Bob Herpen: BC-BU beyond Eichel-Hanifin; Philly getting better PSU-Vermont matchup


The second and final appetizer before the anticipated Beanpot main course took place at Agganis Arena on Friday night, and in the “battle” between twin undrafteds Jack Eichel and Noah Hanifin, neither player fulfilled a role as a star or a difference maker in Boston College’s 4-2 victory over Boston University.

As in the first meeting, BU’s 5-3 decision over BC at Conte Forum back in November, Eichel was not the prime mover, nor was he the standout player on the Terriers or even on his own line.

In this home loss, he was limited to an assist but maintained his position at the top of the Hockey East scoring ledger with 24 points (7G, 17A) in just 12 games.

For the victorious Eagles, it was a drafted player who led the charge and gained the most notice. Alex Tuch, a freshman who was snapped up by the Minnesota Wild 18th overall this past June, notched his first career multi-goal effort and added an assist to post a career-best three points. He registered a 4-on-4 goal which gave BC a 2-0 edge late in the first period, then broke the game open on his 5-on-3 marker at 13:23 of the second period — a tally which was crucial since the hosts mounted a comeback and pulled within 3-2.

Danny O’Regan, who leads all players in the conference with 12 goals, began the charge early in the third period before Matt Lane tallied with 3:23 left. All hopes of the Terriers tying the contest were dashed after Zach Sanford hit the empty net with 33 seconds on the clock.

It was a bitter defeat for Matt O’Connor, who largely withstood a barrage and stopped 37 shots in the loss, a performance only bettered by his 38-save effort against Michigan in a late October 3-2 win.

Hanifin did end up with a goal, the first of the game just 6:41 after the opening puck drop, and he also assisted on Tuch’s even-strength marker. But for a player touted in some circles as the third-best undrafted player eligible this coming June, the rookie blueliner is pedestrian by comparison barely halfway through his first collegiate campaign.

For those looking at McDavid-Eichel-Hanifin as the top three candidates to go 1-2-3 in the 2015 draft, it’s clear you are among the legion who view college hockey through the prism of a player’s worth to an NHL team. However, for those of us who view college hockey players on their own turf, rankings such as this often appear arbitrary.

In Hanifin’s case, speaking as a long-time D-I follower and Boston College alum, he’s not even the third-best defenseman on BC’s roster. The primary honor most likely goes to the now rested-and-recovered Steve Santini, a puck mover and key to the Eagles’ power play. The second-best Eagle d-man might be junior Teddy Doherty who leads all defensemen on the Eagles with 16 points, and a plus-17 rating.

On Hanifin’s goal, the color commentator falls all over himself to call him a “Duncan Keith type of player.” Talk about undue pressure on a kid who won’t turn 18 until next Sunday.

Yet, it was Tuch who kept the action alive, maintaining possession to turn around a broken play and acting as pivot so that his teammate could unload the successful shot.

Likewise, Eichel may just run away with Hockey East Rookie of the Year honors. Yet, as of Saturday, an unknown named Spencer Naas of UConn was tied with Eichel for the most goals by a freshman player. Eichel, who has neither the height nor weight nor maturity to help an NHL club even two years out, in reality has taken a back seat to his linemates O’Regan and Evan Rodrigues — who are ranked #2 and #3 in conference scoring at present with 19 and 14 points, respectively — as far as the key rivalry in Boston is concerned.

In any event, the win pushed Boston College’s national-best unbeaten string to eight games (6-0-2), and upped its record on Boston University’s new home rink to 4-1-0 over the last four seasons.

With the influx of new programs to the conference, these Commonwealth Avenue rivals have already finished their regular-season series. Their next meeting before the postseason would occur on Feb. 9 at TD Garden in the Beanpot final, as BC is paired up with Northeastern and BU draws Harvard in the opening round, as it is every three years in the rotation.

And wouldn’t it be something if bragging rights for the city came down to the second Monday in February, with the Terriers having to prevent the Eagles from matching their esteemed record of six consecutive Beanpot titles? All the hyperbolic vultures swooping in from the NHL would have a field day trying to top themselves and each other in describing the magnitude as players on either side nowhere close to the radar would most likely end up as difference makers. Third Time’s a Charm

The first two editions of the Philadelphia College Hockey Faceoff featured Penn State and Vermont teams who, frankly, weren’t worthy of much notice beyond the fact that PSU has thousands of alums in the Delaware Valley and the Catamounts featured the son of a prominent member of the Flyers’ corporate front office structure.

