NCAA Hockey 101 is a weekly feature on U.S. Division I college hockey. Stick around and you just might learn a thing or two.
Oh, you thought you were done watching hockey games live from America's Most Beloved Ballpark? Think again, buddy.
Later tonight, a week after the Winter Classic, there will be two games at Fenway Park, one contested between the women's teams from UNH and Northeastern at 4 p.m. EST (the first-ever outdoor women's game), and one a Beanpot warmup game between Boston College and Boston University at 7 p.m. EST. Both will be broadcast on NESN for all New England viewers and on the NHL Network for those farther out in the country.
For those that have a vague or even non-existent interest in the college games, know this: where the Winter Classic between the Bruins and Flyers will only go down as being memorable because the home team staged a dramatic late comeback - the game itself, after all, was pretty dull - there's a legitimate chance that these games, especially the BC-BU tilt, will almost by default be more interesting.
Where the Bruins and Flyers have no natural, preexisting enmity to speak of, you can rest assured that this game, featuring the 2008 NCAA champion Eagles and the reigning champion Terriers will be contested by two teams with a very, shall we say, intense rivalry.
BC fans hate BU fans. BU fans hate BC fans. Both teams seem not to like each other very much. And then dump that into an atmosphere like a 10-degree Fenway Park, add a healthy amount of alcoholic beverages, and see how things turn out. For those that don't end up in jail, I'm going to guess it turns out pretty well, and with a good hockey game to boot.
But really, for an event this big - it's only the third outdoor NCAA hockey game -I figure I better turn it over to the experts...
In which I ask a blogger five questions about the team they follow. But this week, I asked one expert from BU and one from BC the same five questions. We have both Jake Seiner, a writer for BU's student newspaper, the always-excellent Daily Free Press, and for the paper's Boston Hockey Blog, and Brian Favat from SB Nation blog BC Interruption, which has very good college hockey coverage despite being a largely basketball- and football-related blog. Seemed only fair.
1) Who's the biggest scoring threat on your team and why?
JS: Nick Bonino was a legitimate preseason Hobey Baker candidate, and I don't think there's any doubt that he's BU's most dangerous offensive forward. He has playmaker vision mixed with good athleticism and size. The results might not be overwhelming (five goals and six assists in 12 games), but he was hampered by a shoulder injury early in the season and was still the most noticeable player on the ice for BU in most of the first semester's games.
BF: Unlike the last few seasons, this Eagles team seems to lack a standout goal scorer a la Nathan Gerbe(notes), Brock Bradford or Chris Collins(notes). It has been very much scoring-by-committee through the Eagles first 18 games. After his freshman year, many Eagles fans thought Joe Whitney would be the next great BC goal scorer but Whitney was fairly quiet in his sophomore and now his junior years). Still, Whitney has an incredible knack for getting to the loose puck before anyone else. Arguably no one has scored a bigger goal for the Eagles than Whitney when in the 2008 Northeast Regional his OT tally sunk Miami, giving the Eagles another Frozen Four berth and a National Championship.
2) What has been your team's biggest disappointment so far this season?
JS: What hasn't been a disappointment? Goaltender Kieran Millan has not come close to living up to the hype from last season, and Grant Rollheiser hasn't been a stopper in goal either. Of course, the BU defense has been plagued by lousy positioning, and a lot of the goals Millan and Rollheiser are allowing are from point-break range after Terrier defensemen left their netminders hanging. Also, the power play was disappointingly inconsistent in the first half; a lot of BU's forwards (Vinny Saponari and Corey Trivino in particular) haven't fully taken the step forward that the Terriers needed them to.
BF: The biggest disappointment this season has to be the Eagles' performance last weekend in the Wells Fargo Denver Cup. The Eagles lost to St. Lawrence 5-2 in the first game. In the second game, BC coughed up a 3-1 third-period lead and lost to No. 2 Denver 4-3. The Eagles gave up nine goals in just two games, despite good goaltending play from Parker Milner and John Muse.
3) How do you think the break affected your team? How do you think it'll do in the second half?
JS: It seems like there was a weight lifted off the players' shoulders. Coach Jack Parker gave the players the longest break he's ever allowed for the holidays, and it seems to be having a good effect. The team played very well against UMass last Saturday, and I wouldn't be surprised to see yet another strong second half. Looking at the big picture, this season is working its way out almost exactly like BU's 2007-08 season, when the team started 4-10-2 before winning 12 of its last 16 games but fell in the HE Tournament and missed the NCAA's.
BF: The Eagles were riding a five-game winning streak and seven-game unbeaten streak before laying an egg in the Denver Cup. However, BC's performance in the past few holiday tournaments and exhibitions doesn't seem to be an indicator of how they will play down the stretch. BC teams tend to get stronger as the season progresses and the calendar turns to February and March. Jerry York should have this team motivated down the stretch and in the running for another Hockey East regular season and tournament championship.
4) Did you catch any of your players' games in the World Junior tournament? What have you thought of them?
JS: Unfortunately, my schedule has kept me from catching as much of the WJC as I'd like, but I did catch the game against Canada and have seen bits and pieces of others. From what I gather, David Warsofsky has been one of many defenseman to play well in the WJC. It seems like every night, a different pairing steps up and has a superb game, and it seems like Warsofsky's been as solid as I'd expect him to be. In my opinion, he's as skilled with the puck as any defenseman I've seen at the college level (I've seen the likes of Matt Gilroy(notes), Chay Genoway and Kevin Shattenkirk in person). His size might keep him from regular action in the NHL, but with the way the game has evolved, I could see him running the point on an NHL power play one day.
BF: BC fans have to be excited by Kreider's performance. Kreider's six goals (6-1-7) in seven World Junior games tripled his goal total through the first 14 games of his Boston College career (2-3-5). He has had a relatively slow start to his BC career, but hopefully his performance in the World Juniors will translate into a stronger second half of the season.
5) Care to give me a bold prediction for tonight's game?
JS: The first time BU and BC played this year, the game was much closer than the score indicated. BC is absolutely the better team right now, and I expect them to show up hungry after the Denver disaster. However, I think the conditions could really play in BU's favor. The Eagles' speed absolutely killed the Terriers in the first game, but playing in the second game on an outdoor rink at night with temperatures expected to be in the teens, I think we could see some very slow, choppy ice. I won't predict a score or anything, but I will say that playing outdoors should be an advantage for the Terriers, simply because the conditions will level the playing field.
BF: I think this will be a higher scoring affair than this year's first meeting between the Eagles and the Terriers (a 4-1 BC victory). I can't pick against the Eagles here, so I'll go with BC winning 5-3.
(Author's note: Big shock these guys picked their own teams, eh? Personally, I'll go BC 4-2 with an empty-net goal. See ya at the ballpark.)