Thursday, October 11, 2007

2007-08 Hockey Preview: We Don't Rebuild, We Reload

After a pair of consecutive soul-crushing losses in the national title game, is this the year that the hockey team finally breaks through and wins the big one??

The answer to that question will depend in large part on the play of one of two men--freshman goaltenders John Muse and Andrew Margolin. Muse, who comes to BC from Noble & Greenough, is expected by most to win the starting job. I for one don't think that it will be that cut and dry. Taft Prep graduate Margolin, while a tad undersized at 5'9, is felt by some scouts to be the most game-ready of the two netminders right now, although Muse is generally considered the better long-term prospect. It is telling that, had superstar Cory Schneider returned for his senior year, the plan was to send Muse to juniors for a year while Margolin came in right away to be Schneider's backup.

Furthermore, even if Muse is the better of the two, this is clearly not a "Schneider and that's it" type situation. Schneider first burst onto the scene as a freshman, splitting time with solid veteran Matti Kaltiainen and eventually taking over the starting role just before the Hockey East tournament. For his final 2 years at BC, however, Schneider had no reliable backup, and had a tendency to wear down in mid-season due to fatigue. He was talented enough to "turn it back on" in late February during both of these years, but when you have 6- or 7- goal games given up a handful of times each year by such a talented netminder, you have a fatigue issue. For that matter, the same thing happened to Kaltiainen in the 2003-04 season, after Tim Kelliher had departed but before the arrival of Schneider.

With a 36-game schedule (not including the Hockey East and national tournaments) and with both goalies considered very capable even if Muse is the real stud of the group, I'll be surprised if each guy doesn't get at least 10-12 games. My feeling is that the pair will more or less split time through the first half of the year, with York handing the keys over to the better of the two sometime around mid-February. You could even see sophomore Alex Kremer, a walk-on from Germany by way of Taft who played on BC's club team last year but who has reportedly been lights-out in preseason, get a game or two.

If the goaltending situation can be resolved, the rest should fall into place. BC has the best skaters in the country. The offensive firepower is there--BC fans on have already begun talking about a "Drive for 175" points between Brock Bradford, Nate Gerbe, and Benn Ferriero. I'll also be excited to see the continuing development of sophomore Ben Smith, who took over as the top-line center late last season when captain Brian Boyle moved to the blue line and excelled in the role. Smith may stay on the top line or move down to the second this season depending on chemistry, but either way BC fans are counting on him for a big year.

I've always been a huge Andrew Orpik fan, and with Boyle gone his physical presence up front is even more vital to the team's success. BC's talented and fast but smallish forwards tend to breeze through Hockey East play only to get beat up on by the bigger western teams come tournament time, so I love that we're getting some early shots against western teams this year--the season opener on Friday against Michigan, then hopefully two games against Minnesota in the championships of both the Ice Breaker and Dodge Holiday Classic tournaments. Getting past Michigan and Air Force in the first rounds of those tournaments will be tough, but the chance to play a team like Minnesota not once but twice in front of their home crowd in the first half of the year is invaluable--especially for the goalies. Between those tournaments and the Beanpot, our freshman netminders will be battle tested when the chips are really down, in the Hockey East and national tournaments.

While the forward corps still lacks size, Orpik and Kyle Kucharski aside, the blue line gets a huge boost this year with the addition of 6'3 freshman Nick Petrecki from the USHL's Omaha Lancers (former home of Chris Collins). If Carl Sneep can continue the improvement he showed over the second half of his freshman year and if Brett Motherwell, the star of the defense, can avoid the niggling injuries that bothered him last year, this unit will be among the best in the country. Senior Mike Brennan provides stability and leadership to the defense, his classmate Brian O'Hanley is a solid role player who is often the target of BC fans' ire but whose absence in a game inevitably seems to lead to defensive breakdowns, and juniors Tim Kunes, Tim Filangieri, and Anthony Aiello are all solid players who can fill in around the edges as needed.

