When Johnny Gaudreau is on the ice, it’s difficult to notice anyone else. When Kevin Hayes drives to the net, all eyes follow him.
But the glue that binds Boston College’s top line is senior center Bill Arnold.
Arnold isn’t the Eagles’ highest-scoring forward, nor is he flashy. Instead, the senior is cut from the same mold as Bruins center Patrice Bergeron — determined defensively, strong on faceoffs, and a superb setup man.
“Billy was always, as he is today, incredibly responsible in all areas of the ice,’’ said Noble and Greenough hockey coach Brian Day, who played Arnold and Hayes on the same line. “Billy’s very, very talented. Both guys are very unselfish players. They really cared about the team and each other. I’m not surprised at all with the success they are having playing together right now because we saw it.
“Billy might be the best all-around player that I’ve coached in terms of doing all the little things right. He took great pride in that.’’
Arnold, who played for the US National program for a year before college, said BC was always his first choice. The parents of his best friend, Danny Federico, both attended BC and used to take Arnold to games, including the Beanpot. Federico, a defenseman, wound up playing at Quinnipiac.
“I think that’s how my love for BC started,’’ said Arnold, who is from Needham. “I looked at other schools, but when it came down to it, it was a real easy decision to go to BC. Going to visit, I just felt at home.’’
As a freshman, Arnold had 20 points in 39 games. In his sophomore season, when the Eagles won the national championship, Arnold racked up 36 points in 42 outings. Last season, he had 35 points in 38 contests.
This season, Arnold has 44 points in 34 games heading into this weekend’s best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series against Notre Dame at Conte Forum.
Since coach Jerry York put Arnold, Gaudreau, and Hayes on the same line Dec. 6, the trio has generated 95 points, including 41 goals.
“It’s been a blast, especially because the three of us are such good friends off the ice,’’ said Arnold. “Being able to translate and having such a great season on the ice has been a total blast. The season’s not over and we’ve had kind of a quiet last few games so we’re ready to turn it on here and go on the stretch run.’’
Arnold said that when he dishes the puck to either Gaudreau or Hayes, he has great faith something exciting is about to happen.
“The more we’ve played together, the more comfortable we are and we know where each other is going to be on the ice,’’ said Arnold. “Our styles all really complement each other so it’s definitely a good time out there.’’
The trio lobbied hard last summer to play on the same line but York was hesitant. He didn’t know how quickly freshmen Ryan Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi would develop and he didn’t want to put all his assets on the same line. But with the emergence of senior center Pat Brown, who’s on a line with Fitzgerald and Cangelosi, York made the move at midseason.
“Once we got the opportunity to play together, we knew we had to make the most of it or we wouldn’t be staying together,’’ said Arnold. “So we wanted to go out there and prove to Coach that we could make things happen out there.’’
Hayes said it’s been a pleasure to play with Arnold, not only because of his abilities but because of how close they are.
“We’ve played together for the last eight years,’’ said Hayes. “We were on the same line for the last two years and two years in high school and we played throughout the summers. It kind of goes [under the radar because] he plays with me and Johnny, two very offensive players, but he’s just as offensive as we are. No one really knows that because of how much praise Johnny gets.’’
York appreciates all of the skills Arnold brings.
“He competes so hard in all three zones,’’ said York. “You can’t compare players, but like Bergeron could have a lot more goals for the Bruins but he wants to play in all three zones. Billy’s like that. It’s hurt his numbers but it hasn’t hurt how he’s helped our club. It’s made him more valuable. He’s your prototypical three-zone player and he’s got a heavy stick. There are a lot of good things about Billy.’’
Despite BC going 13 days between games, Arnold said he isn’t worried that the Eagles will be rusty Friday night.
“We had a great week of practice last week,’’ said Arnold. “High intensity, we had an intrasquad scrimmage over the weekend. I think the important thing for us is not worry about Notre Dame too much in the first period and just go out there and skate and get our legs underneath us. If we work that first period, we’ll get right back into the game.’’
Arnold hopes to continue his hockey career after graduation. He is hoping his communications degree won’t be needed just yet. Day said he has high hopes for his former player.
“When he got drafted [by the Flames in the fourth round, No. 108 overall in 2010], I was like, ‘That was the best fourth-round draft pick,’ ’’ said Day. “I don’t think Calgary had any idea how good a player they were getting.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.