This week the Spartan hockey team has just one game, but it's a big one hosting the Eagles of Boston College. The Eagles sit at 4-5, and are ranked 8th in the country after starting the season 4th. My game preview will be up tomorrow but since SB Nation has a BC blog that does great hockey coverage, BC Interruption, I thought I'd get some information from those who know the Eagles best. Thankfully, Joseph Gravellese was kind enough to answer my questions.
- After losing to Harvard Tuesday the Eagles dropped to 4-5, what have been some issues for the team so far?
Oh jeez. A better question would probably be "what's gone right?" Thatcher Demko has been outstanding between the pipes for BC. Ryan Fitzgerald has emerged as a dangerous top line forward. And at times (not always, but at times) the highly-touted defense corps has been good at locking down opponents and limiting their chances, though certainly not against Harvard.
Other than that... there's been a constellation of problems. The power play probably stands out as the most glaring, currently in the midst of an 0-for-26 rut. And not only are they not scoring, they've been pretty bad at generating opportunities, and they've come up smallest in some of the worst possible situations. Given that BC's offensive talent is top-heavy, scoring on the power play when BC can roll all of its best talent on to the ice will be a key factor for BC.
On that note, a good chunk of BC's forwards just aren't very good, not by recent BC standards anyway, which is something we knew would be an issue this year. That can be dealt with, but some of the forwards BC was counting on to produce this year haven't put up huge numbers. I do expect that by the end of the year, six forwards will end up being really productive - Fitzgerald, Austin Cangelosi, Chris Calnan, Zach Sanford, Adam Gilmour and Alex Tuch. The rest will be hit or miss all year.
A key injury to defenseman Steve Santini, BC's best physical presence and a solid stay-at-home defender, hasn't helped either. BC is 1-4 since he went out, and that's not a coincidence. He will be out until January.
2. Thatcher Demko didn't play Tuesday but while sitting at 4-4, actually has a decent goals against average and save percentage. Has the defense let him down or has Demko just had a slow start?
Demko has been BC's best player this season. He gets 0% of the blame for the team's slow start. He won them a game out in Denver and kept them in the second game. He gave up 4 goals to BU, but 3 of them were on weird deflections/fluky bounces that I don't hang on his shoulders at all.
3. Ryan Fitzgerald (7 goals) and Noah Hanifin are two easy stand out names. Who are some other Eagles Spartan fans should be sure to watch Friday night?
He's not the flashiest or fastest player on the ice but I'm a big fan of Chris Calnan. He just screams "NHL" to me with the way he uses his size and presence on the ice. Alex Tuch is also a fun player to watch, a freshman forward. He is reminiscent of the Hayes brothers who won rings at BC.
4. We're in the second season of the challenge between Hockey East and the B1G. Both of our schools are also involved in the ACC/B1G basketball challenge. What do Eagle hockey fans think of playing the B1G annually?
Well, I love seeing some of these prominent teams come to Conte, and seeing BC play these teams on the road. The whole HEA/B1G challenge concept needs an overhaul though. Make it a two or three week event and make sure the games get on TV. Then a "HEA/B1G challenge" can actually be a marketing tool for the sport.
5. At MSU hockey is clearly sport 3 maybe even 4 after women's basketball. With such an elite program like BC has, and a down football and basketball program, what is the feeling around town right now for BC hockey?
Uhhh, it depends. BC hockey has a cult following, but it's a pretty big cult. Even the worst attended games are better attended than BC basketball games. That said, when BC basketball is good or doing something noteworthy (like when they beat Syracuse last year) it gets a lot more mainstream public and media attention than the hockey team does. I'd say hockey is sport 2A and basketball is sport 2B, but hockey has felt like the clear #2 since the basketball team has been so terrible. Football is definitely by far #1, because America.
6. Care to hazard a guess how this game plays out on Friday?
Hm... well, all my past experience with BC hockey in the years I've been watching has largely consisted of them rising to most challenges they've been faced with (I've been spoiled). They really need a 60 minute effort on Friday night. And no disrespect intended to Michigan State, but on paper they look like a team BC should be able to beat. However, the Eagles have looked a lot more impotent on offense on the road than they have at home.
If Demko is ready to go on Friday night, I think we'll see BC put in a solid, conservative but hard working game, with good goaltending to back them up, and ride that to maybe a 3-1 win with an empty net goal. If Demko's not ready, then take this one off the board because we don't know much about Brad Barone yet.