Previewing BC Hockey, 2016-17: What to Expect From Harvard

BC hockey

Boston College men’s hockey picked up a win against Arizona State this past weekend, extending its undefeated streak to 10 games. That was expected, however, because Arizona State is a program just starting its run in the NCAA, while BC is among the best in the league. On Friday, the Eagles look to continue their streak against a team much closer to their caliber.

No. 3 BC will face No. 11 Harvard (4-1-1, 2-1-1 ECAC) on Friday night at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center in Cambridge. Last season, Harvard finished with a record of 19-11-4 and made it to the ECAC Championship, where it lost to Quinnipiac, the team that went on to beat BC in the NCAA Semifinals. The Crimson had a strong run that was ended in the Worcester Regional Semifinals by the Eagles. To make matters worse for Ted Donato’s team, Harvard lost several important players, none more important than defending Hobey Baker Award winner and current New York Ranger Jimmy Vesey.

But the Crimson has not struggled to find scoring so far this season. Harvard currently has seven skaters averaging at least one point per game, including sophomore Ryan Donato and senior Tyler Moy, both of whom are NHL draft picks. Harvard’s team offense and defense are currently ranked in the top four of the NCAA. The Crimson is ranked higher than the Eagles in both regards, even though Harvard has played fewer than half the number of games BC has.

Last Time They Played: The last time the Eagles and the Crimson faced each other was during the 2016 Northeast Regional semifinal. BC started hot on offense, scoring three goals—two of them from Alex Tuch—in the first 22 minutes of the game. Harvard then scored a goal halfway through the second to close the gap. The Crimson outshot BC through the first two periods, but Thatcher Demko stood strong in goal to hold the lead. Austin Cangelosi sealed the win with an empty-net goal—his second goal of the game. Demko finished with 32 saves as BC won 4-1, sending the Crimson’s players back to Cambridge looking for their golf clubs. BC and Harvard also met last season in the first round of the Beanpot. BC struck early, with Casey Fitzgerald scoring in the second minute, but Harvard took the lead by the end of the first period. The Eagles re-claimed the lead on the strength of two power play goals in the second period, and managed to hold on for the 3-2 win. The Eagles would go on to win the Beanpot.

Keys:

  1. Limit Penalties: As great as the Eagles have been this season, they still have one area that needs adjustment: staying out of the box. The Eagles are currently seventh in the NCAA and second in Hockey East in penalty minutes, with an average of 19 penalty minutes—roughly equivalent to 10 minor penalties—per game. Additionally, they have finished only one game this season with fewer than 10 penalty minutes. This tendency to take penalties has become a serious issue for BC, since penalties have the ability to swing the momentum of a game. This occurred last week against New Hampshire, as BC allowed two power-play goals in the third period to give up a 3-1 lead. Although the Eagles won the game, their penalties made the win more difficult than it needed to be. This lack of discipline is a problem in its own right, but it is made worse by BC’s lackluster penalty kill. Having finished last season with the fourth-best penalty kill in the NCAA, BC has fallen to 39th place this year, and has struggled to make improvements. Harvard’s power play was ranked fifth in the NCAA last season, and so far this season it is 12th. Thus, the Crimson is likely to capitalize on any power-play opportunities BC gives it. If the Eagles cannot either limit their penalties, or re-discover their penalty-killing magic from last year, they will have a hard time winning this game.
  1. Power Play: Along the same lines, the Eagles must succeed when given their own opportunity. BC had significant struggles with the power play at the start of the season, failing to score on 23 attempts through the first four games. Since then, however, the Eagles have rediscovered their power play efficiency that gave them the ninth-best power play in the NCAA last season. They have scored on 12-of-45 attempts in their last nine games, good for a very solid rate of 26.67 percent. Colin White is currently tied for second in the NCAA with four power-play goals. Although Harvard is very good on the power play, it has struggled significantly with its penalty kill, currently sitting at 44th in the NCAA. The Crimson had a similar special-teams disparity last season, with its power play ranked fifth, but its penalty kill 26th. Although Harvard doesn’t take penalties at the same rate BC does, it does take a significant amount: over 16 minutes per game. The Eagles should exploit Harvard’s weak penalty kill in order to balance out any damage caused by their own penalty problems.   
  1. Limit The Top Lines: Harvard has seven skaters this season that currently have at least one point per game. Its depth beyond that, however, has been very limited so far this season. Eight of Harvard’s players—the top two forward lines, as well as its top-two defensemen—are responsible for over 75 percent of all of Harvard’s scoring. The other 11 skaters on the active roster each have three points or less. If the Eagles focus on limiting chances for the top two lines, they can effectively shut down the Harvard offense. Even keeping one of the top lines off the score sheet would likely be enough for the Eagles to earn the win.

    Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor