Optimism high for Boston College offense, but defense a question mark

Alex Tuch led Boston College in scoring as a rookie last season (photo: Melissa Wade).

Every team faces new challenges each year, but rarely will a coach face such opposite challenges as Boston College’s Jerry York.

Just one year after York qualified his team for the NCAA tournament almost solely based on the prowess of his defense, he faces a season where his blue line lacks the experience and likely will need the support of scoring power and goaltending.

The Eagles return their leading scorer from a year ago in Alex Tuch, who was overshadowed last season by a rookie down the street at Boston University named Jack Eichel. Add in players like Ryan Fitzgerald and Adam Gilmour, along with a highly touted freshman trio of Colin White, Jeremy Bracco and Chris Brown, and there is plenty of optimism for the BC offense.

But on the blue line, not so much. Both Michael Matheson and Noah Hanifin left early for the NHL, leaving Teddy Doherty as the top returner. While players like Ian McCoshen, Scott Savage and Steve Santini are all pretty good defensively, the needed offense from the back end that BC depended on a year ago likely won’t be there.

“It absolutely is [a role reversal],” said York. “You look at guys like Tuch and Fitzy and guys like Gilmour, they’re going to score goals for us. Now it’s keeping the defense on track.”

Goaltender Thatcher Demko should be the stabilizing factor between the pipes for BC, but he was slowed in the offseason by surgery on both hips.

Still, there seems to be plenty of components in place that Boston College should be able to make a run at every trophy and tournament championship available this season.

Last season

21-14-3, 12-7-3 (second) in Hockey East. Lost to Vermont in Hockey East quarterfinals; lost to Denver in NCAA first round.

Names to know

Tuch quietly made a name for himself last season, leading the club in scoring as a rookie. Demko moves into his junior season and is probably the most notable goaltender in Hockey East as the season starts. But keep rookies White, Bracco and Brown on your radar; the trio promises to be part of a special recruiting class at the Heights.

Three questions

1. How good will BC’s defense be? Defense was this team’s strength a year ago but was decimated by NHL signings.

2. Will this be Fitzgerald’s breakout season? His numbers have been good for two years, but does he have the next gear to become a 20-goal or 40-point scorer?

3. What role players will become go-to guys? It has been a staple of many York teams — players who were killing penalties and matching up as defensive forwards have breakthrough junior or senior campaigns. That wasn’t the case last year and it hurt the Eagles. Who can fill that role this season?

Crystal ball

Jim Connelly (third place): The Eagles certainly have one of the nation’s top recruiting classes and a proven goaltender in Thatcher Demko. The one area I worry about is defense, which grew thin with early departures.

David H. Hendrickson (first place): Last year’s power outage will be a distant memory as the Eagles return to national prominence.

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