Previewing BC Hockey 2016-17: What to Expect From the Icebreaker Tournament

Boston College men’s hockey will be looking to kick off its season with a new look and with a big statement by winning the 2016 Ice Breaker Tournament. After finishing last season with a record of 28-8-5 (15-2-5 Hockey East), a Beanpot trophy, and a Frozen Four appearance, the Eagles experienced significant roster turnover this past offseason. Fourteen players from last year’s roster either graduated or moved on in their professional careers. They have been replaced with a group of 13 freshmen, many of whom are high potential prospects. Newcomers like Graham McPhee, Jesper and Julius Matilla, and Joe Woll could become very important players in the BC lineup this season. The Eagles—old and new—will be looking to prove themselves and relax any doubts about their inexperience with a win in this tournament.

No. 5 BC begins the tournament, and its season, on Friday against the Air Force Academy Falcons. The Falcons finished last year with a record of 20-12-5 and an Atlantic Hockey Conference record of 16-7-5. Their season ended with a loss in the AHC Semifinals. Unlike BC, Air Force has a vast majority of its primary scorers from last season returning this year. Although the program is a far cry from BC’s talent level, this roster stability could give Air Force an advantage in Friday’s game.

Should the Eagles defeat Air Force on Friday, they will face either No. 3 Denver or Ohio State on Saturday. The Pioneers finished last season with a record of 25-10-6 (17-5-2 National Collegiate) and, like BC, lost in the semifinals of the Frozen Four. The Pios have also lost some important pieces this past offseason, including two of their top three scorers, specifically Boston Bruins’ prospect Danton Heinen. Their defense and goaltending, however, are largely intact from last year. Ohio State finished last season with a record of 14-18-4 (8-8-4-1 Big 10), and were eliminated in the Big Ten Semifinals.

LAST TIME THEY PLAYED:
BC and Air Force have not faced each other since the 2012 Northeast Regional Semifinals. BC struck early, with a goal from Chris Kreider—now on the New York Rangers—seven minutes into the opening period. The Eagles outshot the Falcons 34-20, but Air Force goalie Jason Torf kept the game close with 32 saves. Kreider scored again with less than two minutes remaining on the clock, and goalie Parker Milner earned the shutout as the Eagles moved on in the tournament with a 2-0 victory. BC would then go on to win the NCAA Championship, its most recent title.

KEYS:
1. Goaltending:
Thatcher Demko was crucial to BC’s success last year, playing in all but two games, finishing top five in the NCAA in save percentage, and winning both the Hockey East Player of the Year Award and the Mike Richter Award. He departed after his junior season for the team that drafted him, the Vancouver Canucks. Demko’s absence leaves a significant hole in BC’s net. Right now, the candidate most likely to take on the starting job is Woll. He played for the U.S. National Development Team Program last year, putting up solid numbers (.918 save percentage in 33 games). He also played in the U-18 World Championship, finishing with the highest save percentage in the tournament. These are very promising signs, but this weekend will be the first time he sets foot on the ice in his college career. He needs to play confident and take advantage of this opportunity to establish himself as BC’s starter. The Eagles will need him to be strong out of the gate if they want to beat the Falcons and have a shot at winning the tournament.

2. Limit Growing Pains:
Several key figures from last year’s team left BC this past offseason, either because of graduation or to pursue an NHL career. That means nearly half of the roster will be composed of skaters who have never played a game of college hockey. While expectations are high for the crop of new skaters like McPhee or the Mattila brothers, it would be unreasonable to expect a spotless debut. BC will need to find a way to limit these mistakes—and their impact on the game—to win early in the season. The new players will also need to quickly develop chemistry with each other, or BC’s offense will struggle.

3. Leading by Example:
Despite the gloom and doom in Eagle Country, BC actually returns a lot of weapons this season. Three out of BC’s five top scorers from last year—Ryan Fitzgerald, Colin White, and Austin Cangelosi—will be in the lineup. Other important returning players include Scott Savage, Casey Fitzgerald, Matthew Gaudreau, and captain Chris Calnan. These players will serve crucial roles as leaders to the half of the team that has never played in the NCAA. They will also need to provide stability to the roster, both by covering for any rookie mistakes the freshmen may make and continuing their strong play from last year. When half of the roster is composed of unknowns, it is critical that the players you do know can play at the level expected of them. This is especially important for White and Fitzgerald, as the first-line forwards were the only two players for BC last season to average more than one point per game. If they—and the other returning players—can continue that level of play this weekend, it will make up for any potential offensive struggles by the new guys.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor