November 2, 2013

Freshmen Demko, Fitzgerald shining early for Eagles

By Joshua Kummins

Thatcher Demko made 20 stops in the Eagles' 3-2 win over the Huskies Friday. (Dave Arnold Photography)

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- The No. 8 Boston College Eagles got off to a bit of an uncharacteristic start this season, finishing the month of October just 2-2-1.

Friday night's contest against Northeastern had a bit of a different feel as Hockey East Association play kicked into gear for the first time, and head coach Jerry York could certainly feel that the competition kicked into a new level.

"They're just different," York said of contests in Hockey East. "We've played some really good, quality opponents, but the feeling when you get set in your league, it's even raised up this year. ... With only 20 games, it just seems to ramp it up -- the intensity level and importance of each game."

One group that has ramped it up and stayed the course from the outset of the season has been the Eagles' very talented rookie class of 10 players, which has accounted for 40 percent of the team's scoring so far.

"The freshmen are doing unbelievable," senior Kevin Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.) said. "Coming into the season, everyone thought we were going to get off to a slow start because of how young we were going to be, but with our captains just showing them what the BC culture really is, they are accepting that.

"We have new ones in (contributing) every night, and they're doing what they should be doing."

In the Eagles' 3-2 win over the Huskies in the first meeting of the season between the two Beanpot foes, goaltender Thatcher Demko stood on his head and had his best game to date with 20 saves.

"I thought he was outstanding," York said. "There were not a lot of saves during the course of the night, but there were really some ten-bell saves."

The effort was an excellent bounce-back performance from a BC team that struggled mightily in last Sunday's series finale at No. 1 Minnesota. The Eagles allowed four goals in the first period and could not nearly make a counter punch in a 6-1 loss.

With the likes of Cory Schneider (Marblehead, Mass.), John Muse (East Falmouth, Mass.) and Parker Milner in the rear view, the Eagles are in a situation which has rarely presented itself over the last handful of years at BC with two goaltenders seeing considerable time.

Junior Brian Billett (Brunswick, Maine) has shared the load with Demko, who is the youngest player in all of Division I and will not turn 18 years old until December.

"I just think we're fortunate this year," York said. "Brian and Thatcher are both playing well for us, so I love it when we have two goaltenders that can play like this. ... We're going to rotate them for a while. Right now, I feel confident that Brian will go in net tomorrow night and give us a solid game."

Coming to The Heights has certainly been a dream come true for local boy Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.), who scored what turned out to be the game-winner just 68 seconds into the third period.

The Malden Catholic product made a great follow-up play from Hayes, beating Northeastern junior Clay Witt on the rebound for his second goal of the season. Fitzgerald's first goal of the season came in a Oct. 13 drubbing of RPI - the first of a two-game streak that continued with a pair of assists the following Friday against Wisconsin.

"He's Kevin's (Hayes) cousin, so I think that's why he tried to feed Kevin on the 3-on-1 instead of just shooting the puck," York said with a laugh. "He's coming along well. We have four right wings and they're all freshmen, so that's kind of unique for us."

"It's a big adjustment for all of the young kids to come in and play at this level, but I see some level of improvement every day in practice. They need games right now."

The beauty of proximity will be on full display as the teams change sides for a 7 p.m. Saturday night contest at Northeastern's historic Matthews Arena.

"It will be short-lived," York said. "Another game with the same opponent, in a different rink. It's a unique weekend for us."

Twitter: @JoshuaKummins