Brand Loyalty Chris Calnan exemplifies the new NHL and its relationship to college hockey. He also has the toughest job of any at BC: balancing captain life and Mod life.

Chris Calnan has a lot to deal with this year. As captain, he has to show 13 freshmen the way things go while picking up a big chunk of the departing offensive firepower. Yet, the biggest accomplishment of his senior year came as a junior, and he’s got ResLife to thank for it. He and some other teammates make up the first senior men’s hockey class to reside in The Mods in many, many years.

Calnan lights up talking about when they got that pick time. He thinks it was about 4:30, and they had to go run and ask head coach Jerry York for his permission to pull the trigger. He granted it, but then came the hard part: convincing the team chaplain. Thankfully for Calnan, the chaplain took mercy.

“It was wicked funny,” Calnan said, laughing. “Once he announced it to the team that we had a Mod, it was bananas.”

As for why Boston College needed 13 freshmen this year, well, York and his staff play with fire, and they got first-degree burns this summer. BC men’s hockey lost a lot of top players this offseason, because BC recruits NHL-level talent. NHL trends affect what happens at Kelley Rink, and a confluence of circumstances caused BC to lose Thatcher Demko, Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini, Adam Gilmour, Miles Wood, Alex Tuch, and Zach Sanford.

Whether his players stick around is partially out of York’s hands. Since the 2004-05 lockout, the NHL has clamped down on clutching and grabbing that impedes a skater’s progress, while also de-emphasizing fighting and general goonery. Per a TSN study, fighting majors per game have been cut in half since 2008-09. Boarding majors are down about 40 percent as well. There’s now an arms race to de-goon rosters. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Chicago Blackhawks, and Los Angeles Kings possess eight of the previous nine Stanley Cups. All of those teams roll four lines deep of skilled players. The Penguins, the defending champions, are best known for their speed. NHL general managers need to adapt, and the ones that fail to have gotten fired, or will get fired, only to be replaced by an enlightened executive who understands the need to keep up with the Joneses/Penguins.

To get the speed to compete with such teams, NHL teams turn to the kids, whose coaches no longer have to worry about them getting punished by so-called enforcers. The young players, so far, have rewarded their bosses. According to The Globe and Mail, the percentage of even-strength minutes played by skaters in the 18-20, 21-23, and 24-26 age brackets have all jumped since 2005, and the percentage of minutes is down for all age brackets over 27. Per another TSN study, over the last 10 seasons, the percentage of top-50 point-getters in the league that were under the age of 28 has jumped from 40 percent to 60 percent. For the under-24 demographic, it has doubled from 20 percent to 40 percent.

NHL teams also need to get younger in a less Darwinian sense, too. Thanks to a sluggish Canadian dollar, the NHL’s salary cap has stayed relatively stagnant the last few seasons, rising by just $2 million each year. Young, fresh-out-of-college players have few rights under the current collective bargaining agreement, and must sign entry-level contracts at the outset of their careers. For instance, former BC star Johnny Gaudreau nearly put up a point per game last season for the Calgary Flames and made less than $1 million.

In this context, it’s not surprising that teams rush to sign their young stars. The most important reason, though, is the fear that their top prospects will go the route of another former BC star: Kevin Hayes.

Drafted in the first round by the Chicago Blackhawks out of Noble and Greenough in 2010, Hayes struggled relative to expectations during his first three seasons on the Heights. He bounced back from an injury-riddled junior year to blow up his senior year for 65 points, and then waited until August 2014 for his Blackhawks rights to expire so he could be free to entertain offers from other NHL teams. The New York Rangers landed him, and Hayes rewarded them with 81 points in 158 games.

The 2016 Hobey Baker winner, Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey, ditched the team that drafted him—the Nashville Predators—to throw his name into free agency. He, too, waited until August  to follow in Hayes’s footsteps to Madison Square Garden. The Predators threw a public fit, saying that Vesey got “bad advice and bad counsel,” according to The Tennessean. Vesey and Hayes both made the team that drafted them look like a spurned lover, which is probably a big reason that so many of BC’s good players got gobbled up before they could even think about going that route.

Two years after they drafted Hayes, the Blackhawks drafted another big forward out of Noble and Greenough: Calnan. Now BC’s captain, Calnan has to deal with the ramifications of the Eagles’ offseason exodus.

“Just got a lot of freshmen to deal with,” Calnan said of the 13 newcomers called upon to replace the likes of Demko and McCoshen. “Gonna be pretty crazy.”

Calnan knows that all those freshmen are watching him all the time, and he doesn’t take that burden lightly. For leadership lessons, the Norwell, Mass., native looks outside of the team for guidance, though York is definitely OK with where Calnan gets those insights.

“Definitely the [New England] Patriots,” Calnan said, while specifying Patriots’ captain Matthew Slater as a particularly admirable leader because Slater “brings it every single time.”  

“It’s crazy how much Coach York loves the Patriots,” he continued. “We have a ‘quote of the day’ and half of them are Bill Belichick.”

It’s a lot of responsibility for a senior who’s still recovering from shoulder and ankle injuries that derailed his junior season. York needs Calnan to steer the freshmen while picking up a chunk of the production that left with those now-former Eagles. Just like Hayes did after his junior year was cut short by injury, Calnan looks forward to contributing more than he ever has. The captain posted a career-high 16 points his sophomore year, and wants to easily top that this winter.

“I have a lot more I can do this season. I’ll be in a bigger role, because a lot of guys signed and left early, which stinks every time it happens,” Calnan said. “The team’s gonna need me offensively a lot more this year, and I’m ready to step into that role, be an all-around guy and contribute offensively this year and put up some numbers.

“You need the offensive presence, and we lost a lot of size. You look at Miles [Wood], Tuch, Sanford, Gilmour, and those guys are 6-foot-3, 6-foot-4, and once you lose that, I think I’m the only one around here 6-foot-3 up front now. You need that physical presence, so I can fill that.”

When a 6-foot-3 former third-round pick puts up numbers at a place like BC, NHL teams notice. If Calnan does what he believes he’s capable of doing, he will have options. In fact, Calnan has known Vesey and Hayes from a young age. He admires how they took advantage of the business to do what was best for their futures, by putting it into their own hands, not just by choosing a team but by playing up to a level in which they were desired by many. Though Calnan respects their decisions, he said his mind is made up.  

“Obviously, we’ll see how the season ends up for me,” Calnan said, “but Chicago has been great to me, very respectful, and I plan on signing with them after the season ends.”

The future of BC hockey players’ senior housing, the Eagles’ fate on the ice, and Calnan’s professional prospects all hang in the balance this year. Yet Calnan is relieved, if anything, because he no longer has to worry about his shoulder popping out when he goes into corners, or his ankle slowing him down. He also couldn’t wait to finally get “back out with the boys” at the next day’s practice, but didn’t want to talk about much beyond that. He’s taking his big year one day at time. He’s Jerry York’s captain, after all. But unlike the captains before him, he’s going out in style—in a Mod.

Featured Images by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

print

About Michael Hoff