished with 11 goals and 24 points).
Both seasons, Kreider spent the holiday break playing for Team USA at the World Junior Championship. In each tournament, Kreider was a standout player for the Americans, which won the gold medal two years ago and the bronze last year.
York said that playing among his peers helped the 6-foot-3 forward.
“From my vantage point, we get young players — 18- and 19-year-old players like Chris was his freshman and sophomore years — they’re playing [in college] against players who are 22, 23 and, in some cases, 24,” said York. “The age process is difficult for [the younger] players.”
“So when he got to the World Juniors, it was his age bracket and he’s going against 18- and 19-year-old players. He’s able to do some things there that, even though they’re the best players in the world, they’re still his age.
“It’s hard to be a great player when you’re 18 against seasoned 23- and 24-year-old hockey players.”
York said the confidence that Kreider earned each season was critical to his second-half success both years. That success, though, nearly led the oversized forward to head to the NHL, where he is property of the New York Rangers.
Instead, Kreider decided to work further toward his college degree and, in doing so, has become one of the most dominant players in Hockey East.
“He was trying to do what he felt was best for him when he combined the academic goals of getting a college degree with his aspirations of being an NHL player,” said York. “He looked at both situations and one more year of college hockey where he could become a more dominant player while getting a year closer to a degree, that was something he was very well aware of.”
The dominance has been obvious throughout Kreider’s junior season. To the naked eye, he possesses a second speed that most players don’t have and his large frame and strength has been extremely beneficial in front of the net for the Eagles, as it was on Saturday.
For York, though, strength and speed are important, but it’s one of the “intangibles” of the college hockey game that has paid dividends.
“What most has evolved is his maturity,” said York. “He’s blessed with great size and strength. Now he’s put everything together: his maturity and how he handles the whole 60 minutes of the game, his hockey IQ, everything is taking great strides over the last few years and it’s most evident this year.”
Red Hot Hockey once again a success
When a reporter asked Boston University coach Jack Parker about the future of the every-other-year “Red Hot Hockey,” a post-Thanksgiving game between the Terriers and the Cornell Big Red, he seemingly had a hard time holding back laughter.
“The future of this game is we make money and we fill the building,” joked Parker. “We’d be insane not to keep this going.”
The fact of the matter is that Red Hot Hockey is possibly the most successful new tradition in college hockey. In just its third installment, the game is a seemingly better draw than the annual Beanpot, which after 58 years struggles to fill the TD Garden (regardless of the announced attendance numbers), though that is due in part to the fact that neither Harvard or Northeastern has reached the winner’s circle in nearly two decades.
Red Hot Hockey isn’t just another game for anyone involved. It’s played in New York the days after one of the biggest days of the year in the city. Millions flock to New York City for Thanksgiving weekend and the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. It’s likely only New Year’s Eve is a bigger day in Manhattan.
Bringing players, fans and coaches to the Big Apple at any time of year, let alone the days after Thanksgiving, is something not easily lost on those involved.
“I think the trip [is special],” said Parker. “It’s hard not to be overwhelmed by it all. You’re driving the bus into New York City and all of a sudden you’re in Times Square and near Macy’s and you can’t believe the sea of people.
“They were walking around after dinner [on Friday] and then again [on Saturday] and I’m sure they were saying, ‘Wow, this is the real thing.’
“But that all compares to the sea of red they saw tonight and how loud that crowd was. That crowd was fabulous.”
There is no contract in place to return the BU-Cornell rivalry to Madison Square Garden in 2013, but according to Parker, there’s little chance it won’t happen once again.
“We’ve said we’re going to play it every other year unless there’s a lack of interest,” said Parker. There’s definitely not lack of interest.”
Merrimack’s current success has been well documented on these pages in recent weeks. Let’s look inside some of the key numbers that have led to that 9-0-1 record and No. 1 national ranking. Begin with the power play, which is cranking along at 24.6 percent. Despite scoring once every four power plays, the Warriors are ranked eighth in the nation (though first among Hockey East teams). Merrimack’s penalty kill is 55-for-60 but has scored twice short-handed, a net of only three goals allowed when shorthanded. Both of those special teams stats are mind blowing to this scribe.
• Northeastern is making a valiant effort to climb out of its 1-7-2 start, having posted three straight wins. Last weekend’s 4-1 victory at Michigan deserves recognition, even if most feel the Wolverines are struggling right now. It was probably the program’s biggest non-conference win since a victory two seasons ago at Colorado College.
• It’s probably too soon to be talking about PairWise Rankings. But if you take an occasional peek like I do, you’ll see Hockey East would get only two teams into the tournament — BC and Merrimack — if the season ended today. BU would be the bubble team and, get this, Massachusetts-Lowell would be right in the picture, currently at 17th.
• Quote of the week: “It’s a hard job. I don’t make comments on officiating.” Those words came from the mouth of Parker, the never-shy coach when it comes to the referees, though on Saturday night the Terriers were beneficiary of a controversial call. He followed that up by asking, “Is my nose out to here?” referencing, of course, Pinocchio.