When this writer was filling out his ballot for the 2014-15 Preseason Hockey East Writers and Broadcasters Association Poll, he put Boston College in the second slot and did so without reservation. After all, there is little doubt that BC's goaltending and defense is as good or better on paper than any other team in the league.
After seeing the Eagles' exhibition win over New Brunswick in person and watching the replay of their opening night loss at UMass Lowell, there are some concerns for Jerry York's squad. Let's face it, whether you agree with the practice of recruiting older players, one of the major downfalls for the Eagles over the past two years has been the team's youth and inexperience come postseason time against older, more seasoned squads such as Union and Notre Dame.
Back to Friday night, the Eagles squad with three NHL Draft picks on the blue line and one more sure-fire first rounder come next June made some very big mistakes in crucial situations that directly led to UMass Lowell goals.
UMass Lowell ties the score 1-1
As you see here on UMass Lowell's first goal, junior defenseman Michael Matheson takes himself completely out of the play by chasing a Lowell player without the puck to the right boards at the blue line as Evan Campbell brings the puck up ice. The incredible talent level of Matheson, a Montreal native whose NHL rights are owned by the Florida Panthers, is not up for debate, but his pension to make mistakes and costly errors have seemingly gone up after his freshman season at BC.
Taking the play further, Scott Savage collapses as he tries to defend the two-on-one and doesn't take away the passing lane as defensemen are taught to do nine times out of ten. He also doesn't go after the puck carrier, just basically in no-man's land, resulting in an ugly all-around sequence for the Eagles' top defensive pairing.
UML goes up 2-1
The second UMass Lowell goal, while not as egregious of an error by the defense, still could have been easily prevented. Matheson loses the battle to the loose puck and then gets beat out of the corner by his man. Ian McCoshen was doing too much standing around and lost his man out in front. After the initial shot, neither McCoshen nor Matheson got a stick on Michael Fallon who went straight to the post for the rebound.
Let's give credit where credit is due. UMass Lowell did a nice job of cycling the puck and Fallon did what all young players are taught to do. He drove to the net and cashed in on the rebound. Fire pucks on net and go to the net. Good things happen. A hallmark of UML's success the past three years has been doing a lot of the little things right.
UML takes a 3-1 lead
The third River Hawks goal was a play in transition that could have easily been prevented. Ian McCoshen is playing the left defense position and doesn't make any obvious mistake, but his defensive partner Teddy Doherty inexplicably jumps out of position to come over to attack the original puck carrier. He's the main culprit. His lack of positioning allows for an easy lane for C.J. Smith to feed Michael Louria for his first collegiate goal. Quinn Smith did rush back to back check and try to break up the play, but couldn't get enough of a stick on Louria.
It was another instance of UML doing the right thing by driving the net, but it's a play that had to leave the BC coaching staff shaking their heads.
UMass Lowell regains two goal lead at 4-2
Destry Straight does his part by winning the faceoff, but then the play starts to fall apart for BC. McCoshen's chip off the wall fails to clear the zone. Lowell's Ryan McGrath intercepts the clearing attempt and beats Straight off the half boards. McCoshen doesn't get back to the net in time to make a solid effort at preventing a goal and Steve Santini was caught flat-footed. Lowell swarms the net and no BC player covers the waiting River Hawk on the back door who easily lifts a loose puck into the back of the net.
UMass Lowell added an empty-net goal for a 5-2 final, but let's circle back and take a look at the two BC goals for some positives to take away from the game for the Eagles.
BC jumps on top 1-0
BC's first goal was a nice play in transition that was set up by Doherty who started the rush from the defensive position. He showed some nice stick work as he maneuvered around a Lowell defender in the neutral zone before bringing it across the blue line and firing a good, quick low shot on net. Kevin Boyle kicked the rebound right into the middle of the slot. The big issue with this play from a UML standpoint is Terrence Wallin rushed back, but didn't do anything to put a stick on BC's trailer Chris Calnan. Wallin just skated back with one hand on the stick and didn't get a stick on Calnan to prevent him from banging the rebound home.
Another issue with this play comes more in hindsight of whether or not the referees could have called goaltender interference or plain-old interference on BC freshman Alex Tuch for crashing the net and sending Michael Capla hurtling into Boyle. Credit Tuch for going hard to the net and not getting called for a penalty.
BC cuts within one at 3-2
Let's start with the obvious. Kapla, a usually very reliable defenseman for Norm Bazin, coughs up the puck after retrieving it in back of his goal line. Austin Cangelosi does a decent job at pressuring him and causing the turnover. Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Fitzgerald benefits and walks in and roofs a shot, beating Boyle high and to the short side. As Craig Janney says on the telecast, it's a goal that Boyle would like to have back. Goaltenders never want to get beat short side, but he just simply didn't cover the near post and was caught leaning down and away.
All in all, it's the first game of the regular season between two NCAA Tournament teams from a year ago that were forced to replenish a lot of their lineup. Interestingly enough, the only BC defender to not be on the ice for a Lowell goal was 17 year-old freshman and 2015 NHL Draft target Noah Hanifin.
This writer is betting on Friday night being an aberration and the Eagles' defense being a lot better on most nights this season.
Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.