After a much longer offseason than Boston College hockey fans are used to, the Eagles returned to the ice on Sunday night with a 4-1 exhibition win over Canadian university St. Francis Xavier.
"It's nice to be back," said Coach Jerry York. "We've had a really good start to the season in terms of our strength and conditioning program… from A to Z on the roster, everyone seems strong and ready to go."
The biggest surprise of the evening was that goalie John Muse, coming off a successful off-season hip surgery, was able to play the first period. Muse, who was initially projected to be out until at least November, stopped 5 of 6 shots faced in his period of action.
"I was actually surprised he was ready too," said York. "But he worked really hard in the offseason and on his rehab, and he's gotten himself to the point where he's almost ready to go."
While Muse is "not 100% just yet," he will once again play the first period on Friday night when BC takes on the United States under-18 national team in their final exhibition game.
York was unsure whether or not Muse would be ready for the regular season opener on October 18 at Vermont, but was encouraged by what he saw from the other two goaltenders – sophomore Chris Venti, who stopped all four shots he faced in the second period, and freshman Parker Milner, who turned aside six shots in the third.
"The goaltending was a real strength for us on Sunday, which was good to see," he said.
Bumps and Bruises
In addition to Muse, three other BC players are currently questionable with injuries picked up in the first week.
Jimmy Hayes injured his shoulder in practice last week and was a game-time scratch on Sunday night. Freshman defenseman Pat Wey and forward Matt Price were injured during the game.
"[Hayes] and [Wey] are returning to light practice today," said York. "They should be ready for this weekend."
Price's status, on the other hand, is up in the air, as he is suffering the lingering effects of a back spasm.
"We've held him out of practice and will evaluate later in the week."
There was a scary moment in the first period on Sunday when Joe Whitney – who had a very good game skating on the same line as his freshman brother, Steve Whitney – was hammered into the end boards by St. Francis's Spencer McAvoy. Whitney was slow getting up and skated off awkwardly with an apparent equipment problem. He returned later in the game with no ill effects.
Lombardi Powers Offense In Win
The game itself was controlled by BC, who outshot St. Francis 40-16.
Senior Matt Lombardi led the way with two goals and an assist in the effort. The often unheralded grinder has spent most of his career on the third and fourth lines, but much like his former linemates Kyle Kucharski and Andrew Orpik, who graduated after last year, Lombardi looks poised to step up and add scoring balance for BC.
"It was a nice start to senior year for Matt," said York.
Lombardi opened the scoring 1:49 into the game, tapping home a beautiful diagonal feed across the front of the net from Matt Price. His second goal, which made it 3-1 in the third period, came on a great individual effort. Lombardi carried the puck past a defender, cut across the crease, and tucked a shot under the crossbar for an unassisted goal.
Tommy Cross, coming off an injury-shortened freshman season, scored BC's second goal, the game winner at 16:45 of the first. Pat Mullane got on the board with the game's final goal in the third period.
The game took on a very physical tone, and tempers were boiling over by the end of the game. The two teams combined for 96 penalty minutes, including two misconduct penalties for each team.
"It always seems to be that way when we play the Canadian universities," said York. "They're usually a little bigger, and they play with an edge. That helps us get ready physically for the season and helps us develop our self-discipline."
Young Defensive Corps Passes First Test
19 of BC's 26 roster players this season are freshmen or sophomores. This youth is particularly stark on the blue line, where BC has just one upperclassman, senior Carl Sneep. BC's opening day lineup is likely to include four freshman defensemen – Wey, Brian Dumoulin, Philip Samuelsson, and Patrick Alber.
"We've got a bunch of young guys, and they're very excited to get out there," said York. "They're really talented players, and hopefully they improve as the year goes on."
"I thought our defense did well on Sunday. We limited their grade-A chances and didn't allow too many shots."
Dumoulin, rated as BC's best incoming defender by Inside College Hockey, looked particularly speedy, getting back to break up odd-man rushes and playing on the first defensive pair with Sneep.
BC's next and last exhibition is Friday night at home against the US U-18 team. The last time BC hosted the U-18s, in 2006, the Eagles won 5-4 in overtime. A young Jimmy Hayes set up the game-tying goal for the U18s, while future UNH player James vanRiemsdyk potted two goals. Current BU defender Kevin Shattenkirk added two assists.
"It's always fun to see some of the best young players in the country come in," said York. "They're a fantastic group of young players. It'll be a good chance for us to play all three goalies, and another chance to play a few more forwards and see how we look."
While much of the country opens up this weekend, BC's first regular season game is not until October 18 at Vermont. York feels that the late start is an advantage for his young team as they continue to gel in practice.
"It helps us a little bit to get things together and start a little later," he said. "And opening up on the road, at Vermont, and at Notre Dame, in front of hostile crowds – it will get us ready to be road warriors right off the bat."
Men's Hockey Notes
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