Brian Favat of BC Interruption, an SB Nation blog dealing with the Boston College Eagles, sent me five questions to answer about CC and he returned the favor.
Here’s my five questions with his answers. His questions and my answers follow.
Joe: How important will the return of Chris Kreider (broken jaw) be for the Eagles? Where would he make his biggest contribution?
Brian: Kreider’s return will be huge for BC. He makes the Eagles’ second line of Kreider-Mullane-Jimmy Hayes that much better. Even if he’s not scoring, his size, speed and athleticism make him a valuable member of the team.
While Kreider’s been fairly quiet down the stretch, he’s been known to get up for big games (10 goals in last year’s World Juniors, Beanpot MVP) and he was definitely a big part of Boston College’s title run a year ago.
What newcomer has made the biggest impact for a team already returning a lot from a national title team?
Incredibly, Boston College is the youngest team by age among the 49 Division I programs reporting birthdates (this, of course, begs the question … who doesn’t report birthdates?). This year’s BC team has an average age of 20 years, 297 days as of the first of the year. So the future is certainly bright for York and the Eagles.
York added four freshmen to the roster this season to replace BC’s four departing seniors – forwards Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes, Patrick Brown and defenseman Isaac MacLeod. Of those four, Bill Arnold has probably had the biggest impact to this year’s team. Arnold, a Hockey East All-Rookie team selection, has 10 goals and 9 assists in 38 games played, and has a +/- of +9. Arnold has scored some big goals for BC during the year, including a goal with 38.5 seconds left in the third to force a 7-7 tie with Northeastern and salvage a point in the Hockey East standings.
I’ve heard a lot about BC’s speed on offense and their ability to finish. Can you give me an example from this season? Please pass on a video link if available.
Here’s one example of the Eagles’ speed from BC’s March 4 game against New Hampshire.
Fast forward to the 0:46 mark. The speed of BC’s Cam Atkinson and Brian Gibbons creates an odd-man opportunity on the penalty kill, and after a nice feed from Gibbons, Atkinson puts the puck in the back of the net. The Eagles would go on to win 4-0 and wrestle away the first place from UNH in the regular season’s final weekend.
This is just one example of how BC uses its speed to create opportunities, especially on the penalty kill. Both Atkinson and Gibbons have four shorthanded goals each this season, and the Eagles lead the nation with 13 on the year. BC is most effective using its speed on counters. All it takes is one big save from Muse, an outlet pass and the Eagles are flying down the ice the other way.
Which BC line should CC fans watch for this weekend?
It all starts with BC’s first line of Joe Whitney, Brian Gibbons and Cam Atkinson. Those three players account for a third of the points tallied by the Eagles this season. Atkinson, a Hobey Baker finalist, leads the team with 30 goals and 21 helpers, while lineman Brian Gibbons is right behind with 50 total points (18 goals, 32 assists).
This first line is also our best special teams unit. The Eagles’ power play is ranked fifth best in the country (44-for-183 for 24.04 percent) and first in Hockey East. But this line might even be more dangerous shorthanded, using its speed to create opportunities down a man.
Now here’s my answers to his questions.
BCI: Colorado College finished the WCHA regular season with a .500 record, and were one of the last teams into the NCAA Tournament field. What did CC have to do down the stretch to make the NCAAs? In other words, did the Tigers finish the season strong, or do just enough to get in?
They definitely finished strong which is good because they were in no position to back into the NCAAs like they did in 2007-08.
For the first time in recent memory, the Tigers started to play better hockey late in the season. They also played arguably their best game of the season in a 4-3 loss to No. 1 North Dakota in the WCHA Final Five semifinals in St. Paul.
Sophomore goalie Joe Howe showed the form that made him an INCH all-rookie goaltender and the Tigers used their speed on the forecheck to offset the usual size disadvantage on the NHL sheet. CC’s home ice, World Arena, is an Olympic sheet.
BCI: What is the strength of this year’s CC team? Who are the players that will cause the most problems for the BC defense on Friday?
The overall team speed is an asset along with depth at forward. All four lines have shown an ability to score in different ways. Freshman Jaden Schwartz is as good as advertised. He has good vision, hands and savvy. He makes the guys around him better, especially the first power-play unit. Other players to look out for is Nick Dineen on face-offs, leading scorer Stephen Schultz and senior wing Tyler Johnson who looks to have healed from an earlier upper-body injury.
BCI: What do the Tigers have to do to be successful in this game?
Use their speed on the forecheck to slow down the BC transition, force some turnovers and put pressure on Muse. That work by the forwards will keep the pressure off the four CC defensemen who log a lot of minutes.
That same speed needs to be used to penetrate to the front of the Eagles net where Dineen and Rylan Schwartz are most effective. Defenseman Gabe Guentzel gets a lot of assists on redirects, especially on the power play, which needs to click.
BCI: Shifting gears a bit. I’ve come out against the Big Ten Hockey Conference so I’m curious. As someone who covers a non-Big Ten WCHA program, your thoughts on the shifting college hockey landscape and the BTHC?
Right now, with only Michigan in the NCAAs, it seems to be a tempest in a teapot. But this will give the Big Ten an edge in recruiting (TV does wonders), which is why the WCHA is talking about developing its own TV network, or more likely, a more regular TV deal with the regional networks. This will hurt the CCHA, unless that rumored “super conference” between the WCHA and CCHA takes root. I’m just hoping Huntsville holds on long enough to fill a hole in the CCHA and keep college hockey going in the South.
BCI: Last one. Prediction time. Who ya got in this one, and who is your pick to come out of the West Regional?
On paper, BC has the edge, but CC is playing good hockey right now. It will be an upset for sure, but the Tigers look plenty capable of winning Friday and advancing to St. Paul. CC is my pick.