BC begins the second half of the 2006-07 hockey campaign the same way they started back in October, against Northeastern. Although the Eagles must travel to Matthews Arena, site of a heartbreaking 3-3 tie in November on a Huskies goal with 2 seconds on the clock, we'll hope the 5-2 result from the season opener at Conte Forum will be repeated.
The second half of the season begins with the Eagles tied for second place in Hockey East with Vermont, with both schools' 13 points trailing conference leaders UNH with 21 (although the Wildcats have played 12 games to BC's 10 and Vermont's 9). If the season were to end today, BC would find itself at home for a Hockey East tournament quarterfinal series against Providence. Given some of the woefully inconsistent play that we've seen from this team so far, this team is fortunate to be in such a position.
That said, there is plenty of time for the Eagles to "turn it on". This is a team that lost at Providence, and got humiliated at Harvard and at home by Notre Dame (albeit what has turned out to be a very good Notre Dame team) and New Hampshire. It's also a team that has already notched a tough victory at BU, a classic OT win at Maine, and took a pair of impressive road victories over Wisconsin (I don't care if Wisconsin is down this year, sweeping the defending national champs in their house by 3 goals per game is always impressive; besides, the Badgers' weak start is likely merely a result of their brutal early schedule--their 10 losses to date include BC twice, Denver twice, at Minnesota twice, at Alaska-Anchorage, North Dakota, Michigan, and a 9th-ranked Clarkson team--look for Wisconsin to rebound in the second half of the year with a much more manageable schedule).
Most of all, this is a young team, as it was last season. Brian Boyle is still trying to find his way filling the captain's jersey, but his 2-goal performance in the 5-2 win over UMass to close out December shows that he may finally be figuring it out. We all know what he can do as a player, but can he step it up as a team leader?? Cory Schneider has been his usual exceptional self so far, and there's no reason this should stop. Joe Rooney, while not yet putting up the kind of season that Chris Collins put up last year and that every BC fan had pipe-dreamed that he might, is still having a very good campaign, leading the Eagles with 17 points. Guys like Benn Ferriero, Nate Gerbe, and Brock Bradford are making solid supporting contributions offensively, as expected. Perhaps the biggest disappointment so far has been the play of Brett Motherwell, touted by many as a dark-horse Hobey Baker candidate coming into the year, whose performance to date has been fairly pedestrian. Still, it was in the second half of the 2005-06 season that Motherwell really stepped up his game, and there's no reason to think he can't do the same this year, particularly as he continues to claim the mantle of defensive leadership alongside Mike Brennan. I look for Motherwell to have a significantly improved second half of the 2006-07 season and I also look for Carl Sneep to begin to live up to the hype that we'd all heard and start to show us why he was one of the most highly-touted recruits in this year's incoming freshman class.
BC also has the benefit of what should be a fairly reasonable schedule to kick off 2007. The Eagles travel to Northeastern then face Providence at home before a home-and-home series with Merrimack, whereas our rivals atop the Hockey East standings--UNH (two at Vermont, Dartmouth at Verizon Arena, home-and-home with UMass), Vermont (two vs. UNH, two at Northeastern), BU (at Providence, Northeastern, two at Maine), and Maine (two at Lowell, two vs. BU)--all seem to have more difficult early obstacles. BC will need to come out firing and take at least 6-7 points from these first 4 games, as a key stretch follows that will include two games at Vermont and a home-and-home against BU (including the "fog date" of the earlier canceled game), followed by a brief home respite against UMass and Lowell followed by the Beanpot opener against Harvard and an always-difficult trip to Providence before another likely meeting with BU in the final. A pair of home games against Maine, a home-and-home with Lowell and finally what should be a classic home-and-home against UNH round out the season.
Predictions?? It'll be tough to make up the 8 point deficit against UNH, even with 2 games in hand; and the Beanpot is, well, the Beanpot. But I do think this team will come alive and step it up come tournament time. I think this team has all the ingredients to pull together and win not only the Hockey East tournament but also the national championship--and I think it will do exactly that.
As for tomorrow night, Matthews is always a tough place for BC to play and tomorrow will be even tougher with Dan Bertram and Nate Gerbe still playing for their countries at the World Junior Championships (they should both be back in time for Sunday's game against Providence). BC is the better team but NU will get up for the game, and the Huskies always seem to get strange bounces in these games. I'll say BC 2, Northeastern 2.