By Joe Connor
Hold your commentary, please, because Nelson’s Isaac MacLeod isn’t interested in hearing about any comparisons between last year’s championship Boston College hockey team and this year’s club.
“This is a completely new team,” said MacLeod, a junior defenseman. “We’re trying to create something new.”
That may be the case, but the Eagles are once again ranked No. 1 in U.S. college hockey and stand alone atop the highly-competitive Hockey East Conference, which has won eight national titles in the past 20 years.
MacLeod has led BC through some of its toughest tests so far, including victories over top 10 opponents, Notre Dame and Dartmouth, plus winning two of three against arch-rival and top 10 ranked, Boston University (BU). A year ago, Boston College lost two of three to BU, including a 5-0 drubbing on home ice. The two rivals are both located off Commonwealth Avenue in the heart of Boston and are separated by just five kilometers.
“A lot of other teams talk about rivalries, but BU is our biggest rival,” MacLeod explained. “All of our games are really intense.”
Thanks to its two wins over the Terriers, Boston College currently has a two-point lead atop Hockey East. But MacLeod can look to last year as guidance on the importance of not getting too comfortable. The Eagles sputtered in January a year ago, including surrendering 11 goals during a two-game sweep at Maine.
“(Maine’s) the toughest place to play in college hockey,” MacLeod explained. “The fans are right on top of you. It’s hard to hear yourself think.”
Boston College will re-visit Maine this January and figure to leave with two wins as the Black Bears are last in Hockey East and are in rebuilding mode. The other big difference from a year ago?
Try the leadership role of the 6-foot-5-inch, 214-pounder who shoots left.
“[Isaac’s] shown an increased leadership role as he has matured as a person and as a player within our program,” said Boston College coach Jerry York, who has the most wins in the history of Division I U.S. college hockey. “[His] game has stepped up to new levels in all facets of play – offense, defense and special teams.”
Added MacLeod: “I’ve gotten quite a bit more ice time and they seem to have confidence in me now in four-on-four situations and on the penalty kill.”
York recruited MacLeod out of the British Columbia Hockey League where he posted 23 assists in 56 games for the Penticton Vees in 2009-10. The prior year, he led the Nelson Junior Leafs of the Kootenay International Junior Hockey League to the regular season and playoff championships, posting six goals and 18 assists.
But MacLeod’s introduction to US college hockey was no picnic. For the first time in his career, he often was a healthy scratch from the lineup and also struggled to campus life, including academically.
“It was pretty stressful. I’d never been a healthy scratch before and that was an adjustment for me. I didn’t have that much success in hockey,” MacLeod explained. “And my school work was demanding. BC is a long way from Nelson. I had to find my way.”
Fast-forward two years later and MacLeod has found his way alright, both on the ice and in the classroom where he boasts a 3.48 GPA (on a 4.0 scale), majoring in economics and marketing. He is slated to graduate on time in the spring of 2014 where, and of now, expects to return for his senior season. The NHL’s San Jose Sharks hold MacLeod’s rights, having drafted him in the fifth round of the 2010 Entry Draft.
“I think he has made the biggest improvement of all our players from last year to this year,” York said. “His compete level has improved and his strength continues to grow.”
MacLeod knows the rest of the season slate won’t be easy. BC will face currently-ranked No. 2 ranked New Hampshire twice in February and battle No. 4 Minnesota before the calendar even strikes 2013.
BC is also trying to become the first NCAA Division I college hockey team to repeat as champions since the University of Denver won back-to-back titles in 2004-2005 and 2005-2006. If BC accomplishes the feat, it would be the first time an Eagles team has won consecutive crowns in the program’s storied history that includes five titles, including three in the previous five campaigns.
“It would be phenomenal,” MacLeod said. “Our focus here every year is to compete for a national championship.”
Joe Connor is a freelance sports writer. You can visit him online at www.mrsportstravel.com