Boston College’s title defense dependent on growth of its defense

There is a lot of buzz as the 2012-13 campaign kicks off for the defending national champion Boston College Eagles. BC returns a solid piece of its core group from a season ago led by goaltender Parker Milner.

But as often happens with a national champ, the Eagles were hit hard with players leaving early for the NHL. Both forward Chris Kreider and defenseman Brian Dumoulin inked pro deals, with Kreider fitting in extremely well with the New York Rangers during their playoff run a season ago.

“Every year is different,” BC coach Jerry York said. “You lose hopefully good seniors who contribute a lot, and the way it is now with the NHL, you’re going to lose some underclassmen.”

The biggest losses for the Eagles likely came on the blue line. In addition to Dumoulin’s early departure, BC graduated Tommy Cross and Edwin Shea on defense, which will translate to a lot of inexperience at that position for the Eagles.

“Defense is our one area we have to shore up,” York said. “With Cross and Edwin Shea graduating, with Brian Dumoulin leaving early, those are three defensemen who played an awful lot for us.

“We’ll probably dress three or four freshmen on defense this year. As they mature, it will make our team a lot better.”

If there is one player that the spotlight will be on, it’s sophomore Johnny Gaudreau. A year ago, Gaudreau earned USCHO’s national all-rookie honor after playing a key role in leading the Eagles to their third national title in five years.

BC also will lean heavily on seniors Steven Whitney and Pat Mullane, both of whom had breakout seasons a year ago.

The Eagles also will return goaltender Milner who in three seasons has led the Eagles to two national titles.

“The offense will be a big plus for us and goaltending will be a big plus for us,” York said. “Let’s get through the defense here for a while and see what happens.”

If the defense is going to be bolstered by the rookies, it will be Michael Matheson, a first-round pick in last June’s NHL draft, who can lead the way. Standing 6-foot-2, his 189-pound frame may need to fill out, but his skills are touted as some of the best in the game.

“Usually those first-rounders are good recruits,” York laughed. “He’s certainly going to have an impact on us this year. He skates very well and has good composure. I think he’ll turn out to be everything we thought he would be.”

If the pieces of the puzzle come together, you have to believe this is a BC team that can join the likes of Minnesota in 2003 and Denver in 2005 as repeat national champs.

About the Eagles

2011-12 overall record: 33-10-1

2011-12 Hockey East record: 19-7-1 (first)

2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: first; Dave: first

Key losses: F Chris Kreider, D Brian Dumoulin, F Barry Almeida

Players to watch: F Steven Whitney, F Johnny Gaudreau, G Parker Milner

Impact rookie: D Michael Matheson

Why the Eagles will finish higher than predicted: Can’t get any higher than first!

Why the Eagles will finish lower than predicted: The Eagles present a very young defense that could make goaltender Parker Milner work extra hard.