When Boston College was rolling to the 2012 NCAA championship, it was playing like a well-oiled machine in winning its final 19 games of the season.
One of the question marks heading into this season was how the team would replace the contributions of defensemen Tommy Cross, Brian Dumoulin, and Edwin Shea.
Coach Jerry York and his staff have relied on youngsters to fill the void on the blue line, dressing three freshmen for all 14 games in the first semester: Michael Matheson, Teddy Doherty, and Colin Sullivan, who have complemented seniors Patrick Wey and Patch Alber and junior Isaac MacLeod.
Matheson, a first-round draft pick (No. 23 overall) by Florida in the 2012 NHL draft, is the top-scoring defenseman on the Eagles with four goals and six assists. Matheson, who turns 19 Feb. 27, is playing with poise well beyond his years.
“As far as hockey, it just seems like he’s got terrific skating to start with, which helps his whole game,’’ said York. “He handles pucks well, he moves pucks well, but it’s all based on his skating ability, which is excellent.
‘We thought he was going to be a good player but he has impacted our team earlier in his career than I thought he might. It’s been very good to see from the bench.’
“What has impressed us most is how he has fit right in as a first-year guy on the power play and regular shifts. He has not replaced Brian Dumoulin or Tommy Cross, but there was a lot of ice time available and he has jumped right in there and been a major impact for us.’’
York said there are similarities between Matheson and Chris Kreider, who was a standout last year.
“He is powerful like Chris Kreider with his skating, so it enables him to close quickly and he’s got great balance and edge control in the corners,’’ said York. “Skating is the base of his game now, just like it was with Chris Kreider. He’s improving his defensive play and his reads offensively and he’s a welcome addition.’’
York said Matheson has contributed more than was expected.
“We thought he was going to be a good player but he has impacted our team earlier in his career than I thought he might,’’ said York. “It’s been very good to see from the bench.’’
Wey said Matheson’s mobility has aided his play in all three zones.
“He’s a great skater,’’ said Wey. “He can do a lot with his legs and he’s really strong on his skates. He’s able to be strong in one-on-one rushes and playing people in the corners because he’s so mobile and he’s so strong.
“He’s definitely a force to play against. Offensively, his skating really helps him. He can rush the puck up well. He has really good vision with the puck, too. I’ve noticed at the point he is able to find people at the back door and move the puck well. He’s got a really hard shot and a good one-timer and a good slap shot and wrist shot.
“He’s a great all-around player. He communicates well and he has leadership qualities. He’s the whole package. He’s humble and he sort of has this air about him. He’s very professional and is a very mature kid for his age.’’
Wey saw Matheson’s potential before the season, when the Eagles skated together during captains practices.
“I think everyone suspected he was capable of the way he’s been playing, but the way he has jumped out and been able to do it consistently in games is definitely surprising,’’ said Wey. “It’s a testament to how mature he is and how hard he works. He’s got a lot of confidence, and that definitely helps.’’
Matheson realized how much he enjoyed being a member of the Eagles when he returned home to Pointe Claire, Quebec, for the break.
“It’s been pretty special so far,’’ said Matheson. “Every single time that I’ve been asked [at home] how it’s been and all that, it’s made me realize how much fun I’ve really had and how special it’s been over this past few months.
“To see how close I’ve gotten with all my teammates in such a short period of time, I kind of realized that when I was back home. That’s something I haven’t been a part of, really.
“I’ve obviously been really close to guys on my team through my years of playing but never this close this quickly. I owe that to all the captains and the rest of the upperclassmen and the coaches as well for creating an environment where everyone is one team.”
One person with whom Matheson has grown close is captain Pat Mullane.
“There have been many times where, for example, I’ll be talking to Pat Mullane and he’ll say, ‘Do you want to come over and hang out?’ ” said Matheson. “I know for a fact that there aren’t many teams around where seniors are asking freshmen to come and hang out for a little while.
“To be able to be that close off the ice, it really grows when you’re on the ice, too.’’
Matheson said the transition to college has been smooth so far. He credits his education at John Rennie High School with giving him a solid foundation in terms of budgeting his time and being disciplined.
“I learned those types of things at a young age,’’ said Matheson. “In Quebec, our high school system is different. It’s Grade 7 to 11. So I’ve been doing that since I’ve been 13. I graduated in Grade 11 and then went to the USHL.’’
He said that discipline has carried him through the first semester, and he feels healthy and fit.
“I had to manage my time and when I ate,’’ he said. “Just little things like that have helped. I haven’t gotten sick since I’ve gotten to BC and I haven’t gotten burned out, so those high school years really helped me.’’
One thing Matheson has avoided so far is being the target of notorious prankster Parker Milner, BC’s senior goaltender.
“Brooks Dyroff has played a few on me, but I guess I’ve been one of the more lucky ones because I haven’t had too many pranks played on me,’’ said Matheson. “I guess I’ll have to keep my head up for that.’’