CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston College received two goals from Bill Arnold in a largely uncontested 4-2 win over Massachusetts on Friday night. After a fairly even first period ended with the Eagles up, 2-0, BC took over the second period, outshooting UMass, 14-2, and draining any confidence, momentum and energy the Minutemen may have felt after the first period.
Goaltender Parker Milner started for the Eagles and played strong, turning away all but two of UMass’ 20 shots. As we’ve seen fro the Eagles in recent years, Friday’s win was thorough team victory. All four lines contributed to the win, and the three defensive pairings BC coach Jerry York sent out handled their assignments with confidence and ease.
What I saw
- BC forwards have more confidence in their defensemen than any other group I’ve ever seen. Early in the game, UMass succeeded in establishing a forecheck, but the Eagle defensemen prevented them from turning any of their work behind net into quality looks from Grade-A. As the Minutemen tired, which took about 17 whole minutes, the BC forwards seemed to begin their transitions up ice early. At first, this just seemed like laziness. They weren’t getting back on defense and supporting their defensemen. It became clear, though, that the BC forwards know their defensive corps — led by the defensive defensmen in Hockey East Brian Dumoulin — can handle any pressure from anyone, especially a young, inexperience team like UMass.
- Parker Milner is good, but he’s not quite John Muse yet. No one ever said John Muse was the best goaltender in Hockey East. More often than not, he just let his rings tell the story. While the 8-4 thrashing BC took in Muse’s final game cemented his “average goalie on a great team reputation for some,” this reporter was always impressed by Muse. Rarely did he allow a soft goal. Rarely did he make a bad decision on playing a puck or coming out to challenge a shooter. His teammates were equally impressed with him, and it showed in the occasional risks they took, knowing Muse would bail them out. That level of confidence isn’t quite there yet with Milner. After taking the job from Muse in February 2010, before Muse earned back just in to lead the Eagles to every championship ever, many thought Milner would become the Eagles No. 1 from there on out. He’s capable of being a truly great No. 1 at this level, and with that defensive corps in front of him, the confidence needed to get there won’t take long to develop
- BC’s penalty kill is still something that greater skilled teams can exploit. Jerry York said after the game that the Eagles have eight forwards he is fully confident in when killing penalties. For years, a hallmark of the BC penalty kill has been aggressive puck pursuit and pressure on point men by the BC forwards on the kill. Last season, though, the Eagles allowed seven power play goals combined in the Hockey East semifinal, championship and first round of the NCAA Tournament. Against teams with confident, deft puck handlers at the point and blow the circles, the aggression at the blue line can leave a penalty-killer out of position, as we saw last March. However, the Minutemen were unable to take advantage of this.
What I thought
- Bill Arnold was the best player on the ice and will be the Eagles most consistent contributor throughout the year. There’s little doubting that forward Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane and Johnny Gaudreau are going to draw the crowd from their seats more frequently with their skating ability and pretty passing. But Arnold has already established himself as one of the best two-way centers in Hockey East after only the fifth game of his sophomore season. He currently leads BC forwards in goals (four), assists (five), points (nine) and plus/minus (plus-5). In BC’s first four games, Arnold played the pivot on a line with Kreider to his left and freshman Destry Straight to his right. Friday night, York moved Kevin Hayes to Arnold’s right and the results paid off 78 seconds to pay off, when Arnold banged a pass from Kreider past UMass goaltender Jeff Teglia after a beautiful breakout pass from Kevin Hayes sprang the pair. Whichever pair of wingers York surrounds Arnold with, though, is going to be successful.
- Patch Alber has quietly become one of the most reliable defensemen in the league. The junior rarely played as a freshman as a recruited walk-on, but it’s not that rare to see a BC player become a linchpin player for the Eagles after beginning his career footing his own bill. Two seasons ago, Matt Lombardi was named Most Outstanding Player of the conference tournament after starting his career without a scholarship. Alber has played every game this season with senior captain Tommy Cross and found his way into BC’s top four, playing major minutes.
- Replacing Joe Whitney as a power play quarterback may be more difficult than expected. Currently, the Eagles’ power play has been its usual great self. The Eagles are five for 22 on the man advantage, clicking along at more than 22 percent. The puck movement and passing that always allows the Eagles to either set the exact formation they care to or create quick odd-man rushes on the power play didn’t seem to be there on Friday. Chalking it up to it still being October is perfectly fine. But it seemed like the Eagles point men were more out of sorts than usual. In his four seasons in Chestnut Hill, Whitney’s role as the leader of the BC power play often went unnoticed and unappreciated while Cam Atkinson and Ben Smith and every other forward in uniform scored a thousand goals. The plays, though, almost always began with a perfect pass from Whitney that set the wheels of the vaunted BC power play in motion.