As it often does, defense played a critical role in Boston College men’s hockey’s rout of Massachusetts. In a 6-1 victory, BC demonstrated several key aspects of its defense that are indicative of how the Eagles manhandled the Minutemen and how they might dismantle other, higher ranked teams with more dominant offenses.
It was imperative that the Eagles settled into a groove on defense, not only to triumph over UMass, but to hone in their skills for their schedule moving forward. In doing so, the Eagles were able to limit offensive opportunities for the Minutemen by forcing the puck to the outside, playing physically when necessary, and dominating the turnover game. The combination of these three things, when properly executed, smothered UMass’ offense, which produced a total of only 13 shots.
Perhaps the most vital component of the defensive performance from the Eagles was the ability to force the puck outside. The comparatively undersized Eagles defensemen, at an average of 5-foot-11 inches and 185 lbs, severely limited the Minutemen’s ability to take good shots by eliminating inside shooting lanes.
In fact, the Eagles often hindered UMass’s ability to take shots at all, purely by eliminating the middle of the ice as an option. Forcing the puck outside and deep, BC defensemen were then able to throw a hit and dish the turnover to a backchecking forward. Jesper Mattila exemplified this at 3:11 in the second period, facing a driving Michael Iovanna. Trying to force his way inside, Iovanna was denied by the backward-skating Mattila, who forced the UMass forward to swing his shot out wide, completely missing the net. Although it didn’t register as a blocked shot in the scorebook, Mattila was solely responsible for the shot missing the net.
On the other hand, Mattila showed how gaining an inside position can create legitimate scoring opportunities. Just prior to the eight-minute mark in the second period, a stretch pass from Iacobellis found Ray Pigozzi just in front of the blue line. Mattila played the outside drive, allowing Pigozzi the space to drive inside to the slot. Following a quick toe drag, Pigozzi lit the lamp with a snapper past freshman goaltender Ryan Edquist.
“I was just going wide there… and the D overcommitted,” Pigozzi said when asked about his goal. “I was able to get it by him and get a shot on net.”
BC also capitalized on its physical play, which led to a tired and frustrated UMass offense and offensive opportunities for the Eagles’ forwards in the neutral and offensive zones. This was particularly notable on UMass odd-man rushes, especially in the third period. By playing with a physical presence and confidence at their own blue line, BC defensemen forced the Minutemen to take line changes instead of driving deep into the zone by standing them up at the mouth of the defensive zone.
This effort was led by a defensively dominant and offensively productive Scott Savage, with notable contributions from freshman blue liner Connor Moore.
The effectiveness of physical blue line play was epitomized by Mattila, who, with the notable exception of UMass’ only goal, played an extraordinarily solid game defensively. Playing on the penalty kill with nine minutes remaining in the third, Mattila forced the drive wide into the boards, where his checking popped the puck loose. Sophomore forward Colin White was there to body the incoming UMass sophomore Brett Boeing and clear the puck. The two rushing Minutemen maintained possession in the offensive zone for no more than 10 seconds, thanks mostly in part to physicality at the blue line and a timely turnover.
Lastly, the Eagles were masterful at creating turnovers in the defensive zone. This not only limited the Minutemen’s ability to put shots on net, but pinned UMass forwards deep in the offensive zone while streaking BC forwards were dished the puck on the fly. As a consequence of the physicality often present at the blue line, pucks squirted out of the grasp of UMass forwards.
These were efficiently collected and dished out, which created opportunities such as J.D. Dudek’s near snipe that glanced off the iron in the second period. A Michael Kim hit and collection of the turnover found a wide open Dudek streaking through the neutral zone. Finding inside leverage, he popped a wrister off the near-side post to narrowly miss a goal.
This opportunity, although certainly facilitated by Dudek’s skill in the offensive zone, was made possible by strong defensive play that found the Eagles’ defense forcing the puck outside with physical play, collecting the rebound, and taking advantage of UMass players caught out of position on the rush.
Although UMass is no hockey powerhouse, the consistent defensive play displayed by the Eagles is something they must maintain should they wish to beat opponents of a higher offensive caliber like North Dakota or the bruising Boston University. There are some reasons to be optimistic about the BC’s defensive play moving forward, yet the Eagles need to maintain their stranglehold on opposing forwards if they want to beat other Hockey East teams.
Featured Image by Josh Mentzer / Heights Staff