College Hockey is heading toward the holidays, which means a lot of teams will play scattered games, if any, prior to the bevy of post-Christmas holiday tournaments. It's also a time of year when players who may have been otherwise ineligible, come back into the mix as the semester changes. And, with the World Junior Tournament coming up, many big teams will be losing players for some key non-conference games.
The season has been nothing if not strange so far for Boston College.
Coming off two-consecutive national championship game losses, the Eagles re-tooled and expected to be right back in the mix. The biggest question, whether freshman goalie John Muse was a capable replacement for one-time NHL first-rounder Cory Schneider, was settled early, with Muse playing well out of the gate. Muse has played every minute between the pipes this season.
Nevertheless, BC found itself sub-.500 coming into last weekend, not having won a game in November, already recording five ties, and still settling down after being embroiled in controversy -- two players have been suspended indefinitely for an incident that hasn't been fully revealed, and which led to key defenseman Brett Motherwell leaving the program for the American Hockey League.
So a home-and-home with crosstown-rival Boston University was just what the doctor ordered. With BU going through its own woes, and unable to capitalize on an emotional win at a sold-out Madison Square Garden the previous weekend, the Eagles cleaned up, winning 6-2 and 4-3.
We stick with Boston College: Ben Smith had a hat trick Saturday, and leads the team with 10 goals. The offense has been carried by Smith and Nathan Gerbe, the junior fireplug who has nine goals, including three shorthanded.
The pick here is Smith, a highly regarded sophomore who nonetheless went undrafted last summer.
Spies tell us BU junior defenseman Matt Gilroy, who was a walk-on forward before emerging as a defensive force last season for the Terriers, has already decided (as much as one can decide at this point) to leave BU after this season. That's not a big shock; Gilroy, undrafted, will be one of the most highly sought after free agents.
Another player likely to leave after this season, it seems, is New Hampshire forward James vanRiemsdyk. The freshman was the No. 2 overall selection (by Philadelphia) in last summer's NHL Draft. He has seemed, at times, to be going through the motions, despite scoring six goals so far. Here's hoping he seizes an opportunity to win a national championship in school, something he would cherish forever. He'll miss UNH's post-Christmas series with North Dakota because of his participation in the World Junior Tournament for Team USA.
Speaking of which, there were few surprises as the World Junior team was announced recently. There wasn't much controversy in the selections, although the powers that be did select Minnesota sophomore Mike Carman, despite the fact Carman is currently on team suspension over academic issues. This raised eyebrows, but ultimately, it's hard to fault USA Hockey for that selection. If Carman, a third-round pick by Colorado in 2006, were playing in Major Junior, his academics would be irrelevant anyway. Is that USA Hockey wants?
Boston University captain Brian McGuirk, who was benched last weekend, and team-leading scorer Bryan Ewing were among four players suspended indefinitely by head coach Jack Parker for violating unspecified team rules. The others are junior Brandon Yip and senior defenseman Dan McGoff.
That leaves the already-struggling Terriers without two-thirds of its top line, leaving only senior Pete MacArthur, who assumes the captain role as well. It also leaves them without four players for this weekend's league game with UMass-Lowell. The Terriers will then lose Brian Strait and Colin Wilson for the World Junior Tournament, leaving a very short roster unless things change.
Granted, without knowing the details, this -- along with the recent issues on the ice -- raises enormous red flags that hint at a coach who is no longer reaching his team. Parker is unquestionably a great, legendary coach with three national titles under his belt. But the program hasn't been to a Frozen Four since 1997, and the building of a new arena hasn't paid immediate dividends. Now these suspensions -- along with recent lackluster play and a propensity, even during good times, for maddeningly extreme swings in performance -- could be a sign of deeper issues.
It isn't the program's fault that New England youth hockey seems to be lagging well behind the west these days, and it isn't necessarily helpful to have a couple of goalies that have been poor this season trying to replace an All-America. The players take the blame here for doing whatever it is they did to draw this suspension. But you have to wonder if where there's smoke, there's fire.
Minnesota plays at North Dakota two games this weekend, Dec. 7-8. Both teams have been searching for that big breakthrough, winning one, losing one for a while -- albeit, it should be noted, against very good competition. For Minnesota, this represents a positive turnaround after a poor start, while for North Dakota, it's a negative one, after an incredible start. The games feature Hobey hopefuls and NHL prospects galore. Catch the games at the opulent Ralph Engelstad Arena, or nationally on satellite.
Adam Wodon is the Managing Editor for College Hockey News. He has covered college hockey as a writer and broadcaster for 19 years.