Talk to Jerry York about the nine freshmen on his team, and he won’t give away too much.
Ask him if it’s the best recruiting class ever, and he’s even more coy.
“If you ask me that in April, I’ll let you know,” he said.
April is when the national championship is played, and as the preseason No. 1, that’s where Boston College should end up. Last year, the Eagles’ season ended in March with a first round exit, but this year is a lot different.
The most obvious change is the nine guys with ‘Fr.’ next to their names. While York points to the returners as the reason why BC has been ranked No. 1, this freshman class has immediately improved BC across all lines.
The group consists of forwards Jeremy Bracco, Colin White, Miles Wood, Chris Brown, JD Dudek, and Chris Shero, defensemen Casey Fitzgerald and Josh Couturier, and goalie Chris Birdsall.
“It’s a good class, ain’t it,” York said with eyebrows raised, in a you-know-that-I-know kind of way.
It’s not just good. It’s the best to ever walk through Conte Forum’s doors, with immense talent concentrated at the top.
White was the alternate captain of the gold-medal winning U.S. Men’s National Under-18 Team in 2015. Bracco was his linemate, and assisted White on the game-winner in overtime of the gold medal game.Fitzgerald finished with the best plus/minus of the team in the tournament. Oh, and Wood? He skated with those guys in the U.S. camp and just missed out on making the team.
International Scouting Services (ISS) is one of the world’s leading independent information provider on hockey prospects. They recently came out with their list of top freshmen in the sport. The top spot belongs to White, with Bracco also cracking the top-five at No. 4, and Chris Brown coming in at 17.
As arguably the best incoming group on the preseason No. 1 team, the freshmen will have a big target on their backs. From watching and talking to them, they are ready to go.
Bracco is the flashiest of the group, if not the most talented, and he has been slotted onto the first line alongside sophomores Alex Tuch and Zach Sanford.
The 61st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft, Bracco will soon be ready for the big show. Last spring, rumors swirled of Bracco decommitting and leaving for the Ontario Hockey League, as Sonny Milano did last year. It speaks greatly to his talent, but the freshman forward is here, and he looks committed to spearhead a potent attack.
He seems unphased by any hype or any pressure that is coming BC’s way. When he talks, he constantly uses the word “cool.” Having the No. 1 ranking, looking at the potential of lifting a trophy, being on the first line—it’s all part of a “cool” experience for Bracco. He’s just here to make some stuff happen on every play.
On and off the ice, he has star potential. Whether it’s the stick skills, or the flowing hair, he looks and plays the part. When Tuch was asked about playing alongside him, he joked about having to shut him up first.
He’s confident in his abilities, for sure. At times it borders on arrogance as he’s constantly chirping at Tuch for the puck, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The top scorers rightfully want the ball in their hands or the puck on their sticks, and Bracco is certainly one of the best forwards on the team.
Not far off from Bracco in terms of pure skill, Colin White is the most well-rounded of the freshmen. He has already shown flashes of his ability to weave through the opposition at ease. But what makes him worthy of being the Ottawa Senators’ first round draft pick are his leadership qualities.
It’s not hard to see why he was chosen as alternate captain of the U-18 team. In talking about the season, he’ll say some things that make you think he’s still a captain.
In response to a question about any pressure from the ranking or any other factors, he answered that he was more worried about the team on a day-to-day basis.
A freshman might be excited, headstrong, or just downright nervous from all the pressure, but to say he’s worried? With just one particular word, White has shown that he truly cares about the team’s well-being, outside of just winning games.
In the exhibition game, one huddle focused solely on White talking. He has done it before with guys his age, but now he’s already taking this part of his game to a team where he is among the youngest.
White will be a steady presence for the Eagles day in and day out as the center on the second line.
Rounding out this year’s big three is Miles Wood. A 2013 fourth-round pick, Wood played with the U.S. National Junior Team last year after graduating from Noble and Greenough.
At 20 years old, Wood has two years of experience on his classmates. For comparison, Noah Hanifin was a mere 17 years old when he came last year. In the world of college hockey, it’s not entirely rare for freshmen to be around 20, as they can play juniors up until that point and then enroll into school. BC, however, attracts the country’s top players, many of whom are ready for college action at the age of 18. Wood is confident that he made the right decision in waiting, though.
“I see Colin White, and he’s 18 and has so much talent,” Wood said. “For me personally, I wouldn’t be able to play college at 18 years old.”
These two years he has on his peers are a big component, both mentally and physically. He’s far more well-built than the other freshmen, and his maturity spills out as he speaks confidently about his age, the team, and everything in between.
In the exhibition match, Wood showcased his all-around game, with a willingness to do work on both ends.
After a great backcheck, Wood took the puck down the left wing, put it back in the middle for an oncoming teammate, and then crashed the net for the tap in off the rebound. In less than a minute he had created a turnover, brought the puck up, given it up, and then scored.
With the depth at forward, Wood will start on the third line, but he has all the tools necessary to play alongside Bracco or White.
Just like Bracco and White, Wood gets it. He sees the talent on this team and the No. 1 ranking, and he knows what this team can accomplish.
“For all nine of us to be here, I think it’s gonna be a special year,” he said.
But he also knows just how much work has to go in. He’ll be scoring goals, but he’ll always be backchecking first.
Bracco, White, and Wood are the names you’ll hear the most. But by no means does the freshman class stop there. York has included Brown and Fitzgerald alongside those three as the guys that are ready to play and compete from day one.
Fitzgerald might just be the most important freshman in terms of position and timing. Losing Hanifin to the Carolina Hurricanes leaves a huge gap at the blue line, and York needs Fitzgerald to fill that immediately. He’ll play a lot of minutes.
Brown, meanwhile, is rated as one of the best freshmen in college hockey, and he’s still only a fourth-liner on this team. That’s how deep this class this group of forwards is.
Last year, the fourth line, featuring two seniors, was more typical in that the sole job was to skate hard and make the other team work, instead of significantly contributing points.
This year, Brown should change that. While he’ll be hidden among the fourth line, his contributions will be more important than ever given the lack of depth on defense.
Off the ice, Brown and Fitzgerald epitomize another quality of this class—it’s not just individual talent that makes this class special.
They are not mercenaries, just coming to one of the best college hockey programs in the country to fine-tune some skills and then jump ship for the NHL. Bracco may be the only one to do this, but the rest all have some BC in their blood and are committed to the school they’ve always known.
Brown is the son of the associate head coach Greg Brown, and his entire immediate family has all gone to BC, while Casey is the younger brother of current junior forward Ryan. White’s sister just graduated from BC, so he, too, has been closely connected to the program for some time now.
The pieces continue to come together in intricate fashion. Wood, for example, played at the local Nobles school with White and junior Chris Calnan, his current linemate.
The way this freshman class has come together is a big reason why everyone is talking about national championship potential, and the Eagles won’t go anywhere without some big help from the sticks of Bracco, Wood, White, Fitzgerald, Brown, and company.
York will let the in-season results do the talking, but he knows what he has here. He doesn’t have to say much to get across how important this class is.
“I’m very happy they chose Boston College,” he said.
With a big class, everything is in place for a deep run into April.
Bracco scores the pretty goals, White leads the group, Wood does some of the dirty work. Putting them into these categories is too simple, though, and even takes away from just how skilled they are.
The only way to put it is that this class is the best ever. We’ll just have to wait til April to hear it from York.
Images by Daniella Fasciano / Heights Editor