BOSTON — A night after after a troubling 5-3 loss to Boston University on Friday, six different Boston College players scored, as the Eagles earned their first win of the season over the Terriers at Agganis Arena with a 6-1 victory.
While BU’s win on Friday clinched the season series in Hockey East play, BC coach Jerry York viewed the weekend as a net positive. Aside from strong contributions from the players BC relies on, depth players and freshman goaltender Brian Billet pieced together strong weekends for the Eagles, who remain in first place in Hockey East.
What I saw
- The Boston College power play still can’t find it’s stride. The crisp, effortless puck movement York demands from his players is there, as is the creativity that gives opponents fits. But the finish is still lacking on the man advantage. On Friday, the Eagles finished two-for-11 on the power play and posted an 0-for-5 on Saturday night. York is happy with the overall direction of his power play units, and it’s likely that a few bounces will fix whatever ails them. Still, it’s rare to see a BC team so poor in this area of the game. There are a few elements missing from years past — BC has no real power forwards and lacks a point man capable of running the advantage as Joe Whitney did in his four seasons at the Heights. As the season progresses, any of the wildly talented players on the BC could fill these rolls, but no one has done yet.
- Brian Billet didn’t struggle at all in his first taste of the Battle of Commonwealth Avenue. The freshman goaltender made 40 saves against BU and improved as the night progressed. BU thrives on sending pucks toward the crease and swarming. While BC’s defensemen kept Billet’s eyes clear and quickly processed any rebounds he allowed into the corner, the freshman moved well within his crease, using remarkable positioning to catch pucks cleanly. In fact, the Terriers’ lone score came after a clever bank shot from Corey Trivino hit Pat Mullane’s skate and snuck past an unsuspecting Billet. Aside from keeping BU from creating any momentum, the freshman made some saves that seemed to deflate the Terriers and led directly to scoring opportunities for the Eagles. Two of BC’s six goals came directly following BU looks that Billet kept out of the net — though he received some help from the post on one.
- BC’s defensive corps has been shorthanded since Patrick Wey suffered a gruesome ankle injury in late October against Northeastern. While his return is expected soon, it has forced York to dress Brooks Dyroff and play him on the blue line. Dyroff doesn’t see much ice time, as York relies heavily on his top five — Tommy Cross, Edwin Shea, Brian Dumoulin, Patch Alber and Isaac MacLeod. The coach trusts his this group unconditionally, and they likely earned even more on Saturday. Playing in front of a freshman goaltender, the pairings kept BU from creating much traffic in front of Billet. On the offensive end, the group outlets the puck quickly to BC’s speedy forwards, and provides strong puck support. As always, BC’s forward lines are made up of some diminutive players, so Cross and Dumoulin are equally quick to step in for any BC forward targeted by an opponent
What I thought
- We may have seen the next great BC line on Saturday night as York ran wingers Chris Kreider and Johnny Gaudreau onto the ice, centered by three-zone whiz Bill Arnold. Placing the trio together means that his three most talented players are on the ice together. The previous two seasons saw Joe Whitney, Brian Gibbons and Cam Atkinson lead the Eagles, and the first half of this season has meant finding a group capable of replacing them — Whitney and Gibbons graduated, while Atkinson left for the NHL. Kreider and Arnold spent most of October and November together, while Gaudreau played with several different combinations. However, all three scored goals in their first game on the same line. While the strikes did not come on the precise pass-shoot-score displays we saw from Whitney/Gibbons/Atkinson, getting the three of them going could mean something special for BC.
- Tommy Cross is BC’s unquestioned leader. The senior scored the game-winning goal on Saturday, a nifty backhand shot from the low circle that found its way over Kieran Millan. For Cross to step up and score that goal, which came with the score tied, 1-1, and BU creating some chances, demonstrates both his confidence and flair for big performances. Cross carried the puck from the blue line and found the hole in Millan. Most defensemen may have moved the puck or skated laterally to create more space. For Cross to walk in front the point shows his confidence and understand that it’s his responsibility to lift his team from to time.
- BC’s fourth line was simply fantastic. At five minutes, 51 seconds of the first period and the game scoreless, BC iced the puck with its fourth line on the ice. BU coach Jack Parker sent out Matt Nieto, Charlie Coyle and Sahir Gill in hopes of creating a mismatch. However, after Coyle won the faceoff back to the point, Quinn Smith, Michael Sit and Danny Linell went to work. After forcing a turnover, Linell and Quinn perfectly handled a two-on-one to create a chance. After Millan made the initial save on Linell, the freshman banged the rebound home to give BC a 1-0 lead. The Eagles know they will receive major contributions from their top groups. But the performance from their all freshmen fourth line gave the team a lift and turned a potentially disastrous mismatch into a 1-0 BC lead in a game the Eagles needed badly.
What they said
“[Billet] started really slow with us. We had some major concerns watching him in the first two or three weeks of practice. Out of the jump, I don’t think his conditioning level was very good, and I thought it was going to be a long time be he got a chance to play. Then, about the middle of November, in practice I’d be saying ‘he made a save, he made a save, he made a save’ and all of a sudden it’s ‘maybe we’ve got a goaltender here.’ But Parker [Milner] was going so well. I think we were 9-2 or 8-1 early, so we rode that goaltender. But sometimes it pays to keep your eyes open in practice. [Billet] is playing a lot better now than he was in early October.” — BC coach Jerry York
Billet’s emergence as a legitimate option for York hardly comes as a surprise given his success a finding top-flight goaltenders. Though, his early struggles with the Eagles certainly provide an interesting picture of what life was like for York and his staff earlier this year. While Parker Milner had already shown his ability to play at the Division I level — he basically stole John Muse’s job for a month in February 2010 — he had not spent an entire season as a starter previously. York said following Saturday’s win that Milner is no longer the No. 1 in Chestnut Hill. The hot goaltender will play. Expect Billet to start in BC’s next game.
What they didn’t say
York did not say whether or not he thinks the Kreider/Arnold/Gaudreau can put together the type of success he has seen from his previous top lines, though, it’s clear he knows it’s a possibility. On Friday, York was frustrated with the loss to BU. He did not think his team played poorly, but he thought they lacked finish — something he’s accustomed to seeing from his teams. Putting these three on the ice together seems like a move he was hesitant to make solely to add greater dimension to his lineup. However, Kreider, Arnold and Gaudreau possess such unique playmkaing and scoring ability that putting them together could mean something big for BC.
What else you should know
BC defenseman Patrick Wey is expected to return to the lineup for the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit later this month. The Eagles begin the tournament Thursday, Dec. 29 against Michigan … BU forward Ryan Santana is fully recovered from offseason shoulder surgery and is currently working his way back into game shape. The junior will find himself in a battle for playing time among the bottom six BU forwards … BC’s next game is Tuesday against Providence, the first of the season between the teams … BU travels to Durham, N.H., for its final game against New Hampshire this season. BU has already clinched the season series with a pair of wins over the Wildcats earlier this season.