Without Gaudreau, Boston College turns to large sophomore class

Thatcher Demko was an honorable mention Hockey East all-star as a freshmen (photo: Melissa Wade).

Another season of college hockey beckons and once again, Boston College appears to be in the mix for not just a Hockey East title but a sixth national championship.

Last year, the Eagles broke in a huge freshman class, relying on rookies in a big way on the blue line and in the net. This year, that experience should pay big dividends.

Sophomore Thatcher Demko has seized the No. 1 goaltending role. As a freshman, he earned Hockey East honorable mention all-star honors.

“Thatcher has learned an awful lot and will benefit from that year,” Eagles coach Jerry York says. “He clearly is our No. 1 goaltender. We’re really solid [there].”

Further solidifying the defensive zone will be a defensive corps that lost only one member from what was a young unit last season. It adds highly regarded 17-year-old freshman Noah Hanifin.

“When you’re returning your goaltenders and 90 percent of your defensive corps, that’s a pretty good thing,” York says. “I think we’ll be stable, very consistent and very solid from defense to goaltenders.”

Anchoring the blue line will be junior captain Mike Matheson, who earned first-team all-Hockey East and second-team All-American honors last year.

“He’s our captain as a junior,” York says. “That doesn’t happen an awful lot at this level. That speaks volumes for his leadership, to be elected by his peer group. He’s really a go-to guy for us, leads by example and sets a very good tone.”

The only significant concern will be up front, where four major talents, led by Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau, are gone and only two freshmen have arrived to fill the void. (Sonny Milano, the No. 16 overall NHL draft pick, turned pro before ever arriving in Chestnut Hill.) As a result, the key will be the emergence of all of last year’s freshmen.

“That’s going to be where we need someone to step up,” York says. “We’ve got some gaping holes up front. We brought in just the two freshman forwards this year, so we’re going to need our senior class to have their best years they’ve ever had. The bulk of our offense will probably come from our sophomore class.”

About the Eagles

2013-14 record: 28-8-4

2013-14 conference record: 16-2-2 (first)

2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Second

Key losses: F Johnny Gaudreau, F Kevin Hayes, F Bill Arnold, F Patrick Brown, D Isaac MacLeod

Key returnees: D Michael Matheson, G Thatcher Demko, F Ryan Fitzgerald, F Austin Cangelosi, D Scott Savage, D Ian McCoshen

Why the Eagles will finish higher than predicted in the coaches poll: The Eagles defense and goaltending will be even better than last year thanks to another year of experience.

Why the Eagles will finish lower than the coaches poll: The Eagles lost their top four scorers and must depend on young forwards to produce.