Eagles have their eyes on the prize
TAMPA - These are heady times for the Boston College men’s hockey team.
The Eagles (32-10-1) blew past Air Force and Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Northeast Regionals by a combined 6-0 on their way to the Frozen Four, and on Thursday they put the hammer down on Minnesota at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in a 6-1 victory. They have won 18 straight and need one more to cap a remarkable season.
On Saturday night, the Eagles will square off with Ferris State, BC’s fifth title game in seven years. The Eagles won the crown in 2008 and ’10; Ferris State is making its first appearance in the championship game.
The standout player for the Eagles Thursday was junior goaltender Parker Milner, who had 30 saves, none more important than the 10 he made in the opening period, when Minnesota was throwing everything but the kitchen sink at him.
If the numbers tell the story in Milner’s case - a 28-5-0 record, a .936 save percentage and a 1.68 goals-against average - the statistics during the winning streak demonstrate how deep the Eagles are. A microcosm was the Minnesota game, during which 11 Eagles contributed at least a point.
In the 18-game run, 19 players (including Milner) have at least a point. Seven have 10 or more, led by freshman left wing Johnny Gaudreau, who has 26.
At the start of the season, coach Jerry York said he didn’t know what to expect given that the squad had lost 167 points from Cam Atkinson, Jimmy Hayes, Joe Whitney, and Brian Gibbons, and four-year starting goaltender John Muse. But the 2011-12 squad has embraced the team concept, and with everyone having a role the Eagles have been unbeatable.
“You need a lot of players contributing in the locker room [and] on the ice,’’ said York. “When [Celtics coach] Doc Rivers talked to us, what I thought was the most poignant point was that with the Celtics, [everyone] talks about the Big Three he said, ‘We have players who have a lot of different roles. Your goal at BC should be to be a star in your role.’ ’’
During the course of 43 games, the Eagles have 22 players with at least a point. Twelve have reached double digits and 10 have 20 or more points, but none has reached the 50-point mark. In contrast, the 2010 championship team had two 50-or-more point forwards (Atkinson and Gibbons) and the 2008 title team had four with 50 or more points, highlighted by Nathan Gerbe’s 68.
“Whether you’re Johnny Gaudreau, probably the best freshman in college hockey, or you’re Michael Sit playing seven or eight minutes in his first year at BC, we want him to be a star in his role,’’ said York. “We have some legitimate high-end players. Brian Dumoulin [named a first-team All-American Friday for the second straight season] certainly has to be one of the top players ever to play at Boston College. The way Parker is playing right now, we’re talking [Scott] Clemmensen, [Cory] Schneider, Muse, that level of player.
“But we have a lot of players who are just stars in their role and contribute to our team. In that respect, we’re maybe a little deeper than say, Ben Smith’s team that took us to Detroit in 2010. We’re maybe a little more similar to Brian Gionta’s team in 2001, where there were a lot of people contributing.’’
BC, which is attempting to become the first team to win three titles in five seasons since Denver won three in a four-year span (1958, ’60 and ’61), has allowed just 20 goals in the winning streak and has given up two goals or fewer in all but one of them, with five shutouts.
As business-like as they may seem, the Eagles say they are full of unbridled enthusiasm. Captain Tommy Cross said the positive energy is contagious.
“A lot of it is from our freshmen and sophomores,’’ said Cross. “That youthful energy they bring spreads throughout the room, especially to the older guys and I think that’s really been key for us.’’
Cross said the fact everyone brings something to the table is the reason the Eagles are in this position.
“Our top nine forwards, offensively it’s someone different contributing every night,’’ said Cross. “All our forwards, even the young freshmen [Sit, Quinn Smith, and Danny Linell], sometimes that’s our best line, our most efficient line, even if they don’t put up the numbers that some of the other guys do.’’
Milner, who owns the BC record for most consecutive wins (18), thinks this team is a little different than the teams during his freshman and sophomore years.
“In years past, we’ve maybe had one shutdown line that shut down the other teams’ best,’’ he said. “This year, we kind of have four lines that can do that. Everyone is reliable defensively.
“The numbers that the top three lines have put up are incredible. The freshmen line is doing a great job possessing the puck and being strong defensively. As far as the defense goes, I think we have six of the best defensemen in the country. They’re all veteran guys, they’ve all played a ton of games, and I think that shows each night.’’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.