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Charged-up Gibbons gets BC back on line

After a late-season slump, Brian Gibbons and BC’s top unit are in top form. After a late-season slump, Brian Gibbons and BC’s top unit are in top form. (Photo Courtesy of Boston College)
By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / April 5, 2010

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A collection of press clippings chronicling Boston College’s victories in the NCAA Northeast Regionals in Worcester adorns the walls facing the entrance to the men’s hockey locker room.

Coach Jerry York was scanning the many pages on display for an illustration to a point he was attempting to make. He found it in the Monday, March 29 edition of the BC student newspaper, The Heights. Inside, there was a photo of junior center Brian Gibbons leaping up from the ice into the arms of a teammate after a BC goal.

“Gibby is jumping up, he’s so excited,’’ said York. “That’s what we were missing.’’

Despite beating Maine in overtime in the Hockey East championship, after sweeping UMass in the conference quarterfinals and ousting Vermont in the semifinals, York felt his high-scoring line of juniors Joe Whitney and Gibbons and sophomore Cam Atkinson was playing in an unnecessarily tense fashion. The trio had combined for one goal in four games leading up to the Northeast Regional final against Yale, so the coach summoned them into a meeting.

“I hadn’t seen the same enthusiasm, the same zest to play that they had for most of the year,’’ said York. “I tried to stress to them that they could still affect the game with no points. I think all high-end players go through that once in a while. We had a couple of games where nothing went right for them offensively as far as [scoring]. We just stressed, ‘You’ve got to enjoy playing hockey. You’ve got to have enthusiasm to play.’ You can’t go into a game thinking the very first shift they’re going to win the hockey game. It’s a lot of shifts. So it was [a case of] ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it. Do we break up your line? Or how are things with you guys?’ They said they enjoy playing with each other and I said, ‘Well, you’ve got to show it more.’ ’’

And show it they did. Against Yale, the line scored six goals and produced 10 points in BC’s wild 9-7 victory, which propelled the Eagles into the 2010 NCAA Frozen Four semifinals against Miami University Thursday night at Detroit’s Ford Field.

“Sometimes your high-end players feel that ‘I’ve got to be a difference in the game and my difference is scoring three goals a game,’ ’’ said York. “When you have that expectation, you don’t play the game. There wasn’t the creativity, they were very rigid in their play.’’

York first put the speedy if undersized line — none is taller than 5 feet 8 inches — together after BC lost to Boston University Jan. 8 at Fenway Park. It was the Eagles’ third straight loss so York shuffled his combinations, hoping for a spark.

“I remember we were kind of in a low period during the year,’’ said the coach. “We lost in the Denver tournament and we lost at Fenway Park. We were in a dip. We use the expression, ‘That’s the best time to buy stock in BC hockey.’ We know it’s going to go up. They really started coming hard and carried us for a long time there. Then they went through that little spot where they weren’t scoring goals. Knock on wood, they’ll keep going.’’

The line’s first outing was Jan. 12 against Providence at Conte Forum. All three of them scored a goal — including one on the first shift — and combined for 7 points in the 4-1 win. In the 22 contests they have been together, they’ve racked up 87 points — Atkinson with 17 goals and 17 assists, Whitney with 11 goals and 16 assists, and Gibbons with 8 goals and 18 assists.

“We just have great chemistry and it starts off the ice,’’ said Gibbons. “We’re all best friends, we’ve known each other for a while. We just kind of bring that onto the ice. We try to have as much fun as possible and make plays and keep it loose. That’s when we’re playing our best. That tough stretch, we were a little too tight and we weren’t scoring so we got frustrated a little too easily. You’ve got to remember that it’s hockey and you’re supposed to have fun. We kind of got back to that against Yale and we had a pretty good game.’’

Gibbons said the meeting with the coaches helped them refocus on what they were supposed to be doing.

“I think we had our fair share of chances that we didn’t finish,’’ said Gibbons. “At the same time, we were trying to go out there to score every shift and that might have hurt us defensively a little bit or in different areas of the game. Sometimes you’ve got to dump it in. Sometimes when you’re trying to make too much happen, you’ve got to play it safe. When you’re struggling, you do some things that you don’t do when you’re playing well. We just had to get back to having fun and playing smarter.’’

Whitney said if he and Atkinson are the stronger offensive members of the line, Gibbons brings more of a two-way game that provides a great deal of stability almost every shift.

“He’s very good in the defensive zone as well as the offensive zone,’’ said Whitney. “He’s probably one of the best on the team at making plays and seeing the ice.’’

York said the fact they all bring something different to the table is part of the reason they are so effective and now with them back on track, he sees only more production as the Eagles battle for their second national title in three years.

“They’re all just very creative,’’ said York. “They skate very well and they play with their heads up so they can make plays. We’d love to get Gibby to shoot more because he’s kind of a passer first. Cam’s looking to shoot pucks so they complement each other. Joe is kind of a mixture of [both]. And you can’t be over 5-8 to play on that line. You’ve got to be creative and under 5-8.’’