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Long Ride Home: Austin Cangelosi Is Back Where It All Began

Stuck somewhere on I-90 on his way back to Boston College from Toronto’s Ricoh Coliseum, Austin Cangelosi had to blush.

“Well, that’s nice of him to say for sure,” Cangelosi said.

Cangelosi, the Eagles’ center and alternate captain in 2016-17 who now plays for the American Hockey League’s Albany Devils, was referring to the kind words of his recently former head coach, Jerry York. In his 45 years leading college hockey teams, York has seen a lot of players. But there was no doubt which three reminded him most of Cangelosi.

Nathan Gerbe, Cam Atkinson, Johnny Gaudreau. York put Cangelosi’s name alongside three Hobey Baker candidates, the last of whom won the sport’s highest honor in 2014.

Okay, in fairness, a lot of that has to do with height. Like those three, Cangelosi stands well below the invisible line of where a casual fan’s stereotypical hockey player would stand. A lot of it also has to do with style of play—Cangelosi, like that once-in-a-generation trio, is speedy and scores in high volumes. He’s the kind of player the new NHL wants.

But York’s reasoning goes beyond size and skill. Those three were all leaders. They made BC what it was in the years they played. Cangelosi is no exception to that mold. After playing a role on the third line in the final year of the Gaudreau era, Cangelosi has been the Eagles’ leading scorer over the last two years. In his 2016-17 senior campaign, Cangelosi amassed 21 goals and 14 assists while capturing his second-consecutive faceoff winning percentage crown. Though the year was ultimately trying for BC fans—the Eagles missed the NCAA Tournament for only the third time since 2000—York poses another question: Where would they have been without him?  

“Clearly, he was our most valuable player,” York said of Cangelosi, The Heights’ Male Athlete of the Year. “He’s my choice for my MVP.”

***

If Andy and Diane Cangelosi had their way, really, who knows where BC would have been.

Cangelosi’s parents moved him and his brother, John, from their home in New Jersey to Estero, Fla. in 2002. Ideally, the Cangelosi boys would follow the same path as the rest of their family: the summer sport route. Diane played tennis at Fairleigh Dickinson, and Andy was on the rugby team at Villanova and continues to play golf now. Even their grandfathers were athletes—Andy’s father John played catcher at Florida State, while Diane’s father Ed was a table tennis champion in Austria.

Unfortunately for the parents, Google Maps wasn’t around for them to scout out the neighborhood in advance. The Cangelosis moved only five minutes away from Germain Arena, home of the ECHL’s Florida Everblades and Lee County’s premier ice hockey rink. The boys, who had grown up playing roller hockey up north, graduated to the only frozen water worth skating on in southwest Florida. Austin and John milked as much as they could out of the fledgling, early-2000s hockey scene down South. But given the lack of competitiveness, there’s only so much a player can get out of it, especially if he or she wants to go pro.

“Not trying to knock on Florida,” John said, “but the hockey is way better up North.”

So when John, three years Austin’s senior, was old enough, he made the trip to Western Massachusetts to join head coach Tom Pratt at one of the nation’s best prep schools, Northfield Mount Hermon.

John’s move up north paved the way for his brother to find an out. In turn, Cangelosi was a talent Pratt just couldn’t ignore. Playing the brothers on the same line, Pratt saw in Cangelosi a terrific penalty killer who could excel as a two-way player while also sitting at the top of the umbrella on the power play, even as a freshman. Cangelosi had quick hands and a low center of gravity. Though he initially deferred to John on the draw and preferred the wing, Cangelosi easily adjusted to Pratt’s system. And boy, did he have some jump on the ice. No one could outskate him.

“He can close a 3-foot, 5-foot, 7-foot gap really quickly,” Pratt said.

Pratt quickly realized that if he couldn’t ignore Cangelosi’s talent, colleges soon wouldn’t be able to either. He made a call to York, his coach back during his playing days at Bowling Green, to get an assistant out past the Berkshires, ASAP.

“I knew quite clearly that Austin would be an attractive player for a number of schools, so I wanted to give Boston College a heads-up early,” Pratt said.

Enticed by the detail with which Pratt described him, Connecticut head coach and then-BC assistant Mike Cavanaugh came out to see Cangelosi. A week later, associate head coach Greg Brown was in the stands too. Not long after that, Pratt pulled Cangelosi into his office—the BC staff had seen all it needed to see, and was ready to make an offer, just halfway through Cangelosi’s freshman season.  

“He drops the bomb that Jerry talked to him and offered him a full scholarship to school,” Cangelosi said. “I had no intentions of thinking that far in the future, I was just trying to take it day-by-day, and all of a sudden, I get this offer for college.”

When York came calling, so did other schools—Cangelosi recalled Northeastern, Wisconsin, and New Hampshire among the programs that showed interest. But one visit to Chestnut Hill and a tradition of winning and excellence were all he needed to be convinced.  

***

When York is convinced, so are the fans.