As far as lines, your guess is as good as mine. I'd like to see the following, for the forwards and defensive pairings respectively, but right now there is really no way to know what Jerry will do:



Finally, we get to the schedule. It ain't easy. We jump right into the fray with Michigan followed by RPI or Minnesota, then come back to Chestnut Hill for a home tilt against North Dakota in what has become college hockey's best intersectional rivalry. It doesn't get any easier from there, as the Hockey East slate opens just 2 days later in Burlington (did Hockey East hire contractors from the ACC to make BC's schedule??). BC also loses the home ice advantage against the rest of the conference's Big 4 this year, making a pair of trips to both UNH and Maine and only getting BU at home twice. As if that wasn't enough, the traditional first weekend of December home and home with BU could very likely be overshadowed this year by BC participation in the ACC Championship Game for footbal. (Incidentally, with BC hopefully to be a regular participant in that game, can't we change the annual date of the first BU series?? And I don't mean to put it back in early January when the students aren't around, either--how about just a week later, when there is no football, students are still around, and exams have not begun yet??) Speaking of Eurabia Tech, the Terriers are our first-round opponents in the Beanpot this year, so you pretty much know how that will go. The Harvard game will be a little bit later than usual this year, on Dec. 12th. The good news is that the UNH home-and-home will not be played on the last weekend of the regular season this year; instead, BC finishes up with series against Providence and Northeastern.

All in all, this year will come down to the play of the goalies. Can they step it up?? I think they will, and I think they can. Third time's the charm, boys.

Prediction: #2 in Hockey East regular season, Hockey East Tournament champs, National champs

Just a few more notes:

-BC has done a very nice job with the media guide this year, putting together 208 pages of material. Check it out here

-For the many of you who are going to be in South Bend this weekend, the Michigan game will be on FSN North out there. Buffalo Wild Wings gets the channel and should be showing the game.


Notre Dame Week

Well, it's that time of the year again (again).

The theme of the week will be the fact that the tables have been reversed. As we all know, BC is coming into South Bend undefeated and as the #4 team in the country. Notre Dame, well, isn't undefeated or the #4 team in the country. Certainly many Irish fans would love to ruin our season the way we ruined theirs in 1993 and 2002. In fact, you can bet that Charlie Weis has been showing clips of the 1993 and 2002 games to his players all week.

A common Domer excuse for losing to BC annually is that it's just another game to their players, whereas to our players it's the Super Bowl. Don't fall for it. The Irish players will, without a doubt, be every bit as fired up for this one as the guys in maroon and gold are. BC is the far superior team and should win, but we can't simply stroll into Notre Dame stadium and expect to walk away with a victory.

So how does BC avoid the upset?? The first key is to get pressure on Jimmy Clausen. BC's Achilles' heel defensively is, without a doubt, the deep ball. The cornerbacks other than DeJuan Tribble are inexperienced (even 5th-year senior Taji Morris has spent most of his BC career either injured or constantly bouncing back and forth between DB and CB); the pass rush has been anemic so far (although it did show signs of life against a decent Bowling Green offensive line); and the safeties, while excellent in run support and the short/medium-range passing game, lack elite high-end speed and could be exposed deep. The good news?? The Irish have not really shown the ability to consistently go deep as of yet. Their team speed, while improving and probably a touch better than BC's, is still nowhere near the level of the ACC powers like Florida State and Virginia Tech that BC is used to facing. More importantly, Clausen has not yet proven that he can throw the deep ball. It seems to be a confidence issue, whether on his part or the coaching staff's; but either way, the Irish need to be able to throw deep in order to win. They are not going to be able to run on BC; and while the short passing game will chew up yards and clock, it will also lead to BC interceptions.

On the other side of the ball, the main thing I am concerned about is the offensive adjustment to Notre Dame's new 3-4 defense. For the first time in years the Irish have more talent on the defensive side of the ball than they do on the offensive, and now they also have a confusing new scheme to go along with it. It should be noted that BC did a very nice job against a similar Virginia defense 2 years ago, but only one starting offensive lineman played in that game (for perspective, Quinton Porter was named ACC Player of the Week for his performance against the Cavaliers). While I don't think Notre Dame has the raw talent on defense to match BC, the 3-4 scheme will take some adjusting to for the linemen and backs. A huge advantage BC has here is the tremendous ability of both Andre Callender and L.V. Whitworth in the passing game--primarily in blitz pickup, but also as released receivers. Matchup-wise, I think undersized but quick and wily true freshman RT Anthony Castonzo will excel against the 3-4, where he will be facing off not against a 260-lb defensive end but against a 240-250 lb linebacker such as Kerry Neal or John Ryan.

