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Boston College-Union Frozen Four Preview

By Christopher Mason, CBS Boston
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Boston College's Johnny Gaudreau (Photo by  J. Meric/Getty Images)

Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

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BOSTON (CBS) - Another Boston area team is closing in on a national title, as the No. 2-ranked (RPI) Boston College Eagles have made it to the NCAA Frozen Four. They’ll be taking on Union College on Thursday at 5 p.m. in semifinal action. Don’t worry, if you haven’t been keeping a close eye on college hockey this season, we’ve got you covered.

How They Got Here

After being upset by Notre Dame in the Hockey East Tournament, Boston College rebounded with a strong opening round performance against no. 21 Denver, knocking them off by a score of 6-2. Johnny Gaudreau stole the show, getting his first hat trick of the season and adding three assists for a dominant six-point evening.

From there the Eagles retook their place atop the conference throne, sending Hockey East Tournament winners, no. 6 Umass Lowell, packing in the quarterfinals. Boston College won 4-3, with freshman defenseman Ian McCoshen breaking a 3-3 tie with 8:44 remaining in the third period to give the Eagles the victory. The top line factored in on nine of BC’s 10 goals in the first two rounds.

Who to watch: Johnny Gaudreau and the first line

“Johnny Hockey” is the front-runner to win the Hobey Baker Award, and the 20-year old forward plays left wing on an electric top line for the Eagles. Gaudreau is averaging almost two points per contest this season, racking up 35 goals and 42 assists in only 39 games.

Gaudreau and linemates Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold finished first, second, and third respectively in Hockey East points this season, all averaging over 1.3 per contest. They’re the veteran presence on the offensive end, as Gaudreau, a junior, plays on the line with two seniors. The Eagles are currently first in the country in goals per game thanks to the production from this line, and their chemistry figures to be a factor moving forward.

Greatest Strengths: Talent/Coaching

The Eagles boast what may be the most talented team in the tournament, thanks in part to their superior top level talent. The first line has already been gushed about at length, but their defensive corps has been strong as well this season, with five skilled underclassmen earning spots over elder competition. In Hockey East contests, the Eagles finished first in goals scored, and tied for first for fewest goals allowed, by all measures dominating their competition. They’ve averaging over four goals per game, and nobody else in the country is even close to that number.

The man who is responsible for streamlining this talent can be found behind the Eagles bench. Coach Jerry York is a living legend, and for good reason. The man in his 20th season coaching for Boston College has accrued 963 wins throughout his illustrious career in collegiate hockey. The five-time NCAA champion has been to the Frozen Four finals five times in the last eight seasons, and obviously has a formula that’s working.

Potential Weakness: Defensive Inexperience/Single Elimination

The Eagles are a perennial Frozen Four attendee, however this year’s club is younger than most in season’s past. They’ll be riding first-year goaltender Thatcher Demko, and five of their top six defensemen are either freshmen or sophomores, as Sharks prospect Issac MacLeod is the only upperclassman in the group. Inexperience seemed to hurt them in the Hockey East Tournament, where they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Notre Dame.

If Union finds a way to shut down the Eagles’ top line, or expose their young defensemen, the Eagles won’t have much time to adjust as the tournament is single elimination. If they lose on Thursday, there is no Friday to bounce back with a changed strategy repositioning their abundance of talent. The loser-goes-home set up isn’t ideal for a team that’s as gifted as Boston College. Take the 2007 New England Patriots as an example. They were undoubtedly a more talented team than their competitors, but in a single-elimination playoff, anything fluky can happen.

Fun Fact: The Eagles have the best record in the country on neutral ice, coming in at a perfect 5-0-0.

About The Opponent: Union College

Union is not a slouch by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, the No. 3 (RPI) Dutchmen come in ranked higher than the Eagles in two other polls, finishing second in the USA Today rankings, and first in the USCHO.com poll.

The Dutchmen are a remarkably well-rounded team, as they are among the top in the nation in team offensive, defensive and goaltending categories. However, their statistics may be a bit inflated due to playing inferior competition as a part of the ECAC Conference.

How They Got Here

The Dutchmen come in riding a 10-game winning streak after cake-walking to an ECAC championship. Union’s closest contest in that tournament was a 4-2 victory in the Quarterfinals.

In the NCAA tournament they have knocked off two Hockey East clubs. In the first round they downed No. 13 Vermont 5-2, and then defeated No. 11 Providence 3-1 in their next contest. Both they and Boston College are No. 1 seeds in the Tournament, and this appears to be their toughest matchup since falling to Quinnipiac in early January.

Who to watch for: Goaltender Colin Stevens

Stevens has had an outstanding season between the pipes for the Dutchmen. The Junior boasts a record of 26-4-2, with a GAA of 1.93 and a save percentage of .932. The matchup of the Eagles’ first line against this stellar netminder should be a fun one to watch, as the proverbial unstoppable force will be taking on the immovable object.

 Greatest Strengths: Defense/Goal Scoring

Shayne Gostisbehere is one of the best defensemen in the NCAA. The Flyers prospect finished the season with eight goals, 21 assists, and a team best plus-28 ranking in 40 games. He’s joined on the blue line by senior Max Bodie and junior Charlie Vasaturo, who have blocked 57 shots apiece this season. They’re fourth in the country in team defense.

The Dutchmen trail only Boston College in goals per game, and have posted a gaudy shooting percentage of over 11 percent in 2013-14. That means if they’re putting their standard 33 shots per game on net, they’ve been having a lot of success in the offensive end.

Biggest Potential Weaknesses: Schedule/Lack of Adversity

The Dutchmen are members of the ECAC, and they can’t be faulted for winning games that should be won. But with that being said, they’ve only played a top-10 team in RPI rankings once since the calendar hit January, and that was a 2-1 loss to Quinnipiac three months ago. Comparatively, Boston College has taken on top-10 opponents 11 times this season, including seven times in the last two months.

With this inferior competition comes a lack of adversity. Union has been able to coast through its season given the talent on the roster, and they haven’t had to play a team of Boston College’s caliber. The Eagles have gotten knocked down this season, and have been able to hop back up and brush themselves off. They know how to regain their composure. It’s unknown how the Dutchmen will respond in Thursday’s tilt if they fall behind early, because quite simply, that hasn’t happened in months.

Fun Fact: Union is the only team in the nation with 13 wins at home and on the road.

BOLD PREDICTION

4-3 Boston College

With the NCAA’s top two offenses meeting, expect some fireworks.

Player of the game:  Kevin Hayes (two goals, including the third-period winner).

Christopher Mason is an intern at 98.5 The Sports Hub.

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