Grant Salzano, one of the hockey beat reporters for SB Nation’s BC Interruption and BC ’10, recalled the first moment he was really excited about Cangelosi.

“Austin came in with some weighty expectations, and frankly, a lot of that was because of a single play he made while in the USHL,” Salzano said in an email.

He saw a clip on YouTube in which Cangelosi’s USHL team, the Youngstown Phantoms, took on the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the 2012 Eastern Conference Playoffs. Tied 3-3 in overtime, Cangelosi skated past center ice into the faces of three defensemen. Knowing that, with his stature, he’d never get around them, Cangelosi flipped the puck over the head of the lead blue liner. The defenseman swatted it with his hand, but the deflection fell behind him. With that great closing speed, Cangelosi skated easily around him on the right to go backhanded, high past the goaltender’s right, for the game-winning goal. The video has been played nearly 700,000 times.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LkZE0ldxiE8

Funny enough, it’s the same exact moment York cited as when he knew Cangelosi was his man.

“That was our validation point that we’ve got the right guy coming to the Heights,” York said.

But, as Salzano noted, that goal, as well as the success of smaller skaters in York’s system, may have unfairly placed too high of a belief in Cangelosi to be “the next one” in the season immediately following Gaudreau’s Hobey campaign. After a down sophomore year, in which BC failed to come close to the high-flying offense of 2014-15, many of the frustrations fell onto Cangelosi’s shoulders.

Things changed in 2015-16, when the reinforcements arrived. The star-studded freshman class, including Miles Wood and Colin White, as well as the continued development of Alex Tuch and Zach Sanford, took the pressure off Cangelosi to be the focal point of the offense. That, Salzano believes, helped Cangelosi focus on his game.

And, while he continued to score plentifully, his game grew around the faceoff.

His exploits in that field have already been documented. But, amazingly enough, Cangelosi somehow got better than being the nation’s best.

Cangelosi won faceoffs in 2016-17 at a whopping .650 clip, best in the country again. That mark was .3 higher than the next closest center, Matt Marcinew of Denver—he was also the only Eagle in the top-100 nationally. When BC was in the defensive zone and needed to hang on to a one-goal lead, Cangelosi instilled confidence that he could shut the game down. No player in recent memory has been as good at one singular, specialized skill as he has.

“Knowing we had his faceoff skills also always made me breathe easier,” said Laura Berestecki, BCI’s editor-in-chief and BC ’13, BC Law ’16, in an email.

His faceoffs continually set up goals, too. BCI’s Joe Gravellese, BC ’10, referenced this year’s Frozen Fenway, in which a struggling Eagles team on the opposite side of the PairWise Rankings leaned on Cangelosi to bail them out. He perfectly set up Michael Kim to rip home a game-tying goal.  

“That turned the game around and BC went on to pick up the W,” Gravellese said in an email.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6XFSoeNigs

He provided a plethora of other memories too. Gravellese remembers Cangelosi’s first home-opener, when he scored two goals in a 9-2 blowout of Wisconsin. Berestecki recalls Cangelosi’s natural hat trick this season in Portland. All three can’t help but think about his prowess on the penalty shot, particularly the one he potted last season against Boston University.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gmspwNOlrps

And all of those memories make Cangelosi harder to let go.

“Jerry talked a lot this year about how this was one of his favorite teams to coach, even though they had some struggles through the middle of the season,” Gravellese said. “I’m not in the locker room but I’m guessing Cangelosi is a huge reason for that—his leadership, his drive, and his continued progression was fun to watch.”

***

As Kentucky’s John Calipari likes to remind us, winning in college isn’t the primary goal. It’s getting your guys to the next level.

York doesn’t ascribe to that same level of one-and-done obsession. Still, he understands the importance of preparing his players to get to the NHL. Normally, it’s easy enough when you bring in a revolving door of first-round picks. Yet York actually thinks it’s a blessing that Cangelosi didn’t get drafted.

“As a free agent, he had a bunch of choices of them,” York said. “If you’re not going to be a first rounder, that’s the better route to go through.”

And, according to York, a player like Cangelosi is perfect for the the new NHL. The first- and second-line talent still trends toward those overall athletes, the 6-footers like Alexander Ovechkin and John Tavares who have size and skill to match. But the third- and fourth-line guys are no longer the goons, the enforcers there to entertain the crowds and eat up minutes by punching Sidney Crosby in the face. Now, teams want to get smaller and faster with specialists.

That’s where Cangelosi comes in. With his faceoff and penalty killing expertise, Cangelosi is a perfect fit at the end of the bench to provide a boost late in a game. York figured this out long ago. He’s just glad general managers have wised up.

“Now, the NHL is putting more value on that kind of player,” York said. “It took them a while to understand that.”

And if Cangelosi does make it to the NHL one day, that locker room is in for quite a treat. When preparing for a game, Cangelosi leads by silent example, the way he has been since high school.

“Jerry will probably tell you it took him three and a half years for him to say much,” Pratt said.

