2008-09 Men's Hockey Outlook
Sept. 26, 2008
As the Eagles enter the 2008-09 season, they do so from a slightly different - and potentially more tricky - position than any of their rivals. After all, Boston College captured the ultimate prize in the Pepsi Center in Denver this past April.
BC can't do much to improve on that accomplishment, a feat the program sets in its sights each and every year. If lofty goals aren't set, after all, they can never truly be reached.
Yet head coach Jerry York has savored that ultimate triumph three times in his illustrious coaching career. The wise and veteran mentor seems to have a method established - a formula for sustained success.
Make no mistake. York would never lay claim to having a magical blueprint. Instead, he preaches consistency. He urges his troops to take great pride in their past work. He stresses the importance of utilizing the unique lessons learned during postseason play. He demands his players focus on what lies ahead.
"The biggest thing with our club is that we're not trying to defend the national championship," the coach clarified. "The trophy is in the case. No one can take it away. Now our goal is to earn another. That's always been our goal.
We take great pride in what happened last year and we certainly gained a lot of experience in our players. That will certainly help us this year, but this is a new team and, as always, we look to be as successful as we possibly can be."
With 15 lettermen back from last year's title team - eight forwards, five defensemen and the starting goaltender - York has every reason to be positive as the new season approaches.
The Eagles return three of their top four scorers from 2007-08. The returning players accounted for more than 60 percent of last season's goal total and for nearly 66 percent of the team's point total. This year's defensive unit features five of the six regulars from last year's NCAA Tournament run. Yet, York takes greatest comfort in the return of a seven-player strong senior class.
"I think it has the makings of an outstanding senior class," the coach said. "We have skill. We have toughness and we have leadership in our senior class. Now this is their chance to be the fourth-year guys. You can be leaders and real factors as freshmen, sophomores and juniors, but the seniors are the barometer of our team. I think it's an excellent group of players. We have depth on defense and depth with our forwards."
These seniors - coupled with five juniors, four sophomores and nine newcomers - rightfully leave everyone hopeful looking forward. And, count the 800-plus win coach among that group.
"We feel very optimistic about our year. We think we've got a good base. We have a good nucleus of returning players, augmented by what we perceive to be an excellent freshman class," York said. "Now we have to mold our club. We have to instill certain values in our team. We're very excited about the possibilities this group of players brings to BC for the '08-09 season."
The Eagles return nine forwards, including three 40-point scorers - senior Benn Ferriero, junior Ben Smith and sophomore Joe Whitney. In addition, sophomore Brian Gibbons returns after a stellar 35-point freshman campaign. All totaled, the nine returning forwards combined for 220 points last year.
While this group promises to create lots of excitement and plenty of points, the Eagles will also look for five freshmen to help offset the loss of last year's four seniors - Joe Adams, Dan Bertram, Pat Gannon and Matt Greene - and Nathan Gerbe. Gerbe opted to pursue a professional career after finishing his junior season.
"Anytime you lose players whose play and work ethic allowed you to hang a banner, there's going to be a void," York said of his Class of 2008. "Yet there's a part of them that remains and sets the standard for those that remain in the program."
Brock Bradford, Andrew Orpik, Kyle Kucharski and Ferriero form the list of senior forwards. York clearly expects Bradford to reemerge this season after missing all but five games last winter because of an arm injury.
This year's team captain, Bradford had high hopes for the 2007-08 campaign, only to see his season derailed in the opener against Michigan. The Burnaby, B.C., resident had totaled 45 points in his sophomore season. He appeared poised to top those totals last winter.
"Brock is coming off a junior year that was shortened by his arm injuries," York said. "This year will be a big year for him to recuperate from his injury and, as our captain, lead our club."
Ferriero is a proven commodity. He has tallied more than 16 goals in each of his first three collegiate seasons and more than 40 points in each of the last two. York is confident that Ferriero's best days are still ahead.
"Benn has had a remarkable three years for us," the coach said of his assistant captain. "But having said that, I believe his best hockey is still in front of him."
While Bradford and Ferriero are high-scoring skaters, the other pair of senior forwards - Kucharski and Orpik - completes the class with a more physical style. Each, however, has expanded his game over the past few seasons.
"Andrew and Kyle are big, strong, physical players who have really improved as they've gone through," York said. "Now they're both capable of creating a lot of offense for us with their size and strength."
Much like the senior class, the three juniors offer diverse skills to the forward lines. Ben Smith headlines this group. The Avon, Conn., product tallied 50 points - 25 goals and 25 assists - in 2007-08, nearly tripling his point total of the previous season.
This year, York expects the sturdy Smith to continue that progression.
"Ben Smith really became a nationally-recognized player last year with his 50 points. He'll spearhead the junior class," the coach said. "On top of his hockey abilities, Ben also has terrific leadership skills."
Matt Lombardi and Matt Price also figure to take another step in their development this winter. Price registered 11 points last season. Lombardi recorded four points while most often playing alongside Kucharski and Orpik on a checking line. Yet, the duo's point totals don't come close to telling their stories.
The two sophomore forwards - Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney - stepped into the line-up last October and immediately made their presence felt. Together, they combined for an astounding 86 points - 51 by Whitney and 35 by Gibbons.
"As first-year players, Joe and Brian really had remarkable impacts on our club. Right from the get-go they were valuable players for us, and they kept improving each week of the season," York said. "I like their dynamics and I like their hockey skill level. They've got great hockey IQs, and we expect them to be even more dominant players for us this year."
