Monday, October 09, 2006

2006-07 Hockey Preview

With the Eagles (#1 preseason) set to take the ice for their season opener tomorrow at home against crosstown foes Northeastern, hopes are high for this year's team. Hockey season is here and that means our first opportunity to watch a BC revenue sport whose coaches actually try to set the bar high and win conference and national titles.

After suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in last year's national championship game in Milwaukee, we seem stronger than ever this year. Although the losses of defenseman and captain Peter Harrold, leading scorer Chris Collins, and Stephen Gionta will be difficult to overcome, a superb recruiting class led by blue-chip defenseman Carl Sneep, winger Ben Smith (FHMAM feels confident that he does not share the pedophilic tendencies of fellow Connecticut native Keith Johnson), and forward Matt Price will help fill in the gaps.

The big news of the off-season was the return to the Heights of both senior Brian Boyle and junior Corey Schneider, despite lucrative NHL offers from Los Angeles and Vancouver respectively. Both are coming off of All-American seasons (first team in Schneider's case, second team in Boyle's), both were named Inside College Hockey pre-season All-Americans (along with sophomore defenseman Brett Motherwell), and both will absolutely need to turn in superb seasons if BC is to contend for the national title.

Elsewhere, BC is still a young team, but one that has a tremendous amount of talent and also a tremendous amount of experience despite its youth. With Schneider returning along with 6 defensemen who saw significant ice time last year and with Motherwell, who has drawn comparisons to former BC great Brian Leetch, continuing to gain experience and maturity, opponents will likely find it very tough to get goals into the Eagles' net this season.

The tough part will be replacing the offensive production lost by Collins (34 goals, 63 points in 05-06) and Gionta (11 goals, 32 points). The bad news is that replacing 95 points almost certainly is not going to happen. The good news is that, with the improved defense, it doesn't have to. A number of guys will be looked to to improve upon last season's production, and chief among them will be Joe Rooney, the speedster whose explosion at the end of last season was reminiscent of Collins' similar outburst at the end of the 2004-05 campaign. While expecting a Collins-esque year from Rooney may be asking too much, there is no reason he cannot improve last year's tally of 5 goals to somewhere in the neighborhood of 15-18. Another guy who should be looked to to have a breakout year is Andrew Orpik. Orpik brings a physical presence to the ice, a key factor on a smallish BC team, and will get his share of points almost by default as a result of beginning the season on the top line with Boyle and Dan Bertram (another player who can be expected to improve to somewhere in the 15-18 goal range from his 10 last year). If Brett Motherwell can effectively QB BC's power play, his numbers will improve as well.

Jerry York has announced that BC will use the following offensive lines for the team's first 3-4 games:


This is more or less what I expected, including the placement of Orpik on the top line, which is something I have been calling for since the end of last year. The only thing I don't like is breaking up the Rooney-Ferriero-Bertram line that was responsible for much of BC's late-season offense last year; I had expected to see this grouping remain intact as BC's second line, with Gerbe running the wing on the first line and Bradford centering the third. While Jerry has not yet announced defensive pairings, I imagine they will look something like the following:


This may be the best team BC has seen in a very long time. With the decimation of the top WCHA teams by early departures to the NHL, the Eagles are considered the odds-on favorites to break the recent western strangehold on national championships (BC's 2001 edition was the last non-western team to win a national title). With several key dates including the Oct. 27-28 series in Wisconsin, a Sunday afternoon battle against Maine on Nov. 19, and a home-and-home with BU on the first two nights of December just around the corner, this is going to be an exciting season. For those of you in the same unfortunate boat as myself of not being able to make the games in person, the games will be carried on 1510 WWZN as well as Yahoo radio. (And any other out-of-towners making the trip up to the Heights for the Battle of I-95 against Maryland on Nov. 18 should head over to Huntingdon Ave on the night of the 17th to see BC take on Northeastern) While dealing with the, shall we say, "characters" we meet on the ice may not be as pleasant as enjoying the southern hospitality at Clemson and FSU, it--as our esteemed football coach might say--is what it is. GO EAGLES!!


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