January 11, 2013

Hockey East Journal: Eagles hit turbulence

By Andrew Merritt

Jerry York's Eagles have struggled since his record-setting win over Alabama-Huntsville. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

It almost had to happen, eventually.

Boston College played its first 14 games with almost its entire core of starters intact. A spate of did-not-plays for Destry Straight was the only hiccup through the months of October and November and into December. The Eagles were 11-2-1 through that opening chapter of the 2012-13 season, looking almost unstoppable in their quest to defend the Hockey East and national titles.

But nothing lasts forever, and ironically enough the biggest moment of the season so far – Jerry York’s 925th career victory, over Alabama-Huntsville on Dec. 29 – also represented the start of BC’s first real dose of adversity this year.

That 5-2 win was BC’s first game without Johnny Gaudreau, who in his sophomore year looks even better than he did as a freshman, having gone without a point in just one of those first 14 games. But Gaudreau was off to Ufa, Russia, to play for Team USA in the World Junior Championship.

While Gaudreau was off leading the Americans in scoring with seven goals and two assists, his Eagles started to flounder a bit. They lost defenseman Isaac MacLeod for two games, including the eye-opening 8-1 loss to Minnesota on Dec. 30, and a knee injury has blown a hole in the season of reliable defenseman Patch Alber, who isn’t expected back until the first round of the NCAA tournament at the earliest.

Without Gaudreau and Alber, the Eagles lacked a certain crispness, and Saturday’s 3-3 tie with Yale – a team with a  7-4-3 record but one that sits in the middle of the pack in the ECAC – was just the latest example.

Although Gaudreau, who also leads the Eagles with 11 goals and 23 points, would be a big hole in any offense, the Eagles tend to be able to fill holes up front, and did so against Yale. But the larger concern is on the back line, where BC was already quite young with freshmen Teddy Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.), Colin Sullivan (Milford, Conn.) and Michael Matheson seeing regular minutes. With Alber out, Travis Jeke is the fourth rookie seeing a lot of time, after not playing at all in the first 14 games.

In other words, Jeke and his classmates are being asked to grow up fast.

“We’re progressing,” said coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.). “We’ve played some pretty good clubs in Minnesota and Yale, and with New Hampshire on the horizon, we’ve got to get better.

“We’ve got to get improvement from all our players. That’s a tough position, boy, freshman defenseman in this league.”

The injury bug didn’t even spare the coach last week. York underwent successful outpatient surgery to repair a detached retina Thursday morning, and won’t be behind the bench for the Eagles’ games against UNH this weekend.

The Eagles tend to be pretty resilient when key pieces go missing, but they’d sure like to have it all back together again sometime soon.

Player of the Week

Riley Wetmore, senior, UMass-Lowell

In an otherwise mediocre week for Hockey East teams, the River Hawks swept their two games against Clarkson, and Wetmore’s two goals in the second game were a big part. The stalwart from Swanton, Vt., also had four shots on goal and an even plus-minus rating in the first win.

Game of the Week

New Hampshire vs. Boston College, Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m.

This home-and-home, which starts in Durham, N.H., pits the league’s top two teams against each other, with the first place Eagles trying to get some breathing room on the Wildcats, who sit just two points back.

Power Rankings

  1. Boston College (12-3-2, 9-2-1 HEA) – The Eagles are done with their non-conference schedule, save for the Beanpot, and with Johnny Gaudreau back in the lineup ought to be able to shake off the holiday doldrums they’ve been experiencing, which have resulted in a 1-1-2 record over their last four.

  2. New Hampshire (13-3-2, 8-2-1 HEA) – In just one game last weekend, the Wildcats showed little rust, jumping all over RPI Saturday with five goals from five different players.

  3. Boston University (11-7-0, 8-4-0 HEA) – The Terriers erased two one-goal deficits to beat RPI in overtime Jan. 4, but the next night bottomed out in the third period, giving up three goals in less than 10 minutes to lose a 5-2 lead against Harvard, and then surrendered the game-winner to the Crimson in overtime.

  4. UMass-Lowell (9-7-1, 3-6-1 HEA) – UML has all but erased its 4-7-1 start with five straight victories, including the two against Clarkson that saw the River Hawks outscore the Golden Knights 8-3, but now it’s time to pick up some ground in Hockey East.

  5. Providence (7-8-3, 5-4-2 HEA) – Providence is winless in its last five after taking a pair of losses at Minnesota State, punctuated by Saturday’s 4-0 shutout.

  6. Merrimack (7-8-4, 5-4-1 HEA) – Saturday’s win over Vermont was the first in 25 days for Merrimack, though that stretch only includes three games. Still, the Warriors started their second half on the right foot (thanks in large part to a 23-save effort from Sam Marotta), and starts a push of 18 straight league games to end the year.

  7. Vermont (6-9-4, 3-6-4 HEA) – The Catamounts have won three of their last five, but Saturday’s loss to Merrimack makes them winless in their last three against Hockey East opponents.

  8. UMass (7-9-2, 4-6-1 HEA) – The Minutemen were the only idle team in Hockey East last weekend, and Friday’s game against Providence is their first in 10 days. It’s also their first league game since Dec. 1.

  9. Northeastern (6-10-1, 3-8-1 HEA) – As good as Northeastern looked in a win over Harvard two weeks ago, Saturday’s loss to a sub-.500 Bentley squad (albeit one with the nation’s leading scorer in Brett Gensler) has the Huskies looking awfully vulnerable with a race for the final playoff spot brewing.

  10. Maine (4-11-2, 1-7-2 HEA) – Seniors Kyle Beattie and Mike Cornell (Franklin, Mass.) each had two-point weekends as the Black Bears split a pair with Mercyhurst.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.