Off the ice, though, Cangelosi is just like any other BC student. Like many of us, he sweated out room selection day, when he, Ryan Fitzgerald, Matthew Gaudreau, and Chris Calnan were among the first men’s hockey group to win the Mod lottery and be allowed in since York became the coach. And he enjoys eating out, a lot, according to his former roommate.

“He loves to down his sushi and Cookie Monster,” said Thatcher Demko, the BC goaltender from 2014-16, calling in from the links in his hometown of San Diego, Calif.

Cangelosi confirmed his obsession for Yamato’s and White Mountain’s signature flavor. The guys in his grade would go once a week last year, crushing spicy tuna rolls and ice cream by the pint. He didn’t mention, however, his other secret obsession.

“He’s got good tango skills, he’s got good rhythm there,” Demko said of Cangelosi’s other special skill. “You’ve got to throw that in the article.”

Demko, however, could not confirm if Cangelosi’s dancing skills help him on the ice.

***
On that drive back to Boston, Cangelosi detailed his daily schedule. Now, it’s a lot of early nights and early mornings.

Just a few days after BC’s season came to an end in the Hockey East semifinals, Cangelosi signed with the Albany Devils. As York suggested, Cangelosi loved the opportunity to pick where he got to play. There’s a little bit of bias there, too. The leadership of the Devils’ front office consists of two BC parents: Ray Shero and Tom Fitzgerald. Because of his New Jersey roots, Cangelosi has always been a fan of the red and black, and as he says, why not suit up for your favorite team?

His days are even more structured now. During his abbreviated professional stay, he lived in a Residence Inn near the Times Union Center. A lot of other players there for only a short time, like BC alums Steve Santini and Miles Wood, make it a dorm atmosphere, just like what he’s used to in Chestnut Hill. Every day, he has to get ready for a 9 a.m. meeting, before an hour and a half practice. The day ends by noon, when Cangelosi can get back to his room and return to schoolwork and studying. He’s still on track to graduate this May from the Lynch School of Education.

Like college, the professional season is now over for Cangelosi. His Devils lost to the Toronto Marlies in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Nevertheless, he’ll be ready for Devils training camp Sept. 10 in Newark. But he’s still got a few more days in Chestnut Hill. And, on that drive, he couldn’t help but notice that he was making such good time.

“Just glad I decided to take this route,” Cangelosi said.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Five Eagles Departing for Professional Hockey

Shortly after the college hockey season ends comes the saddest moments for any program: the day the boys grow up and sign deals with professional teams. For Boston College men’s hockey, the attrition happened almost immediately. And when the dust settles, it could mean trouble for the program’s immediate future.

Five members of the Eagles have begun the next stage of their careers. On Saturday, Teddy Doherty—the team’s best senior—signed with the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL, a minor league affiliate of the New York Islanders. An undrafted free agent, Doherty was BC’s captain in 2015-16. Over his career, he switched between defense and forward, and amassed 22 goals and 58 assists as a four-year starter.

“Doherty is a true two-way player with a good eye for the ice,” Richard Matvichuk, head coach and director of hockey operations for the Mavericks, said in a statement on the team’s website. “He’s coming to us fresh from a great season with Boston College, and we are excited to bring him into our locker room.” Days later, Doherty announced the signing himself on Twitter.

The other four, however, have left BC early, some much earlier than expected.

On Friday, junior Steve Santini and freshman Miles Wood joined the New Jersey Devils, the team that drafted them. The Devils faced the prospect of having both players become undrafted free agents next season—Wood would have become one despite being a freshman because of his two years in prep school—thereby increasing their need to sign both as soon as possible. The two signed three-year entry-level contracts (ELC) that will pay them $925,000 per season. Given the NHL’s rules on ELCs, their first years began in Saturday’s season finale against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., a 5-1 win for the Devils. Neither recorded a point, though Santini spent two minutes in the penalty box.

The two spoke to nj.com about their decisions to join the NHL’s “BC Alumni Team”—former Eagles Stephen Gionta and Cory Schneider currently play in Newark. Neither stated that he anticipated joining the Devils at the season’s outset. Yet once BC’s year ended with a 3-2 loss to Quinnipiac in the Frozen Four, the serious discussions began.

“I was fully committed to this Boston College season,” Santini told nj.com. “We wanted to win the national championship. When we didn’t, my family and I talked yesterday morning and we felt it would be best for my career to come down here and make the step to pro hockey. That’s a decision I’m fully comfortable with, and I’m ready for this journey.”

Santini had one goal and 18 assists in all 41 games for BC this season. Wood was BC’s fifth-leading scorer, with 10 goals and 25 assists in 37 games. He was also one of the nation’s most undisciplined players—Wood had 23 penalties for 78 minutes, including two suspensions from the Hockey East league offices.

