Injuries and a lack of depth have left Boston College’s forward corps exposed enough that head coach Jerry York ices just five defensemen to make up for the difference.
Some of those warts up front could be covered up if the Eagles’ senior forwards were better. On Saturday, senior left wing Quinn Smith stepped up. Smith elevated his game, burying a wrist shot past Vermont goalie Mike Santaguida on a 2-on-1 rush, a shot that Smith would normally fire off the end boards. That goal was the culmination of the senior forward’s best all-around games of the season, the kind of performance that BC needs more of from its their senior forwards as the Eagles go forth through “‘trophy season.”’
“I thought [Smith played] much better,” York said after the game. “I kind of talked to him about his recent play and I think he took a step forward. He’s a senior for us and we need for him to play well. Certainly the goal, and just his overall play was better tonight.”
Smith’s second period goal got him in Saturday’s scoresheet, which was nice, but Smith’s biggest impact isn’t found in box scores. In the second leg of the weekend series against the Catamounts, Smith was at his pesky best, flying around and making the other team wish he wasn’t on the ice. Perhaps most importantly, he didn’t find himself in the penalty box, which is how he usually gets his name in the box score. Just after his goal, Smith laid out Vermont’s Nick Luukko with an huge open ice hit but kept it clean, forcing a turnover in the process. More than the goal, that hit encapsulated what the Fairfield, Connecticut product can bring to his team when he’s on his game.
While he kept himself out of the penalty box, he did put Vermont’s Ori Abramson in the sin bin early in the first period, drawing a tripping call minutes after creating a scoring opportunity by stripping Alexx Privitera deep in the Catamounts’ zone. BC scored during Abramson’s time in the penalty box. Smith made both those plays behind Vermont’s goal line, which is where he created another prime chance in the third when flew into the zone down the left and came around the cage before firing a pass to Noah Hanifin in the slot. Hanifin couldn’t finish, but those plays are emblematic of how Smith positively impacted the game nearly every time he took the ice on Saturday.
BC’s offense picked a good day to have a good day. Thatcher Demko had 40 saves in his 51st career start for the Eagles, which would be impressive if BC didn’t relent 45 shots on goal. Vermont’s three third period goals on seventeen shots on net made BC sweat for their two points.
“Vermont’s not gonna leave, they play hard and they play well,” York said. “It was interesting at the end, Vermont was putting terrific pressure on us in the last three, four minutes. [The offense] bailed us out cause the defense was not nearly as sharp as its been.”
Demko and the defense are the core of York’s team, but those players needed their offense to pick them up on Saturday because Vermont exposed that core as one that could use a rest. With Doherty’s shift, Danny Linell’s injury and Travis Jeke still scratched, there are only five defensemen available for York to play: Ian McCoshen, Noah Hanifin, Michael Matheson, Steve Santini and Scott Savage.
Those players are all good, but they’re human. Also, when Santini was injured for most of the first half of the season, York would often only play five defensemen then, too. Hanifin, whom may have played the most minutes of any skater this season, completely lost his check on Vermont’s first goal in the third period, possibly demonstrating the effects of fatigue. Demko has been leaned on just as heavily, starting 27 out of a possible 30 games this season, and the five goals he surrendered to Vermont were the most since Minnesota shellacked the Santini-less Eagles in November. Whether Saturday was a signal of weariness or just noise in a long season will be answered by the the unforgiving Hockey East schedule.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor