With their win over Merrimack on Saturday night, the Eagles improved to 6-3-1 on the young season and most importantly ran their conference record to 5-1-1. They sit in second place in Hockey East only 2 points behind both UNH and Providence with 2 games in hand on both. The even better news is that the young Eagles have beaten both of those opponents so far this season. Granted, there is a long way to go in the season, but very little seems to have changed around the Heights.
That is certainly not to imply there have not been ups and down for the team, but that was to be expected. The Eagles have been inconsistent at times in all facets of the game, but they have also been able to put together long stretches of good play that have given them their 6-3-1 record.
The newcomers have had an instant impact in trying to fill the void left by last year's graduates. One of the strongest lines for the Eagles consists of 2 freshmen and a sophomore. Dan Bertram, Brock Bradford and Nathan Gerbe have accounted for 4 of the 6 game-winning tallies so far this season. Bertram and Bradford, of course, know each other well from 2004 Under-18 Junior World Cup in Slovakia where they helped lead Team Canada to the gold medal. Gerbe has fit in well with Bertram and Bradford and have teamed to create a very formidable line.
The blue liners have also been impacted by the young blood. The Eagles have skated with four freshman on defense for the majority of the year. Brett Motherwell, Tim Kunes, Tim Filangieri and Anthony Aiello have helped anchor the defense along with Captain Peter Harrold and Mike Brennan. The defense is not quite where it was last year with current Boston Bruin Andrew Alberts leading the defense, but the current Eagles rank 3rd among Hockey East teams in goals allowed per game. They have also shown an ability to get offensive as well. Filangieri scored his first and second goals of his career in the 3-0 win over Merrimack.
Although the freshmen have done a nice job to this point, a lot of responsibility has fallen on the upperclassmen to help shoulder the load. Nobody carries more of that responsibility than goaltender Cory Schneider. Schneider's play has been solid to this point, though not spectacular. Schneider has struggled at times behind a young defense, but seems to look more comfortable with each game.
When there is a lot of youth on a team, the seniors are usually looked to for leadership. Harrold and assistant captains Chris Collins and Stephen Gionta have provided that so far this year. Harrold has done his part by solidifying the blue line while both Collins and Gionta have brought different things to the table.
While Gionta has yet to find the back of the net, it certainly does not mean he has not been effective this year. Gionta has made a career of doing the little things. He blocks shots, kills penalties, throws around his body and creates chances for his teammates. Gionta is tied for 10th in Hockey East in plus/minus at +5 and has registered 5 assists so far this year.
Collins has emerged as the go-to scorer on the team. His team-leading 9 goals is far and away the most on the team, five ahead of Bradford and Gerbe. What may be more impressive is Collins' play on special teams, where he has 3 shorthanded goals to go along with his 3 power play tallies. His three shorthanded goals have him leading the nation in that category.
Special teams have been a major issue for this team, despite Collins' strong play. They rank near the bottom of the league in penalty minutes per game as well as in penalty kill and power play percentage. The Eagles are averaging 22.3 minutes per game in penalties, while their penalty kill percentage is ranked 52 out of 59 Division 1 teams and their power play is ranked 50 out of 59. Those are numbers that must improve if the Eagles are going to seriously contend.
The time is now for the Eagles as they head into a weekend showdown with Comm Ave rival Boston University with a home and home series. BU has struggled to start the year, but hang onto a #20 ranking in the USCHO poll despite a losing record at 4-5-2. That does not mean it will be an easier for the Eagles as the battle of Comm Ave is always just that.
The puck drops at 8 this Friday at Kelley Rink.