While the Devils struck quickly, the Minnesota Wild took a couple of days before pillaging the Eagles. Adam Gilmour and Alex Tuch, the longtime linemates and integral parts to BC’s offense in 2016, will join the team for practices throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but are not eligible to play. It had not been a surprise that Gilmour, a player who has put up steady albeit not mind-boggling numbers at BC, accepted an ELC. Tuch’s decision, however, was a huge and unexpected blow to the Eagles, as many close to the program had expected he would stay for his junior year or at least wait until the summer to make his decision. Yet the Wild had made a convincing push for the sophomore from Baldwinsville, N.Y., and must have struck all the right chords.

“He’s a big power winger with quality hands and an NHL shot,” Wild assistant GM Brent Flahr told the Star Tribune. “He had a strong finish to the season and was eager to get his pro career going. We are very excited to have him in the organization and look forward to working with him in his development process.”

https://twitter.com/adgilmour14/status/719616512491986944

Over his three-year career at BC, Gilmour compiled 28 goals and 45 assists. Tuch had 32 goals and 30 assists in a two-year career on the Heights. His overtime goal against Boston University in the Beanpot final provided the Eagles with their most exciting moment—and only tournament trophy—of the season.   

The Eagles are now awaiting the decisions of several other key players on the roster. Defenseman Ian McCoshen is expected to sign with the Florida Panthers after projecting to graduate in three years. Freshman forward Colin White, a first-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, was also expected to sign, yet may hold off with the decision given the Sens’ changes in the front office. The biggest watch will be starting goaltender Thatcher Demko, who has been repeatedly courted by the Vancouver Canucks. Though general manager Jim Benning joined Demko and his family in Tampa, Fla., for the Mike Richter Award ceremony, Demko has not signed an ELC and may remain at BC to become an unrestricted free agent next year.
BC is also waiting the decisions of juniors Chris Calnan and Ryan Fitzgerald, and sophomore Zach Sanford, the latter of who is the only remaining sophomore at BC. Though those three are expected to stay, the quick and massive departure of BC’s key contributors may lead to the fringe players that were previously not expected to leave to accept ELC offers as well.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Notebook: Eagles Grind Out Beanpot Win Over Rival BU

BOSTON — In a game between perfect defenses and goaltenders, it took a perfect shot to win.

Alex Tuch’s laser in the second minute of overtime snuck past a Terrier defender before clanging off the pipe and into the back of the net to give Boston College its 20th Beanpot championship over rival Boston University at TD Garden. The 1-0 final was the first such result in tournament history, and it wasn’t a product of bad offense. Quite simply, this was the best matchup of goalies in Beanpot history.

Terrier netminder Sean Maguire stopped 41 shots to bring his tournament save percentage to .970, good for third best all-time. His performance also earned him Eberly Trophy honors—given to the goaltender with the highest tournament save percentage—and Beanpot Tournament MVP.

 

Needless to say, the best kind of hardware is the trophy that is returning to Chestnut Hill after a one-year hiatus.

Keeping Their Cool

We all know how heated the Green Line rivalry is, and that friction can boil over onto the ice. On Monday, things got chippy before the puck even dropped. Miles Wood and BU’s Ahti Oksanen scuffled early and several brawls broke out over the course of the game. But as much as the fans love dropped gloves and thrown punches, penalty minutes resulting from these fights could have spelled disaster for the Eagles, especially in a game where goals were such a luxury. Besides 30 seconds of 5-on-3 action—a sequence where BC’s fifth-ranked penalty-killing unit beat the Terriers’ power play to perfection—the Eagles did a great job controlling their tempers and not allowing reckless penalties to determine the outcome of the game.

BU actually racked up 18 penalty minutes compared to BC’s six, with the majority of the Terriers’ box time belonging to Jordan Greenway. The freshman forward seemed to be in the middle of every scrap, most notably colliding with Eagle goaltender Thatcher Demko in the third period on a breakaway. Earlier, he dropped his gloves to throw punches at Casey Fitzgerald, which sidelined him for 10 minutes for misconduct. Credit has to be given to head coach Jerry York: As much as his players probably wanted to retaliate against Greenway for his rough play, the legendary leader kept them in check to avoid shooting themselves in the foot with penalties.

Top-Shelf Tuch

The ending of the game will go down in Beanpot history, but it all started with a hip check by BC captain Teddy Doherty that allowed Steve Santini to control the puck without pressure behind the blue line. The extra time resulted in a better pass to Zach Sanford, who pushed the puck up the ice in a 3-on-3 attack. With a defender closing in, Sanford dumped off a short pass to Tuch, who brought the puck back toward the right side to avoid the teeth of the Terrier defense.

 

Here’s where things start to speed up. Tuch cuts back and fakes a drop-off pass behind him to a streaking Doherty. The threat of the handoff forces the BU defense to sag and respect the threat of Doherty. Inadvertently, this creates a screen on Maguire, as junior Doyle Somerby accidentally blocks the view of his own goalie. Now, Tuch’s back is still to the goal—no one is expecting a shot here. But as he whips around, he creates just enough power to send his no-look wrist shot into the top right corner of the net as Maguire reacts late due to his impeded vision. Santini, skating toward the goal expecting to clean up the mess, throws his arms in the air along with the rest of the Eagles as the horn sounds. Pure pandemonium ensues.

