October 10, 2006
Postcard: Expecting the Best

By Jeff Howe

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Boston College isn’t defending any titles this year. The Eagles aren’t even returning their top scorer from a season ago. But with a wealth of experienced talent returning, the top-ranked team in the country is fully engulfed in a whirlwind of expectation.

On Tuesday night at Conte Forum, the Eagles fought off a feisty Northeastern team to open up the season with a 5-2 victory. Though a bit rusty through much of the first two periods, Boston College applied tremendous pressure on both ends of the ice to continuously stymie the Huskies and send a statement to the rest of the league.

The burly Brian Boyle, who turned down a contract from the Los Angeles Kings in July to come back to The Heights for his senior season, led the offense with two goals and two assists while sophomore Brock Bradford added a pair of tallies and one helper.

The stats don’t tell the whole story. The way the goals were scored was the impressive part. Boyle capped off a furious rush in front of the Northeastern net with a rebounder to tie the score 1-1 in the second period before Bradford finished off a tricky pass through the low slot from Joe Rooney just 40 seconds later.

Bradford unleashed an Andrew Alberts-esque slapper in the third to push the lead to 3-1, and Boyle added another nifty lamp-lighter – collecting another swift pass from Rooney and shifting from the backhand to the forehand while getting hooked from behind before scoring top-shelf – while BC was on the penalty kill.

Northeastern coach Greg Cronin saw a BC team that he believes is much improved from the group that lost in the national championship game last year.

“I think BC has a heck of a hockey team. I think they can skate. Boyle is obviously a dominant player, but those freshmen on defense from last year who are all now sophomores have that swagger and a lot of substance," Cronin said. “A year ago when we played BC, there was probably some tentativeness there, maybe a little gun shy, but those guys have grown up quickly. They play with a physical edge now that I don’t think they had last year so they’ve got a heck of a squad.”

For much of the night, goalie Cory Schneider – Boston College’s other star – wasn’t even the best goalie on the ice. That honor went to Northeastern netminder Brad Thiessen, a freshman forced to make his first career start in less-than-ideal circumstances – against the top team in the nation in its own barn.

Thiessen held his own against the relentless BC attack and made 32 saves before wearing down in the third period. Schneider made 22 saves to back a nearly flawless effort from his defense.

The stars came out, indeed, but the supporting cast grew up and may have been more impressive. No doubt, the Eagles didn’t win the national championship with one victory against Northeastern in October. But they did prove they are worthy of the lofty preseason rumblings.

Despite the expectations, hype, and everything else that the outside world is calling for the Eagles to do this year, Boyle said that hasn’t changed how his team has viewed this season in comparison to any other he has been part of.

“It’s not so much the expectations that really drive us,” he said. “We don’t say, ‘Well, people think we should win so we have to win.’ Every year you want to go out and win the national championship. You want to be the best in the country. That’s how we go about things.

“We want to be the best. We want to be the very best in the country, and we came in second last year. It didn’t feel any better than when we lost my sophomore year to North Dakota in the regionals. We didn’t win the national championship, and that was the goal. We want to win the national championship, and that’s what drives us."