Friday, December 17, 2010

Hockey East Midseason Team Reports: Boston College

Starting on New Year’s Eve, fastidious red light junkies residing around Chestnut Hill can certainly look forward to more offensive dolphin shows from the otherworldly Kelli Stack. More critically, from a team-first angle, the Boston College faithful can take confidence in the exponential improvement of their many young guns in Part II of the 2010-11 campaign.

But above those imperative elements, so long as the 11-2-4 Eagles have Star-Spangled senior goaltender Molly Schaus on duty, their blizzard of wins doesn’t show signs of stopping.

The Eagles’ only winless streak this season, a rather trifling 0-1-2 skid at that, coincided with Schaus’ three-game absence due to her international engagement at the Four Nations Cup. (They also happened to be missing reliable rookie blueliner Meagan Mangene for the same reason.) Backup Kiera Kingston allowed a cumulative 10 goals in those three games.

The rest of the time, BC has authorized a mere 20 opposing strikes in 14 contests. Schaus, the league leader in both goals-against average (1.37) and save percentage (.940), has conceded three opposing goals in only two appearances and stamped three shutouts. And with fellow U.S. Olympian Stack compensating Miss Zero’s effort, the Eagles have claimed eight of their 11 victories by a three-goal margin or greater, the most vocal being a 6-3 whiplash on host Boston University Nov. 20.

Stack has almost literally made all of the difference each night. In nine wins so far, her point total on the scoresheet either matched or exceeded the final margin on the scoreboard. But there is hardly cause for concern that she is a one-woman show.

Junior Mary Restuccia is No. 7 among Hockey Easterners with 19 points. She is in a five-way tie for second place among playmakers with 13 assists. Like Restuccia, Danielle Welch has recovered from a minor sophomore dip in productivity and established herself as a sound playmaker herself, nailing nine assists for 12 points this year.

Taylor Wasylk is second among all of the league’s freshman scorers with a sound 9-7-16 transcript. Fellow rookie Melissa Bizarri has sprinkled an irreproachable six goals and 13 points and, dating back to a four-game dry spell in October, has never been held scoreless in consecutive outings.

Beneath that, everyone else has yet to grab herself any more than three goals on the year. BC is thus advised to dig for a better depth insurance policy between now and the postseason. Sophomores Ashley Motherwell and Caitlin Walsh, in particular, could stand to pinch up their productivity rate.

But the necessary time, resources, and willpower all appear to be there. And even right now at the break, the Eagles’ strike force does rank second in the league and sixth in the nation (3.35 goals per game), trailing only the volcanic Terriers (3.79).

On the other side of the puck, they boast the league’s No. 1 defense (1.76 goals against per game). Surprise, surprise, BU is right behind them in that category (1.84), owing in large part to the punctual acclimation of rookie stopper Kerrin Sperry.

The Terriers still have a decisive upper hand on both sides of the special teams’ spectrum, and the Eagles’ power play did go arid for the duration of its four most recent games, spilling 16 straight opportunities. But odds are improvement will come with the continued fostering of rookies Bizzari, Danielle Doherty, Mangene, and Wasylk. Likewise, their best bet to spruce up the penalty kill would be to simply cut down on their nightly median of 11.3 minutes spent in the bin.

Come what may, BC’s first half went precisely as they should have asked. They entered a decisive, almost undisputed choice to finish second in the league behind the defender champion Terriers. Now, with a one-point lead on BU for first place and an equal number of league games yet to come (12), Katie King’s pupils have drawn a stalemate in the minds of the puck prophets.

Since at least late in the summer, it was virtually common knowledge that the road to the 2011 Hockey East pennant would go through Commonwealth Avenue. But now, one must ask to specify the street address, a question to be answered when the regular season ice chips settle Feb. 20.

Al Daniel is the Hockey East correspondent to Beyond the Dashers

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