1. The team has not looked like the defending National Champions. Ferriero and Smith obviously miss having Gerbe on their line, but that is not the whole story. What is going on? Why does the team seem to take two steps forward and two steps back?
Mook Williams: I like to laugh and say that BC is presently "sticking with the game plan" right now - they seem to always look terrible in the month of January, at least for the past 3-4 years, and this year is no exception. Of course, the expectations are even higher this season with the national title last year and a crop of good freshmen coming onto the squad. The problem right now, more than any of the past seasons, however, is that BC is taking way too many penalties. Part of the problem is that Hockey East officials are . . . well . . . terrible on most nights. Apart from bad officiating, which both teams on the ice are subject to, there appears to be a lack of concentration and focus out there for all 60 minutes. Defenseman Nick Petrecki gets the bad rap of taking too many penalties, but many of them are reputation-based (I mean, how much of a joke was that major late in the game against Lowell?). However, Petrecki's problems this year are representative of many on the roster - lapses in focus, failure to keep the legs moving, and a delay in decision-making. The good news is that this problem can be remedied in a matter of one night. As for Petrecki, I think you are going to see a dominant end to the season for him.
A bigger problem is that there is a lack of scoring leadership, especially recently. Brock Bradford got off to a hot start, but has since tailed off, with no one else filling the gap or supporting him. There certainly are plenty of candidates on this team to explode offensively: Gibbons, Smith, Ferreiro, Hayes, Atkinson, and / or Whitney. For whatever reason, no one has caught fire. At this point in the season, only Bradford is in double-digits in goals scored. Yikes. One of the few true bright spots this season, senior power forward Kyle Kucharski, is second with 8 goals, and only 4 penalty minutes. I think this guy has a good shot to have a lengthy pro career . . . but in the midst of other forwards with bigger names and in strong Hockey East, Kyle being second in goal scoring isn't what you wanted to see when you broke this team down in October.
Pop quiz (and don't use Google) - who has more goals, Andrew Orpik or Ben Smith? The answer . . . neither, both have 3. More assists? Both have 9. Smith has played one more game. Orpik is another bright spot, as he's really brought the checking hammer out this season, even more so than last, but Ben Smith is a guy that the Eagles need to provide scoring leadership, and it hasn't happened. Is he injured? Or is he just going to have a hot finish? He's shown that he steps it up as springtime nears. Ben always does things subtly on the ice, so focus in on him the next time you see BC play to see how he's skating out there.
In goal, John Muse has been off and on, but we saw the same performance last season before he ratcheted it up several notches to help carry the team to a national title. I believe we'll see focus and lateral movement improvements in him during the coming weeks. Will we see him actually get a regular season game off? Don't count on it.
Some credit goes out to Matt Price, who never stops motoring, and recently Malcolm Lyles, who deserves to dress for all remaining games this season. As does Matt Lombardi, who displays his commitment to grinding every time he's out there. BC needs more of the same from these guys, along with more passion from other, in order to compensate for a loss that is greater than not having Nathan Gerbe on the team: not having the "glue guys" named Brennan, Bertam, and Greene.
I'm maybe the last remaining BC observer to believe this, but I still expect this team to pull it all together in LATE February, and grab yet another Frozen Four birth. I also predict that they will "see" several teams coming down as they are on the way up - i.e. BU and Notre Dame. Coach Jerry York has already shown every one several times that he owns a copyrighted "formula" to getting deep in the NCAAs every year. Until he puts a team out there that fails to stick to the plan, and who knows this could be the one, I won't doubt him or his teams.
2. The team lost to Northeastern earlier in the Fall. How much can you look to that game as an indicator of what will happen in the Beanpot Opener?
MW: I don't necessarily see the October 18, 2008 game as being too much of an accurate preview for the first round BC/NU Beanpot matchup. That game occurred what seems to be eons ago - BC was ranked No. 1 in the country and came into a red-hot intense environment at Matthews Arena. The game was a competitive 4-3 NU victory, earmarked by two shorthanded NU goals. It was BC's first loss of the season.
Right now we have BC at the bottom of it's season, struggling to get off the mat, while Northeastern is flying high as a new national power. NU is getting great scoring support from its two younger classes, and has already received an impressive 8 power play goals from senior leader Ryan Ginand. Thiessen in net has been solid, as usual (well, other than in his last game against UMASS). As I type this, BC would be left on the outside looking in for the NCAAs if the season ended today, while NU would be a strong No. 2 seed. However, we've seen this all before from both teams: NU has gotten off to good starts and dropped, and BC has certainly lagged in the middle of the season . . . repeatedly . . . only to emerge as a dominant force later. Let's take a look at who NU has beaten this season: BC, Alaska (also tied), PC (three times), Maine (three times), Bentley, Vermont (twice plus a loss), UNH (plus a tie and a loss), Lowell, Western Michigan, and Merrimack (twice). Not exactly an SEC football caliber hitlist.
Although I'm not too confident in BC just yet (way too early in the season for that), I think that NU is about to drop like a rock. BC takes this game in a close matchup, and starts to wake up. I don't see BC getting by BU in the championship game - I mean, come on, it's the Beanpot!
3. Many of York's teams have lost focus midseaon only to rally down the stretch. Do you expect another Frozen Four run and how important is the Beanpot in sparking a potential run?
MW: I think that I got ahead of myself in half-answering this question up in #1. As to the second half of the question, I don't usually put too much importance on the two non-conference regular season games known as The Beanpot, but for this struggling BC team, it is potentially huge. BC has a great opportunity to use this tournament as its own personal purgatory - face a top-performing NU team, and maybe also a dominant BU team, address the many team ills through adversity and pressure, and come out a much stronger team. If they fail in the Beanpot, or at least don't obtain a moral victory in a close loss, it won't be the end of BC's season, but it will definitely be a cause for greater concern. Coach York always acknowledges the Beanpot as a great litmus test to see if his teams are close to being ready for postseason tournament play. Well, let's see it . . . will the "sleeping giant" defending national champs be awakened?