After 62 minutes of play, both defenses were exhausted. The defensive pressure of the first three periods had faded and, with tired legs, BU’s blue line had begun to relax. When that happens, you have to take advantage and fire off as many shots as possible to try to catch the goalie off-guard or corral a rebound. With four of the five shots in the overtime period, BC did exactly that, earning the win and bragging rights over its Comm. Ave. rivals.

Thatcher the Puck-Snatcher

Demko put his entire skill set on display in his 30-save effort against the Terriers. The sophomore picked a tough bounce in the third period, bodied slap shots from distance, and halted numerous breakaways despite violent crashes with BU forwards. Most importantly, he showcased his toughness in the championship game, twice turning away trainers who came out to check on him after collisions. The second time followed a breakaway attempt from Greenway, who bulldozed into Demko and left him clutching his side. Yelling at everyone from trainers to backup goalie Ian Milosz, Demko persuaded the coaching staff to keep him in the crease despite being banged up.

He wanted to stay in the game. He needed to stay in the game.

The 1-0 shutout win for Demko will cement his name in history for a couple different reasons. First, his shutout marks his ninth of the season, surpassing Cory Schneider for most in school history. It was also the first shutout in a Beanpot final since 1984, and just the fourth all-time. And with his last two shutouts coming against top-10 squads (Notre Dame, BU), Demko has proven that he brings his best game to the biggest stages.

No Beanpot member school has ever won a national championship without first conquering the Beanpot. Now that they’ve cleared their first major obstacle, the hurdles will continue for Demko and the Eagles in the Hockey East tournament and the Frozen Four. Whether it’s incoming shots or sound medical advice to sit out the remainder of the game, Demko is rejecting everything right now, and it has propelled BC into the conversation of national title contenders.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

Michael Kim and the Eagles’ Defense Have Put Them on the National Stage

It was the definition of a trap game.

Boston College men’s hockey had just come off two consecutive great games: a domination of No. 10 Notre Dame on the road, followed by an impressive defensive effort over No. 7 Harvard. Those two wins helped fully stave off the team’s early-season reputation of solely being capable of beating up on teams in the bottom half of the division. And with the Beanpot final versus Boston University looming, the Eagles appeared poised to solidify themselves as the best team in college hockey.

All that stood in the way was the University of New Hampshire.

Though a shell of the program that gave Jerry York’s crew fits in the early 2000s, the Wildcats feature a top line that’s arguably the most dangerous in the country. Andrew Poturalski, Tyler Kelleher, and Dan Correale have combined for a whopping 104 points and use their speed to effectively weave through any blue line squad that a team can throw at them.

The Eagles held them down for as long as they could, but Poturalski broke through to tie Friday night’s game at two late in the second period. Surely, BC’s defense, which had been deemed the team’s weak spot entering the year, lacked the depth to hold UNH for the final 20 minutes. And with Miles Wood and Chris Calnan both out and Colin White nursing a sprained wrist, it would’ve been easy to write off BC and treat this game like the Notre Dame loss in December or BC’s two late ties against Northeastern and Connecticut.

At the beginning of the season, that might have been fair. But Michael Kim has made sure that defensive depth isn’t a problem for BC anymore. In fact, the Eagles’ deep blue line, something that was once considered a weakness, is perhaps the biggest reason why they are contending for a No. 1 seed.

Kim, a first-semester freshman who played in the U.S. Premier Hockey League as recently as two months ago, has provided a jolt for the Eagles in his quick transition to the college game.

Since he matriculated early for the Florida College Hockey Classic when White was at the World Juniors and Wood was suspended, Kim has showed how skilled he is by often poking away the puck from Hockey East’s most powerful forwards, many of whom body up well with his 6-foot, 185-pound frame. He stays low to the ice, helping him chase down forwards on breakaways. That occurred several times during the UNH game—he masterfully prevented Kelleher and Poturalski from taking advantage of 3-on-2 chances by diving with his stick to knock away easy attempts on goaltender Thatcher Demko. And with the leadership help of his defensive partner, Steve Santini, Kim looks as if he has been at BC for years.

If you ask Kim, the only thing that hasn’t been easy for him was readjusting to school. Kim graduated high school in 2014 and spent a year and a half with the Boston Jr. Bruins, so getting back in the saddle with the whole class thing has taken getting used to.

But his skill doesn’t stop there. Against New Hampshire, Kim showed how he can be a force on the offensive side of the puck, too.

Desperately needing to regain that lead, the Eagles rushed UNH goaltender Danny Tirone, who, to that point, had played the best game of the season. As they set up in standard offensive position, Santini handled the puck. The defenseman pinched on the right side, came around the net, peeled out, and nailed Kim with a wide open pass right on the tape.

“It was the perfect spot for me to take the shot,” Kim said following Friday’s game.

So the freshman did. Kim sent the puck hurtling toward the net. He had hoped that Matthew Gaudreau or Austin Cangelosi could take advantage of the screen on Tirone and tip it in to give BC the lead. But instead, the puck nestled itself against the twine, giving Kim his first collegiate goal.

