2014 Frozen Four: Boston College needs its young defense to step up

Matt Dewkett (mrd-photos.com)

Known for its offensive weapons, the x-factor for Boston College in the Frozen Four may be its young d-corps.

Part of the equation for Boston College this year involved a lot of constants. The Eagles consistently got production from its top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold. When he supplanted himself as the starter, BC also regularly had a stellar goalie in freshman Thatcher Demko. But an area where the Eagles wavered at times throughout the season was its defense.

Looking out how BC defends requires examining other aspects of its games outside of the six names on the depth chart. Knocks against Gaudreau as a player who "can't defend" due to his size or some other notion are a little misguided because he and his line possess the puck so much, it doesn't need to defend. Where BC is strong defensively is its ability to limit opponents by keeping the puck off their sticks.

But what has at times caused the Eagles trouble is inconsistent play from their younger defensemen. A very talented group made up of three freshmen and two sophomores, BC's blue line offers a good blend of size and skill.

Michael Matheson, a Panthers prospect, may be the best of the unit, but goes through stretches where he puts himself out of positions. (In Game 2 of the Hockey East Quarterfinals, Matheson was a minus four, and was benched for long stretches of the second period.) At other times though, his play is more indicative of what made him the 23rd overall pick in the NHL 2012 Draft, like in the Northeast Regional Final against UMass Lowell, where the 6-foot-2 defensemen was everywhere in the offensive and defensive zones.

A trio of freshmen, Steve Santini (Devils), Ian McCoshen (Panthers), and Scott Savage are the three newcomers to BC's blue line, and have jumped right in at Chestnut Hill and made an impact. Head coach Jerry York has time and time again praised his first-year defenders throughout this season. Santini plays an incredibly physical game, and a more stay-at-home style. McCoshen and Savage have more offense in their arsenals, but similar to Matheson, have gone through stretches where they've struggled to navigate their own zone, and make life difficult for puck carriers.

For the most part, the Eagles' inexperienced collegiate d-men have done a very good job, and have sit in the top 10 nationally in goals allowed per game. But with the stakes higher down to college hockey's final four, the group will be in the spotlight more than ever. Against Union, BC's opponent in the national semifinal, it will be one of the stiffer tests for the younger flock of Eagles. The Dutchmen's team speed is difficult for any side in college hockey to overcome, and BC will be no different. Lane discipline, and being able to keep Union off a straight line path will be paramount in at least providing some kind of roadblock for the Dutchmen.

The Eagles like to play an uptempo game themselves, and while Matheson, McCoshen, and Savage do well to jump into the rush and create offense, knowing when to go, and when to hang back against a Union squad that can counter as well as any team in the nation will be one of those quiet, chess-match elements to the tilt.

Boston College's success at the Frozen Four would most likely be bolstered by the offensive production of its top line. But in the trenches, left off the box score, and much under the radar would be its defensemen holding their own against the likes of a Union, a Minnesota, or a North Dakota.

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