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Hockey East Weekend Preview: November 6-8, 2015

Matt Dewkett

Over the years, Boston College has been known for its skilled players. The Eagles have sent more players to the NHL under Jerry York's tenure than any other program in the nation.

This year is no different with 12 NHL Draft picks on the current roster, but there's an even greater mindset that is seemingly benefiting BC during the first month of the season. The Eagles are thin in terms of overall bodies on the roster, but all four forward lines are contributing.

It's more than just finding the score sheet. BC's second goal against UMass on Tuesday night was a perfect example of doing the little things well. J.D. Dudek makes a great play, bodying a UMass defender right off the puck. It allows Chris Brown to swoop in and carry the puck behind the net and dish it out to an open Travis Jeke for an easy goal.

This is one of those factors that's hard to find proof in numbers, but this year's version of the Eagles appear to be a more blue collar group. There is still an abundance of talent, but BC seems to be a team with a mixture of youthful energy, grittiness, physicality and experience all mashed together.

Speaking of energy, grittiness and experience, freshman Miles Wood has been a player that has embodied all three of those traits in the early part of the season. His speed in puck pursuit and his tenaciousness makes him a dangerous threat for the opposition each shift. He's a '95 who comes to BC with a little more experience than the typical rookie at The Heights, and it has shown.

An elite goaltender is certainly an important part of the equation. Junior Thatcher Demko looks smooth and in control between the pipes. The Vancouver Canucks prospect has posted shutouts in four of the past five games. He has a goals against average of 0.86 with a save percentage of .964.

"Thatcher, of course, had a very strong night in goal," York said after Tuesday's game. "He just looks so much more confident this year. He's playing his angles better, his glove's better. You can really build a hockey team from the goal out, and I think we've got a great goaltender."

Answering the Call

After the conclusion of last season, University of New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile spoke with a few players about needing to step up their games and make up for the loss of some key offensive producers. Two of those players, Tyler Kelleher and Andrew Poturalski, have answered the call and then some, at least in the early going.

"Coach definitely told us at the beginning of the year that we needed to replace [the scorers that left]. They were a huge part of our team last year, but we knew we could step up and fill that role. We worked hard this off-season.

Kelleher has three goals and 10 assists while Poturalski has five markers and seven assists, including two tallies in last Saturday's win at Merrimack. The third player on the line, Dan Correale, has five goals and two assists.

"All three of us work hard together. We love playing with each other. It's translating the past couple of weeks. We move the puck well and see each other out there. Things are clicking right now," said Poturalski.

Kelleher has been terrific creating time and space for his linemates and using his vision to find them open and in good scoring areas.

"We see the ice well. We all make plays in the offensive zone. We play a fast pace game. The chemistry has been really good," Poturalski, a Williamsville, NY native, explained.

"They're real clever. They can see each other. They're very dangerous on the ice," added UNH coach Dick Umile.

The Wildcats, winners of two straight big road games over Union and Merrimack after an 0-2-1 stretch, will look to continue the positive momentum this weekend. The two games against Michigan State in East Lansing are the fourth and fifth games of a season-long six game road trip.

Babcock a Warrior

At the 2015 Hockey East Preseason Media Luncheon, Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy spoke endearingly of a quality that freshman Mike Babcock already possessed. He described him as having a Warrior mentality.

It didn't take long to realize what Dennehy meant by this comment. While Babcock doesn't have the elite offensive skill that scouts can pick apart, he has several intangibles that have made him a key contributor to Merrimack's early season success.

"He's really learning on face-offs. He's such a dogged worker. I don't know if anyone outworks him on the ice," explained Dennehy.

He's fast, he's quick and he's relentless. Whether it's killing a penalty, forechecking or just pursuing loose pucks, Babcock does it all with intensity and determination. He credits his parents, including father Mike, the head coach of the Toronto Maple Leafs, with his work ethic.

"My parents molded me to who they thought I should be. Hard work was always the only option in my house. I wanted to make sure, if you're not the most skilled guy, that you can always be the hardest work," said Babcock.

Babcock, who battled injuries throughout his junior hockey career, was finally rewarded on the score sheet for his efforts away from the puck. He scored his first collegiate in the Warriors' 5-1 win at Bentley on Wednesday night.

"I thought he played well. It was nice to see him rewarded with a goal. Even before the goal, I thought he played hard and was effective," said Dennehy.

Babcock might be his own harshest critic, taking blame for the lone Falcons score of the game, even though it was a heady play that just didn't work out.

"I thought the play he made on [Bentley's] goal where he bumped it to Kolquist was a pretty good play. I thought it was a hockey play. He's kicking himself for that," said Dennehy.

Walman on Fire

Tied for the national lead in goal scoring, Jake Walman is off to quite a start in his sophomore season. The St. Louis Blues draft pick has seven goals on the season after lighting the lamp four times over the weekend against Colgate, including Friday's hat trick.

Walman has been absolutely dynamic, acting as a catalyst and pivot for the power play to go through. He has 32 shots on goal and countless other attempts. He's certainly playing himself into a guaranteed spot on the World Junior Championship team.

Return of the Captain

Boston University senior defenseman Matt Grzelcyk will return to the lineup for Friday night's game with Northeastern, head coach David Quinn told The Boston Hockey Blog.

The Bruins prospect missed BU's first six games recovering from offseason knee surgery and will provide a big boost to a Terrier back line that features three other NHL draft picks.

BU lost at UConn and Merrimack last week, but senior Ahti Oksanen scored his first two goals of the season in last Saturday's bounce-back effort - a 5-4 overtime win over Denver.

Northeastern has not put all the pieces together at this point in the season, but its 240 shots on goal are seventh most in the country for teams through seven games. On the flip side, the Huskies have scored just 13 goals and are 0-5-1 in their last six games since a win over Colgate on Oct. 10.

Hawks Fly to Burlington

UMass Lowell looks to continue its strong start in Vermont this weekend after suffering its first loss of the season to open a split series last Friday at Minnesota-Duluth. The River Hawks have just one loss through their first seven games for just the fifth time as a Division 1 program.

This weekend's series features a strong battle in net as UML senior Kevin Boyle and Vermont junior Mike Santaguida have been tested for more saves than any other goaltenders in Hockey East with 185 apiece.

Irish Riding High

Notre Dame carries a four-game unbeaten streak into a big home pair with Minnesota. Irish senior Mario Lucia is set to play opposite his father Don's team for the fourth straight year, and has scored two goals and an assist in five career games against the Gophers.

The Irish enter the series having killed off 21 consecutive opponent power plays, including all nine of UConn's last weekend.