Kim jubilantly raised his hands while Gaudreau and Cangelosi skated over to join in on the celebration. Santini stayed out of the main action, skating back out to Tirone to snag the puck. According to York, Santini later awarded it to Kim in the locker room.

It’s hard to ignore the effect Kim has had on this team. You can’t ignore the fact that, after his first game in a BC uniform—the 2-1 loss to Providence when a last-minute goal was waved off due to lack of replay and a fire delayed the final 10 seconds for about an hour—the team hasn’t lost. The Eagles have run through four ranked teams—Providence, BU, Notre Dame, and Harvard—without coming away with at least a point.

But the reason BC has jumped into the “Best Team in College Hockey” conversation is because of this whole defensive unit.

Last year’s Eagles were completely built on the blue line. Noah Hanifin and Mike Matheson gave Demko every advantage he needed on two ailing hips, and while they often shut down opposing offense, it rarely was enough to lead to wins. Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Adam Gilmour were the only real offensive threats.

This season was the reverse. BC’s hopes were raised with the influx of new forward talent like White and Wood (and, at one point, Jeremy Bracco), the development of forwards like Cangelosi and Gaudreau, and a healthy Demko.

The only thing that could hold back the Eagles was a lack of depth along the defensive front. York knew he had a sure thing in Ian McCoshen. After him came huge question marks. Santini was nursing a wrist injury that kept him out for two months last season. Casey Fitzgerald, Ryan’s younger brother, went undrafted but came in as a decent prospect. Captain Teddy Doherty had played forward for much of 2014-15. Scott Savage had shown good flashes but lacked consistency, while newcomer Josh Couturier was still raw.

Yet with how they’ve played as a unit both offensively and defensively—each player has already or will soon set a career-high in points—this defense has proved it is just as strong as the offense. The Eagles are a unit that is at least seven-deep on the blue line. The three freshmen are skilled enough to allow Doherty to seamlessly move to forward when one of them is injured. That’s not a luxury BC had last year.

So if the offense is, as it always was, a sure thing, Demko is finally healthy, and the defense has maximized its fullest potential, what’s stopping BC from rolling through the rest of its schedule on a crash course for Tampa in early April?

You tell me.

Featured Image by Lucius Xuan / Heights Staff

Last Play of the Game Key to BC’s Win Over UNH

Last Play: With about 10 seconds left in the third and nursing a one-goal lead, Boston College defenseman Scott Savage skittered the puck up the left boards to Zach Sanford, who poked it out of the zone before potting the empty-netter from center ice. The band was playing and everything was all good … until it wasn’t. Savage’s defensive partner, Steve Santini, got called for roughing behind the play, and now BC had to nurse that lead again, a man down. The Eagles were also down their top center, Colin White, who left the game earlier in the period, so head coach Jerry York rode his hot hand and tapped White’s usual left wing, Ryan Fitzgerald, to take the game-deciding faceoff in the left corner of BC’s zone.

“He’s a left-hand shot, so he could win it to his backhand left side,” York said. “He had won a lot of faceoffs over the course of the night. He was taking them earlier in the night because [White] wasn’t taking them.”

Fitzgerald won the draw and got the puck back to defenseman Ian McCoshen, whose clearing attempt got stoned at the blue line. UNH had a decent chance at a desperation push that got blown up when Alex Tuch used all of his 6-foot-4 frame and even larger stick radius to break up the Wildcats’ attempt to reverse the puck to the weak side of the BC zone.

That sequence was made possible because, after Santini’s penalty, the officials had to reset the game clock from 8.3 to 10.0 seconds, and York, who was out of his timeouts, utilized that time to strategically deploy Fitzgerald’s faceoff prowess, McCoshen’s mammoth left-handed slap shot, and Tuch’s big body to get out to the right point. What goes into York’s trusted notebook, which never leaves his hand when he’s behind the bench, seems to ready him for the fog of war.

Goalies: UNH was in it until the final seconds because goaltender Danny Tirone stood on his head in the first period. BC fired 18 shots in the initial frame and didn’t get one past the 5 foot 11 sophomore, who drew praise from both coaches.

“The first ten minutes, they put some pressure on us, they moved the puck pretty good,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “Tirone made some key saves in key times in the game.”

“He played very well,” York said of Tirone.

Though Demko let in three goals, he was in prime form again on Friday, turning away 35 shots, including fifteen in the final period. He made several sprawling saves, only matched by his counterpart in the other net.

“Thatcher was out of this world, as far as I’m concerned,” York said. “Dick was looking at some saves Thatcher made, I was clearly looking at some of the saves that Tirone made. He made some unbelievable saves. Two excellent goaltenders tonight.”

