It’s been an up-and-down opening month to the college hockey season for Boston College.
The perennial powerhouse started off 1-1-1 before dropping four straight contests. After Tuesday’s 2-1 win over Connecticut, the Eagles are winners of three in a row and are in first place in Hockey East.
Being under 500 is something BC hasn’t been too accustomed to over the years, but the October slate of games was a grueling one, especially for a young and inexperienced team. The Eagles faced Wisconsin and Denver on home ice and had to travel to top ranked St. Cloud for a pair.
The tough early schedule and the adversity that went with it is something that head coach Jerry York hopes can benefit his team down the road.
“We’re way different now than when we played Quinnipiac, Wisconsin or St. Cloud. We’re showing great improvement. We’re gaining experience as we go through it. I feel very excited to coach this team,” said York.
While BC still has unresolved issues to contend with, an all-freshman line of left winger Christopher Grando, center Aapeli Räsänen and right wing Logan Hutsko has been a bright spot more often than not.
“That line has been outstanding for us, arguably the best line for us [Tuesday] as it has been the past few games. They’re growing and getting better,” York complimented.
While none of the three newcomers possess the elite skill of some past BC freshmen, they have consistently brought energy which has sparked their teammates. Down 3-0 at Providence last month, the line was responsible for the first goal in a 4-3 overtime victory.
On Tuesday, Hutsko hustled into the corner while killing a penalty, forcing a turnover that set up a shorthanded goal by sophomore Julius Mattila. With BC clinging to a 2-1 victory in the final minute, Grando’s forecheck pressure kept UConn hemmed in its own zone.
Hutsko, who came to BC from the U.S. NTDP, was expected to be a player that the coaching staff could count on to make plays and create offense. The Tampa, Fla. native hasn’t disappointed, notching a goal and five assists.
Räsänen, a native of Finland, is a 2016 sixth round pick of the Edmonton Oilers. He’s not flashy, but the veteran of international competition quietly goes about his business and brings the line cohesiveness. He has four assists, three of which came in the weekend sweep of Merrimack.
Grando is the pleasant surprise of the three. The Islip, N.Y. native spent the past two seasons with the Green Bay Gamblers and was projected to be a third or fourth line player who could kill penalties. He has three goals, including the game-winner in Saturday’s 2-1 win at Merrimack. While Grando’s offensive production has been welcome, he’s still played to his strengths. He flies around on the ice and is noticable on more shifts than not.
“We are a very fast line. We keep the pace up. We compliment each other and we’re gelling really well,” said Hutsko.
Due to early departures the past two seasons, the team is void of any true seniors. Defenseman Kevin Lohan, a graduate transfer from Michigan, is the only player listed on the roster as being a senior. While that might not bode well for consistent success, it has presented an opportunity that the three freshmen might not have had otherwise. Still, Grando praised captains Michael Kim, Casey Fitzgerald, and some of the team’s other veterans with setting an example for the underclassmen.
“The older guys are awesome. The leaders are great. We have a younger team, but we’ve made huge steps since the beginning of the season. It’s fun to be a part of. We want to keep proving people wrong and beating teams,” Hutsko commented.
While BC has played more league games than its nearest competitors in the Hockey East standings, being in first place is still a nice achievement for a team that was so down following a 1-5-1 start.
“We said we were turning the page. Ever since that Denver game, we’ve brought a lot more to practice. Our leaders stepped up and took charge. We’re on a totally different path and we’re working hard everyday. We’re getting better and better,” said Hutsko.
“Part of being a good team is handling tough stretches. Nobody was jumping off the boat. Everyone was just working harder today. Our mindset was pretty good through that,” York concurred.
BC has another tough test this weekend with two games in Burlington against UVM.