Of course, Matt Ryan needs to have a good day, but that goes without saying. And he will. BC's lack of a #1 go-to guy in the WR corps is actually an advantage in my opinion, as it forces opposing defenses to gameplan for 5 or 6 different guys. Brandon Robinson is the best wideout on the team, but Kevin Challenger, Rich Gunnell, Clarence Megwa, and Justin Jarvis are all also capable of breaking out for 100+ yard games--and that's before you get to the tight ends and backs, not to mention younger receivers like Ifeanyi Momah and Billy Flutie. My guess is that the Irish will play conservative defense, seeking to deny BC the deep ball and forcing Ryan to dink and dunk down the field against an unfamiliar 3-4 scheme. While this could pose some problems, it will at least have the effect of forcing their best defensive playmaker, safety Tom Zbikowski, to stay deep.

Special teams need to be on target. Billy Bennett was held out of practice yesterday for undisclosed reasons, but should be good to go on Saturday. Kickoff coverage needs to improve, and the punt team needs to keep doing what they've been doing. Could this be the week we finally see true freshman speedster Dan Mulrooney returning punts??

Finally, BC needs great support from its fans in South Bend. I'm expecting about 10-15,000 BC fans to be there, which would make for the largest away contingent of Eagles fans since the 2003 San Francisco Bowl. BC's allotment of 5,000 tickets sold out as soon as it went on sale, and despite that virtually everyone I know who's going to the game didn't actually get their tickets through BC. We need to cheer our team on, be loud when the Domers are on offense, and show the world that BC fans can travel when we have something worth traveling to see.

My prediction?? I think the Irish will keep it close for about a quarter and a half, but ultimately they just don't have the horses to hang with a great BC team this year. While they have certainly improved since the trio of season-opening debacles against Georgia Tech, Penn State, and Michigan, they have yet to face a team nearly as good as BC. While their win over UCLA will give them a boost of confidence, I don't think it will have much ultimate impact on the game. This one will be uncomfortably close for a while, but the Eagles will pull away in the end.

Prediction: BC 41, Notre Dame 17

My group is leaving for Notre Dame at around 5 today. If you see a green 4Runner with Colorado plates, BC and UNC stickers, and (if I have time to stop by the bookstore before departure) an enormous, gaudy BC helmet magnet, give a honk and a wave.


Saturday, October 06, 2007

Bowling Pink???

So no-one asked what we were going to do this week. Well, I think BC has been disrespected long enough. Look at this interview, in a fucking ACC market, pissing on the Eagles.


In case you haven't noticed, it's us against the fucking world. No one outside of the ACC is going to respect us. No one inside the ACC is going to respect us because we are the General Sherman to their Atlanta. You think they like a bunch of not just Yankees but drunk-ass Irish Yankee assholes dominating their conference both in football and in hoops?? Think again.

Tomorrow at noon we take the field against Bowling Green. We are going to murder them, but that's beside the point. If any of you think that we've been doing any more than the bare minimum necessary to win the last two games.....if you think Steve Logan is fucking stupid enough to give anything away that he doesn't have to then I invite you to kill yourself. We have an NFL staff now. That means we won't run the score up on bad teams for the sake of running up the score (as much as I'd like to). It also means we will systematically prison rape good teams, as we did Georgia Tech and Wake.

The Falcons have a good passing attack. They have no running game. I also feel like they don't have much of a D.

Prediction: BC 27, Bowling Green 10

I told my buddy Timmie who lives in LA and I'm telling you all now--if we are 11-0 heading into the Miami game and if he flies out for it, I will go shirtless and in maroon and gold body paint regardless of how cold it is.

Week off for me next week, so you'll get my treatise on Steve Logan's offensive theory as well as a hockey preview before I head off to my first trip to South Bend.


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