Power Plays: BC was 2-for-2 on the man advantage against Harvard in the Beanpot, and associate head coach and power play lieutenant Greg Brown’s unit carried that flow into Friday night’s game. Late in the first period, the Eagles had one of their best 5-on-4 stretches of the season. Because of UNH goalie Danny Tirone’s acrobatic routine, his sticky glove, and an uncharacteristic whiff by White on an open net, that stretch did not produce a goal. BC’s next power play finally solved Tirone. Austin Cangelosi deftly slid into the slot and redirected Savage’s point shot past Tirone before the Wildcat penalty kill was set up. Just like Brown drew it up.

Injuries: As York alluded to, White did not take faceoffs to start the game, and the freshman eventually had to leave the game with what York called a “wrist sprain.” The coach said that the team doesn’t know whether or not the injury will keep White out of Monday’s Beanpot final against Boston University. He was similarly noncommittal about the status of Miles Wood and Chris Calnan’s “lower body” injuries, which kept both out of Friday’s tilt.

Featured Image by Lucius Xuan / Heights Staff

Strong Games By Santini And Hanifin Lift Eagles Over Michalek, Harvard

Boston College earned a 3-2 overtime win with huge Pairwise implications over Harvard on Monday in what head coach Jerry York refused to call “The Consolation Game,” but instead referred to as “The Third Place Game.” Without a doubt, the intensity of the game backed up York’s slightly more euphemistic label.

In a relatively empty TD Garden, one noise could be heard loud and clear throughout the afternoon: the sound of Steve Santini crushing Harvard skaters into the plexiglass boards. Santini, along with fellow defenseman Noah Hanifin, was outstanding for BC, playing a vital role clearing the puck in the team’s often employed penalty kill, as well as making sure no Harvard forward felt comfortable anywhere on the ice with a strong physical presence. Santini sent Harvard skaters crashing into the ice and the glass all game with heavy body checks, creating some perfect clips for his personal highlight reel. Hanifin was not quite as physical as Santini, but was just as effective in keeping Harvard skaters from shooting up close to goaltender Thatcher Demko.

Anyone surprised by the fact that it was the Eagles’ defense and goaltending that gave the team a victory probably hasn’t been paying too much attention this season. York certainly expected it.

“We’re a team built for 2-1, 3-2 type games this year and there’s got to be outstanding goaltending,” said York. “We don’t score a lot of goals very easily.”

And that win didn’t come easily for the Eagles by any means. Plagued by sloppy play in the neutral zone, an early lead provided by Alex Tuch quickly crumbled in the second period. Seemingly everything went wrong for BC that period, beginning with discipline. The Eagles took five penalties in the frame, constantly forcing the already short-handed roster to play on its collective heels for half of the period. BC’s penalty kill was for the most part up to the task, allowing only one goal on five chances for the Crimson, but for a team that hasn’t
been exactly prolific scoring-wise this season, playing a man down can be a death sentence.

“We had one, two, three, four, five penalties in the second period,” York said. “One of them was a carryover penalty, but that’s a lot of shorthanded time. It’s hard to have much offense, to have much get up and go offensively. Our shots on net were minimal.”

BC’s second period struggles went further than just the penalties. The Eagles appeared incapable of completing a cross-ice pass in the neutral zone, leading to multiple offside calls and plenty of offensive momentum killers. Sometimes the dump-and-chase offense can succeed, but in those cases, the “chase” part of the equation can’t mean chasing your linemates back to the bench. Throughout the second period, that adaptation of the classic, yet oh-so-frustrating offensive style was seemingly all the Eagles could muster. BC forwards were noticeably tired coming up the ice after playing so much man-down hockey in their own zone, and couldn’t stay on the ice long enough to execute any real offense. The Eagles’ lack of discipline and lack of efficiency passing in the neutral zone led to a woeful two shots on goal in the period, while Harvard peppered Thatcher Demko with 15. When the TD Garden horn signaled the end of the second period, it appeared as if the so-called “consolation” prize would be given to a Harvard team holding a 2-1 lead.

The second intermission seemed to do BC quite a bit of good, as the team came out looking completely different in the third. The Eagles only committed one penalty in the period, allowing for the once exhausted forwards to make simpler passes and finally execute the “chase.” Once the Eagles started winning chases, it was only a matter of beating Harvard goaltender Steve Michalek. This task, however, fared quite difficult against the same guy who only a few weeks ago stopped 63 shots in a double-overtime loss to Boston University. Michalek did surrender three goals on 27 shots, but the stats don’t tell the story in this case. Michalek kept Harvard afloat in the third, making 13 stops including one incredible kick save on Hanifin in the waning minutes of regulation. Once again, Michalek’s efforts in the 2015 Beanpot came in a loss, but this loss came as a result of BC’s shutdown defense and its own stellar goaltender.

A sloppy win’s still a win, and Coach York’s team will certainly take it on the backs of Santini, Hanifin, and Demko. But you better not call it a consolation game—around York, at least.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

Time To Head Home

Team USA was eliminated in the quarterfinals of the World Junior Championships with a 5-3 loss to Russia on Thursday. The U.S. led 3-2 entering the second period but lost the game in the middle frame, giving up two 5-on-3 goals to Sabres’ prospect Nikita Zadarov within 1:01. Russian star goaltender Andrey Vasilevsky withstood a late third period barrage from the U.S. before the game was effectively ended with an empty-net goal for the Russians with less than a minute left to play.

