Move to defense gets Boston College’s Linell more ice time

Danny Linell has moved to defense this season for Boston College (photo: Melissa Wade).

For his entire career, Boston College’s Danny Linell has been a forward. A standout at Choate Rosemary Hall, Linell earned the team’s MVP honors in his senior year, scoring 18 goals and 33 points for the Wild Boars as his team won the New England Prep School title.

An undrafted free agent, Linell attended the New York Islanders rookie camp before arriving at the Heights. For 40 games as a freshman and 38 more as a sophomore, Linell played almost nothing but forward (when BC was banged up on defense last season, Linell took a few turns on the blue line).

But as a forward at BC, Linell’s ice time had been somewhat limited. Designated to either the third or fourth lines for most of his first two seasons, BC’s coaching staff came up with an idea this year to make the most of his hockey skills.

The coaches approached Linell with the thought of switching him to defense. Standing only 5-foot-7 and 175 pounds, he doesn’t have the frame that many defensemen have, but Linell has the skating skills to make the move to the blue line.

“He’s made a nice adjustment [to defense],” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “We said, ‘Here’s where you’re going to play the most. Here’s where we need you.’

“At first, he was reluctant to try it. But I think he’s embraced the role. He’s played a ton of minutes. He could eventually go back to help us on forward, depending on needs and the injury situation.”

After posting 18 points at forward in 78 games, Linell has posted a pair of assists at defense — including one on what turned out to be the game-winning goal last Friday in a 4-2 win over Northeastern.

Linell’s new role is just one of many changes to this year’s Eagles team. Four freshman forwards all have seen significant time, led by Ryan Fitzgerald, who has five points in his first seven games at BC. In net, Brian Billett, a backup goaltender behind Parker Milner for his first two years at BC, and freshman Thatcher Demko have split the time thus far.

Platooning goaltenders hasn’t been the M.O. for York in his times at the Heights. It hasn’t been since senior Matti Kaltiainen and freshman Cory Schneider split time in the 2004-05 season that the Eagles have had any semblance of a rotation.

“If there is any point at which we think that one goaltender will give us a better chance to win a hockey game, then we’ll go with the one goaltender,” York said. “But I feel very good about the goaltenders. We’ll continue to have both goaltenders see action.”

Thus far, the new-look Eagles have had moderate success. Though a 6-1 loss to current No. 1 Minnesota is a blemish that sticks out, BC is 4-2-1 and coming off a weekend where the Eagles swept upstart Northeastern to earn two league victories.

Neither of those two wins came easy, both requiring the Eagles to come from behind. Combined with the two games at Minnesota, BC has fallen behind in four straight games.

That may be one area in which York wants his team to improve.

“The other team hasn’t been very accommodating,” laughed York. “But we expected that. They’re good opponents we’re playing. It’s 60 minutes you’ve got to play, sometimes 65. But we’ve got to get a better start, that’s for sure.”

Providence’s Ross Mauermann is tied for the Hockey East lead with 13 points (photo: Melissa Wade).

A look at the stats

Here are a few observations after looking at stats from across Hockey East:

• It’s easy to point to goaltender Jon Gillies as the reason Providence is 5-1-1 out of the gate. But you can’t overlook the contributions of Ross Mauermann, who is tied for the most points among Hockey East players with 13. As good as Gillies was last year and many believe he will be again, the Friars struggled at times to score last season. The Friars averaged 2.76 goals a game last year. This year, that mark currently stands at a league-best 4.43 goals per game.

• I’ve always been a believer that when teams get major contributions from their blueliners they gain a major advantage. Boston University has the top two offensive-producing defensemen in Ahti Oksanen (nine points) and Garrett Noonan (eight points).

• Everyone knew that Notre Dame would have an immediate impact in Hockey East, but I’m not sure that many people knew which players would be the biggest impact. Goaltender Steven Summerhays takes the early lead in that category as he leads Hockey East goaltenders in GAA with a stingy 1.49 mark in eight appearances, seven of those starts. Summerhays, a senior, has always been strong for the Irish but to this point never brought his GAA below the two-goal mark in a season.

• Boston University is thankful for the second period. The Terriers have scored 13 goals in the middle frame as opposed to just four goals in each of the first and third periods.

• New Hampshire has done a great job defensively in the final period, allowing just two goals in the final frame. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, UNH has allowed two goals in the three overtime periods it has played this season.

Quick hits

• After falling 5-3 and 3-2 in overtime last weekend against Massachusetts-Lowell, New Hampshire dropped to 1-5-1, one of the more shocking early season records among Hockey East clubs. But looking at the list of opponents UNH has faced, it’s clear that the Wildcats’ strength of schedule is extremely high. All of UNH’s opponents to date are ranked in the Division I Men’s Poll, including the No. 1 (Minnesota) and No. 2 (Michigan) teams. That said, UNH’s offense is struggling mightily, having scored just 2.29 goals per game, worst in Hockey East. A contributing factor is a power play that has scored just six times in 37 opportunities. The UNH penalty kill isn’t much better, ranking 48th of 59 nationally. Last Saturday night, the lack of success for both sides of special teams was magnified as UNH couldn’t score on a power play in overtime and then allowed a power-play goal to Lowell for the game-winner.

• Tip of the cap to Northeastern’s Kevin Roy and Notre Dame’s Vince Hinostroza, each of whom were recognized with monthly awards by the Hockey Commissioners Association. Roy potted seven goals and added five assist to earn player of the month honors. Hinostroza earned the national award as rookie of the month after scoring eight points in his first six collegiate games.

• According to league sources, there are still good seats available for both days of this year’s Frozen Fenway. On Jan. 4, Providence will face Merrimack and Notre Dame will square off with Boston College. One week later, Massachusetts-Lowell will play Northeastern and Maine will take on Boston University. To order tickets, visit or call (877) RED-SOX9.

And finally, not that it has anything to do with anything, but …

Yes, Boston continues to earn its moniker of Title Town after the Red Sox World Series victory. Hats off to a team that I, as well as many others, wrote off before opening day.

It’s nice to hear the media continually point out that this is the eighth title for Boston since 2001. I can’t help but wish that the same media wouldn’t forget about Boston College’s four college hockey titles and Boston University’s one over that same span. (C’mon, a boy can dream.)