Boston College defenseman Michael Matheson is both the Eagles’ best defenseman and is representative of the Eagles’ entire back line. An offensive contributor, smooth skater and a player capable of dominating opponents’ best forwards, the Panthers’ first round pick is prone to untimely penalties and costly defensive zone lapses in concentration.
It was not surprising, then, when Matheson delivered one of his more complete, 60-minute efforts of the season in Friday night’s win over Providence that the five other blue liners followed.
Matheson led the way with three points, a plus-two rating, strong defensive zone play, and dynamic offensive zone skating, puck-handling and decision making. During even-strength and power-play time, the Quebec native created chances to fire his booming shot, and set up teammates with the rebounds from, and the threat of, that shot along with impressive skating for a defenseman of his stature.
“[Providence is] a team that likes to dump pucks in and get on us on a forecheck, and they’re fast, they’re strong,” Matheson said. “So our mentality was if we have good gaps and eliminate a play before they have that opportunity, then that’s good for us and we can transition quickly and get back on offense.”
BC head coach Jerry York added that, “Mike had some real good chances from the point tonight.”
None of those chances got past star Providence goalie Jon Gillies, but Matheson did assist on three of BC’s four non-empty net goals. He deflected credit, though.
“The assists I had were second assists and I was on the power play and I gave it to Kevin [Hayes] and he made a really nice play,” Matheson said. “I don’t think it was the assist specifically that made or didn’t make my game.”
On the Eagles’ second goal of the game, while on the power play, the puck skittered out to Matheson, and the Friars’ penalty killers scampered to clog any shooting lanes from the point. Matheson wound up and made a shot-pass to a rarely open Johnny Gaudreau at the bottom of the right faceoff circle. Gaudreau used the welcome time and space to create a passing lane to the front of the net, and senior Bill Arnold banged the feed at the back post past Gillies.
Matheson created the next goal as well, also coming on the man advantage. Matheson drove behind the net from the top of the left circle and then behind the net. Circling back around the right faceoff circle, Matheson drew the defense and passed to Hayes at the left point, and Hayes fired a wrist shot through the lane. Captain Patrick Brown redirected the shot for the game-winning goal.
Matheson did take an ill-advised interference penalty that led to a Friars’ goal after some confusion regarding Matheson’s re-entry into the run of play. The rest of the defense, following its leader, also was not without mistakes. Fellow Panthers’ prospect Ian McCoshen committed a hitting from behind penalty and failed to cover Providence forward Derek Army as Army skated alarmingly towards Eagles’ goalie Brian Billett and then deposited the then-go-ahead goal for the Friars. Both of Providence’s goals were shot from well below the hash marks, hardly the fault of Billett.
Still, there was more good than bad from both Matheson and York’s backline as a whole, and more outings like Friday’s will be needed as the season wears on.
“It’s definitely up there,” Matheson said regarding whether this was the defense’s best game of the season. “It’s encouraging to see that all six players that were in the lineup played really well, especially against a strong team like Providence. It’s really good to see that everyone can participate and help us down the stretch.”
BC junior winger Johnny Gaudreau had one of his toughest games of the season on Friday against Providence. The diminutive Flames’ prospect bungled several passes, single-handedly submarined a power play in the first period, and was roughed up all game by the Friars.
He also finished with two goals, two assists, and was the game’s second star. Like a great pitcher without his best stuff, Gaudreau still won the game for BC with a performance far from his best. So it goes for a transcendent player.
“He’s [Gaudreau] had an unbelievable career at BC,” York said. “But he’s at the very top of his game. He’s improved every year. Freshman year was remarkable and he just got better sophomore year but this is the best I’ve seen him play. Practices, games. You know, people were saying last year, ‘what more can Johnny do?’ [But] John wants to get better in every facet of his game. I think he’s stronger on the puck, he’s better defensively, he’s shooting the puck better. It’s an awful lot of fun for us to watch him play.”