Boston College freshman Steve Santini, possibly the most responsible American defenseman during the tournament, was tapped to help kill off the first 5-on-3. Zaradov’s blast from the right circle went past both Santini and Providence goalie Jon Gilles and tied the game. Then, after winning the resulting center-ice faceoff, Santini fired the puck into the Russian zone from just inside his own blue line to kill time off the remaining 5-on-4. There was a problem, though, and it may have sent the Americans home: the international boards are much smaller than those in North America—“the boards at Conte Forum are about 30-feet high,” joked NHL Network analyst Dave Starman. The boards in Malmo weren’t tall enough. The puck glanced off the top of the end boards behind Vasilevsky and skipped over the glass. A delay of game penalty was called on Santini, and Zaradov blasted another missile past Gilles on the ensuing 5-on-3 for the game winner.

If this play is what a viewer were to remember about Santini’s tournament, that viewer would be misguided. The Devils’ prospect was consistently sound in his own end, separating forwards from pucks with force and skill throughout the game. He stayed at home plenty, but not before starting the initial rush for his more offensive-minded partner Will Butcher many times. Santini was on the ice for much of the third period, a testament to head coach Don Lucia’s belief in his game. Starman remarked during the third period that “this tournament has justified the Devils’ pick [of Santini] and where they picked him [42nd overall]. He’s been really good. [Santini] could blossom into a really good NHL defenseman.”

Ian McCoshen, Santini’s fellow freshman defenseman, saw his time on the ice reduced on Thursday. It was a curious decision, made more so after Russia’s first goal was scored partly due to a coverage breakdown on the part of Jaccob Slavin, who was playing on BU defenseman Matt Gryzlyck’s left side,  the side McCoshen has typically manned. McCoshen received more time with Gryzlyck as the game wore on and played well.

Both defensemen, as well as third-string U.S. goalie Thatcher Demko, are eligible for the 2015 tournament should they be invited back next year. It remains to be seen if the three, along with BC assistant Greg Brown, will appear in Saturday night’s game against Notre Dame at Fenway Park.

 

World Juniors Update

The group stage of the 2014 World Junior Championships in Malmo, Sweden concluded Tuesday. Team USA finished second in group A after the Americans blew a lead against Canada in their last preliminary game, and they will face Russia in the quarterfinals on Thursday as a result (six a.m. on NHL Network). Before the red, white and blue begin the knockout stage of their gold-medal defense, here’s an update on the Boston College-related happenings in Malmo:

Freshman defensemen Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen, along with freshman goalie Thatcher Demko, comprise the BC contingent representing the U.S. Demko has been the third goalie in every game behind Anthony Stolarz and Providence star Jon Gilles. Demko will, in all likelihood, be back at the tournament next year, so the experience should only serve to better his chances for playing time in 2015.

Santini, paired with University of Denver defenseman Will Butcher, has played his typical sound defensive game throughout the group stage. Only penalized once, Santini—also one of the United States’ top penalty killers—has managed to be one of the more physical players on the U.S. team while avoiding the costly mistakes that have plagued him at times during the college season. The Devils prospect has fared well on the bigger international ice surface and has maintained his characteristic stay-at-home defensive style, even scoring a goal in his team’s rout of Germany.

Santini’s best play of the tournament, though, came about halfway into the second period of the Canada game, when the offensive-minded Barber whiffed on a pinch in Canada’s zone and allowed for a 2-on-1 rush the other way. Canadian first line center and offensive wizard Jonathan Drouin led the rush, but Santini played the situation perfectly and took away the pass, forcing Drouin into a shot that Gilles turned away. The U.S. will need more of that from Santini, as he’ll be tasked with shutting down some of the top forwards in the knockout round. Santini—listed at 6-foot-2, 207 pounds, a size only matched by McCoshen among U.S. skaters—is probably the most defensive-minded of the back-liners at head coach Don Lucia’s disposal.

McCoshen has gone pointless so far in the tournament, but his defensive partner—Bruins’ prospect and Boston University’s Matt Grzelyck—is tied for Team USA’s scoring lead with six points. McCoshen—normally active offensively—has often held back while his diminutive, speedy compatriot advances as a fourth forward of sorts. It’s noteworthy that Canada’s tying goal came when Gryzlyck was on the ice without McCoshen and was hemmed in the left corner by Canadian Connor Hudon—who, at 5-foot-10, would not have had the same impact on the big Minnesotan that usually patrols the left side of that pairing.  The Panthers’ prospect has also been part of Team USA’s power play, which is producing at a tournament-high rate of 50 percent.

If the Americans were to advance past Russia, they would likely face Sweden in the semifinals. Then, if Team USA beats the host country, the most plausible gold-medal matchup would be against the rival Canadians.