Frozen Four preview: Gaudreau, potent top line key Boston College offense

Boston College’s top line was involved in nine of 10 goals scored in the Northeast Regional (photo: Melissa Wade).

The tale of how Boston College entered this year’s NCAA tournament is well-documented. Having a 19-game unbeaten streak stopped on the final day of the season by Notre Dame, the Eagles then waited a bye week in the Hockey East tournament before against facing the Irish and losing a best-of-three series.

The result was the Eagles playing just four games in a four-week span — all versus Notre Dame — and losing three of them.

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So there were a lot of questions as to which BC team would arrive at the Northeast Regional: the offensive juggernaut or the club that couldn’t get past the Irish. It took just 35 seconds of the opening game against Denver to answer.

When BC’s top line and its top scorer, Johnny Gaudreau, buried a shot in the top corner over Denver goaltender Sam Brittain, in the regional’s first minute of play, it was clear the BC offense was back.

By weekend’s end, the Eagles top line of Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes scored nine times and the Eagles were headed back to the Frozen Four for the 11th time in 20 years under coach Jerry York. That’s something York hoped for when he put this line together at the end of November.

“I thought they’d be an excellent hockey line because all three are very talented hockey players,” said York. “They’re everything I thought they would be.”

About Boston College

Coach: Jerry York, 20th season at Boston College, 42nd season overall

Record: 28-7-4 (16-2-2 Hockey East, first)

How they got to the Frozen Four: Defeated Denver 6-2 and Massachusetts-Lowell 4-3 to win the Northeast Regional

Regional seed: First

Last Frozen Four appearance: 2012

Best NCAA finish: Champion in 1949, 2001, 2008, 2010, 2012

Why they’ll win the national championship: Everyone knows this team’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes is one of the most potent of all time. They alone have enough firepower to win the national championship so further support by BC’s remaining cast of characters is more than enough to win this tournament.

Why they won’t win the national championship: In a single-game scenario, the concern that BC’s top line could be stopped is legitimate. If the top line was help off the board in the regionals, BC scores a single goal. Instead, it scored 10. But stopping that line is easier said than done.

But even with a power line scoring at will, there have to be concerns of a power outage. If a team is able to stop BC’s top line, can it stop this offense entirely?

That’s a question many have been asking for weeks. But stopping a moving train is something that can be easy in concept but difficult in practice.

All that said, a simple solution for the Eagles would be to get more offense from other lines. BC’s only goal that didn’t come from the first line in the regionals may have been the most important: a Ryan Fitzgerald strike just 21 seconds after Massachusetts-Lowell had taken its first lead early in the third period of the regional final.

That is the kind of offensive contribution that York knows could win him another national championship.

“In a perfect world you want all four lines contributing to offense, you want your defensemen to contribute to the offense. You’re never quite sure how the game is going to play out,” said York.

“We’ve got players capable of scoring goals on all four lines. They’re allowed to score. It just happens [in the regional] to be John’s line. But we’d like to get offense from more people. Certainly the blue line would help us a lot.”

The blue line also contributed a crucial goal — the regional-winning goal if you will — in Worcester. With the teams tied at 3-3 midway through the third period, sophomore Teddy Doherty pinched down, took a pass and attacked the net, only to see defensive mate Ian McCoshen pinching from the left point. A perfect pass and a low, hard shot from McCoshen gave BC the final lead and propelled them to Philadelphia.

“Five of the six are either sophomores or freshman. As a senior, [Isaac MacLeod] is the leader,” said York. “But it’s as young a team as possible from the blue line back when you think of [freshman goaltender] Thatcher [Demko]. They’re getting better every day. The progression they’ve made from September to now is exciting for us to see.”

BC’s semifinal opponent is a familiar one in Union. The Dutchmen ended BC’s NCAA tournament run a year ago almost before it began, scoring three second-period goals to open a 4-0 lead in BC’s tournament opener. Union went on to a 5-1 win against the favored Eagles.

“A person who really follows closely knows that Union may be the favorite of all of us here [in the Frozen Four],” said York. “We played them last year … and we broke the film down closely afterward and we know we ran into an incredible hockey team there.”

When all is said and done, though, the focal point for the Eagles will remain their top line. Can they find enough offense to carry this team? And, maybe more importantly, can they play well enough without the puck to stop the opposition’s offense? The latter came into question in the regional final against Lowell.

For Gaudreau, taking care of the defensive side, particularly against the best scorers in the nation, becomes paramount.

“We have to make sure we’re playing good defensively and then offensively,” said Gaudreau. “Fortunately, we’ve been doing this.”