Both contests were sparsely attended, something which painfully stuck out in an NHL-sized venue capable of holding up to 20,000 spectators.

Conversely, the 2015 edition of this “tradition” will no doubt feature two teams performing at their absolute respective peaks. Guy Gadowsky’s Nittany Lions managed to crack the national rankings for the first time ever in the final poll of the Fall semester, and are giving Michigan a run for the money to claim the Big Ten crown, while the former collegiate home of Martin St. Louis has been hovering in the middle of the national pack for weeks and hovering at the top of Hockey East for the balance of the season.

Buoyed by this current stretch of 11 consecutive games in friendly environs –- including eight in a row at Pegula Ice Arena, Penn State has gone unbeaten in its last three games and won a weekend series with Michigan State.

Friday’s opener saw David Goodwin score with 7:49 left in regulation to salvage a 2-2 tie, and the Spartans went home disappointed on Saturday, seeing a 2-1 lead evaporate into a 5-2 loss thanks to second-period goals from Goodwin and Nate Jensen and third-period strikes by Taylor Holstrom and Casey Bailey. That win sent the Nits to the top of the conference with a 5-2-1 record (11-7-3 overall), one point better than the high-octane Wolverines. The program ranked 11th overall in offense humming at 3.33 goals-per-game hosts Northern Michigan for a pair next week in advance of a trip to Philly.

On the other side of the coin is Vermont, which stumbled a bit at Gutterson over the weekend, losing a two-game set against second-division Northeastern.

Despite a 2-2 tie and 4-1 loss, Kevin Sneddon’s charges rank third in the conference with a 7-4-1 record and 15-6-2 mark overall. That defeat on Friday marked the first time all season the Green Machine allowed more than three goals in any one contest either in or out of conference.

Sophomore netminder Mike Santaguida’s key stats took a bit of a hit as a result. Entering play, he led the entire country with a 1.22 goals-against average but it ballooned to a still phenomenal 1.51while his .944 save percentage kept him in second place nationally. Nonetheless, Vermont’s team defense remained steady at third in the country, though now clicking at a rate of 1.78 goals-per-contest. The Western-most program in Hockey East will welcome Boston University to Burlington twice this weekend before arriving in Philadelphia. At the Vanguard

Every single one of 30 National Hockey League teams features more than one player on its roster who plied his trade in American college hockey –- and that’s an excellent sign for a mode of competition still trying to make a dent in importance weighed against the behemoth that is the Canadian Hockey League and the junior system.

What was surprising were the three teams at the top of the list which possess more than 10 players who have passed through the D-I system en route to the pros: Minnesota, the New York Rangers and Columbus.

The Wild, who have taken up the mantle for the North Stars in the State of Hockey, boast 12 college products from five different countries: Thomas Vanek (Austria), Christian Folin (Sweden), Justin Fontaine (Canada), Erik Haula (Finland), along with Keith Ballard, John Curry, Nate Prosser, Ryan Suter, Ryan Carter, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise, and Jason Zucker from the United States.

The clubs on the lowest rung of the college ladder? Arizona, Montreal and Philadelphia, each with three players.

The Orange and Black claim only Matt Read (Bemidji State), R.J. Umberger (Ohio State) and Chris VandeVelde (UND). To be fair, the Flyers have an AHL roster replete with the best college player of last season (Shayne Gostisbehere of Union College) as well as Andrew Gordon and Oliver Lauridsen (St. Cloud State), Darroll Powe (Princeton), Brett Hextall (North Dakota), Mark Alt (Minnesota), Jay Rosehill (Minnesota-Duluth), Kevin Goumas (New Hampshire) and Anthony Stolarz (Nebraska-Omaha).

All told, there are 305 former D-I players under contract to NHL clubs, accounting for 31 percent of all skaters and goaltenders who have suited up at the highest level of hockey in North America this year. For a complete infographic breakdown, visit College Hockey Inc. Follow along at @pelle31lives

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