The coach's high praise is well founded. Gibbons totaled 13 goals among his 35 points. Often skating on the team's top forward line, the Braintree, Mass., resident led the 2007-08 Eagles with a plus-32 rating. Whitney was a force on the power play. He led all Hockey East players with 29 man-advantage points - five goals and 24 assists.
York also anticipates strong contributions from his new crop of forwards. Yet the veteran coach recognizes the transition period that faces each of these newcomers.
"I expect these freshmen to be contributors," the coach said. "Now, it's a question of how soon each can make that adjustment from the junior level to the college level."
This year's group - five strong - comes with solid credentials. Three join the Eagles from the USHL, one from the EJHL and one from the prep-school ranks. The latter two are brothers.
Barry Almeida, who hails from Springfield, Mass., gained All-USHL first-team honors after leading the Omaha Lancers to the Clark Cup championship. He registered 60 points - 22 goals and 38 assists - in 56 regular-season games. Almeida gained greater notoriety in the Lancers playoff run by scoring three game-winning goals, including the overtime winner that gave his team the title.
Paul Carey, from Weymouth, Mass., captured All-USHL second team and USHL All-Rookie Team honors with the Indiana Ice in 2007-08. Just like Almeida, Carey averaged better than one point per game. He finished the regular season with 66 points - 34 goals and 32 assists - in 60 games. Prior to playing for the Ice, Carey toiled for two years at the Salisbury (Conn.) School.
Jimmy Hayes rounds out the list of USHL recruits. The Dorchester, Mass., resident tallied 24 points - eight goals and 16 assists - in 29 games with the Lincoln Stars. Hayes spent the 2006-07 season and part of the 2007-08 season in the U.S. National Team Development Program. He participated in the USA Hockey National Junior Evaluation Camp each of the last two summers.
Cam and Tommy Atkinson - the brothers - round out the list of Eagle forwards. Cam earned Prep Player of the Year and All-New England first-team honors at Avon Old Farms (Conn.) in 2007-08. He led all Founders League scorers with 63 points - 26 goals and 37 assists - in 28 games. Cam helped the Winged Beavers capture three New England Division I Prep School titles during his tenure.
Tommy, 18 months older than his brother and Avon's Most Improved Player in 2006-07, played the 2007-08 season with the Boston Junior Bruins of the EJHL.
"I like our three seniors on defense. They really have an understanding how we play defense. Of course we're going to be led by Tim Filangieri, a rock-solid defenseman ... Last year we were a more defensive group. This year we're going to see more goals from our blueline."
The Eagles return five defensemen from last year's title team. Together this quintet has played in 449 collegiate contests. All three seniors - Anthony Aiello, Tim Filangieri and Tim Kunes - have played in 98 or more games. Junior Carl Sneep has played in 82 career games, while sophomore Nick Petrecki played in 42 contests in his first collegiate campaign.
As has always been the case, York expects his senior class to anchor the defense. Filangieri, an assistant captain whom the coach calls one of the league's best defensemen, leads the charge. Classmates Aiello and Kunes have also earned their stripes through three years of in-game execution.
"Timmy Kunes and Anthony Aiello have both progressed and I think this is their year to log more ice time and more valuable minutes for us," York said. "We expect them to be more consistent and more valuable players for us this year."
Sneep is the lone junior on the blueline. The 6-foot-3-inch Minnesotan continued to develop his game last winter. This year, he figures to be a versatile and physical presence for the Eagles.
"Carl is probably our most improved player on defense," York said. "He's made great strides since his freshman year, and this year he'll see time on both special teams - penalty kill and power play."
Petrecki completes the list of blueline returnees. Another physical force, the Clifton Park, N.Y., product was effective at both ends of the ice in 2007-08. He contributed 12 points, including five goals, to the attack. York believes Petrecki's first-year successes will serve him well in the coming season.
"Late in the year (the 2007-08 season), Nick became one of our real go-to players despite his first-year status," York said. "I thought his last month of the season was very dominant. He's a very physical player whose skill level is getting better."
Cross figures to make the biggest impact early. A third 6-foot-3-inch defenseman, Cross played the 2007-08 season at the Westminster (Conn.) School. He also saw some action - nine games - with the USHL's Columbus Blue Jackets. The Simsbury, Conn., resident, who promises to bring some offense to the BC backline, also gained extensive international experience with various U.S. national and select squads.
Lyles joins the Eagles after three successful seasons at Deerfield (Mass.) Academy. Noted for his speed on the ice, Lyles hails from Miami Gardens, Fla.
Shea earned Defensive MVP honors with the Boston Junior Bruins in 2007-08. A three-time EJHL all-star selection, the Shrewsbury, Mass., native totaled 38 points - six goals and 32 assists - in 49 games last winter. Shea was also honored as the 2007-08 recipient of the John Carlton Memorial Trophy, which is given annually by the Boston Bruins to the outstanding student-athlete in Eastern Massachusetts high school hockey.
"Goaltending is one of our team strengths this year, no question. Last year we didn't know what we'd get from our freshman goaltender (John Muse). How it changes this year is that our team knows we're solid in goal."
Sophomore John Muse returns for his second year after an impressive freshman year that saw him log every minute - more than 2700 minutes in 44 games - in the BC net. Thrown right between the pipes on day one, the East Falmouth, Mass., product answered the call and played like a veteran - a talented veteran. He finished the season with 25 wins, a .921 save percentage and a league-low 2.20 goals-against average.
York is confident Muse will respond in kind - and then some - in 2008-09.
"Certainly John's confidence level has improved. He knows that if he continues to work hard and improve that he can be a real key figure in our club," York said. "His durability and his skills in the goal will both be better this year."
Venti, a Needham, Mass., resident, played his schoolboy hockey at Buckingham Browne & Nichols.