The first full weekend of the college hockey season starts off with a bang tonight, when two of the most storied programs in college hockey face off. Boston College will travel to Yost Arena in Ann Arbor, Michigan to take on Michigan in the first game of the season for both teams. It's a game that features the two winningest active coaches in the college game today in Boston College's Jerry York, and Michigan's Red Berenson.
The puck drops at 7:00pm EST tonight. Unfortunately, despite all the increased national TV opportunities for college hockey this year, this game will only be available on the Comcast Local channel for Comcast subscirbers in the southeastern Michigan area.
One area that is not quite settled for both teams heading into the season is in goal. Boston College head coach Jerry York wouldn't name a starter for tonight's game after the Eagles 8-2 exhibition victory over St. Francis last weekend. Junior Brian Billett has the most playing experience for the Eagles, but freshman Thatcher Demko has an impressive resume of his own after notching a couple victories against NCAA programs, including one against Michigan last year, while playing with the NTDP program.
Michigan is in a similar situation. Sophomore Steve Racine eventually emerged as Michigan's starting goalie last year and played pretty well during Michigan's stretch run, but whether he can maintain that level consistently throughout an entire season remains to be seen. He'll be pushed for playing time by freshman Zach Nagelvoort, who had a breakout year last year in the NAHL.
This could be a situation where both teams choose to defer to the older player for tonight's game, but by the end of the season, I wouldn't be surprised if the two freshmen are starting regularly for their respective teams. Then again, Boston College pushed hard for Demko to graduate high school early to join BC this year, and they certainly didn't do that just to have him sit on the bench, so he might get the first opportunity tonight. No matter which combination of goalies take the ice tonight, Boston College looks to have the edge between the pipes.
Speed will be the name of the game up front for the Eagles tonight. By now, nearly everyone knows about returning Hobey Baker finalist Johnny Gaudreau. The Eagles added some very fast freshmen in Austin Cangelosi, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Evan Richardson as well. That speed should create problems for a Michigan defense that looks a little thin, and will rely heavily on some guys playing their fist collegiate game. Expect Michigan to try and put senior defenseman Mac Bennett on the ice any time Gaudreau is on the ice to neutralize him. Actually, expect Bennett on the ice just about any time he's physically capable of standing up, because Michigan's defense depth behind him looks pretty dicey.
Michigan's leading scorer last year, Alex Guptill will miss tonight's game due to a suspension he earned over the off-season. Last weekend, without Guptill in the lineup, Michigan's offense fired 35 shots on goal, but only managed one goal in an exhibition loss to Waterloo. Michigan has a lot of speed, and a lot of grit, especially up the middle with their top two centers, Andrew Copp and JT Compher, but the Wolverines will need someone to step up as a finisher to start putting up goals. Boston College's defense might be the most talented in college hockey, but is extremely young. Freshmen Ian McCoshen and Steve Santini should be excellent college players, but Michigan might have the opportunity to capitalize on a few mistakes as they adjust to the college game.
The Eagles seem to have the advantage on paper up and down the lineup, but you can't discount the advantage Michigan will have playing at home. Escalating ticket prices and a resurgent basketball program have taken a big bite out of the vaunted atmosphere at Yost Arena in recent years, but with the excitement of a new season and the buzz of a nationally-known opponent in the building, it should be rocking tonight, and could put a very young Boston College team on their heels.