March 4, 2012

BC Wins Hockey East

The Boston College Eagles picked up another shiny piece of hardware Saturday night, grinding past a determined bunch from UVM, 4-0. This time it was the Hockey East regular season championship trophy (Jerry York thinks it should be called the Joe Bertagna Trophy) and it goes into the BC display case alongside the Beanpot trophy and the Icebreaker tournament trophy. For the Eagles it is hopefully a sign of more to come in the next five weeks.

By beating UVM for the second time in as many nights, the Eagles sealed their own fate in the league standings. Once BC had UVM under control, it wouldn't matter very much that BU, two points back in second place, would eventually lose in overtime to Northeastern and fall back into a third seed for the Hockey East tournament. It didn't matter either that UMass-Lowell beat Providence to earn the league's second seed. All that mattered was that BC had claimed their number one ranking in the coming Hockey East tournament, has assured themselves of another week of being ranked number one in the country and had held onto their spot at or near the top of any power ratings, which will determine who plays who and where when the big one, the NCAA tournament gets under was in a couple of weeks.

While Friday night against this same Vermont team the Eagles played a rather half-hearted game, relying more on their skill level than an outstanding effort for a 5-1 win (a couple of soft goals helped), Saturday night BC played hard in a perfect prep for the weekend battles which will come shortly. Vermont, despite an abysmal record, has several top notch players, like Sebastian Stalberg and Connor Brickley, who could play on any man's team. To UVM's credit, they played hard on both nights and finally pushed BC to play with a bit more spark on Saturday night.

It was obvious from the start Saturday that BC was playing a different type of game than they had played Friday. In the first game they rarely got the puck down low in their offensive zone, down in the gritty areas where teams generate their scoring through hard work and effort. Friday the Eagles were content to work the puck halfway down the sideboards, but by Saturday they were putting the puck down behind UVM's Rob Madore and grinding it in the corners as they awaited opportunities.

That first real opportunity came with just 54 seconds left in the opening period. Boston College had just killed a Vermont power play and The Catamounts charged up ice for another try at BC's Parker Milner. Defenseman Patch Alber, who is playing his best now, stepped into the UVM flow at center ice, tapped the puck in the opposite direction where freshman Destry Straight grabbed it and charged towards Madore. Straight angled a bit to his left as his new linemate Chris Kreider charged from the right. Straight took a look towards Kreider, but instead of deferring to his older colleague he rifled a wrister past Madore. beating him cleanly high on the short side for his second goal as an Eagle.

Jerry York has been bringing up Straight's name frequently in recent weeks as assessed his team's status and for Saturday he moved Straight from center on the all freshman fourth line to the left wing with Kreider and Jimmy Hayes. "I just thought that Straight deserved more ice time based on his recent play," his coach explained after the game. "A also think that he prefers being on the left wing and I like Chris (Kreider) playing on the right."

Straight's name went right back onto the scoresheet at 6:50 of the second period, this time with a nice assist as Kreider broke the scoring slump that he had been in for a couple of weeks. Straight won a puck battle right behind the UVM net, battled his way in front of Madore and handed the puck off to Kreider on the opposite side of the crease for the score.

Fellow freshman Johnny Gaudreau mimicked straight late in the final period as it became obvious that the Eagles would win this championship no matter what BU was doing on the other side of town. He
stepped from behind the net, made a complete 360 pirouette and dished off to Pat Mullane for the backside goal.

Bill Arnold closed the scoring with an empty netter with less than a minute remaining in the game. Arnold's goal was an easy one, but there is nothing easy about the way that the sophomore center plays the game of hockey. As usual Saturday night he was intruding on UVM players everywhere, using his size, skills and hockey sense to create opportunities for his team. No one would want to be the owner of the china shop with this bull loose.

As for the defensive effort, Parker Milner is getting all the attention in goal, but the six players closest to him are playing their best of the season. Patch Alber is playing with confidence and Ike McLeod is finally taking advantage of his huge size. Superlatives continue to fly to describe Brian Dumoulin, but there is little doubt when watching this team that captain Tommy Cross is the boss on the blue line. As for Milner, he continues his late season rejuvenation. As UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said following the game "Any time we had a scoring chance the past two nights, Parker Milner took it away,"

With his team long ago eliminated from post season consideration, coach Sneddon offered his analysis of the Hockey East tournament in his post game press conference.

"Boston College will obviously be tough for any team to beat" Sneddon said. "They have a big edge with their skills and their experience. Merrimack could upset, even though they have trouble scoring goals. My darkhorse team, however is UMass-Amherst. On their best nights they can beat any team in the league."

The UMass team that Sneddon mentioned will be Boston College's opponent next weekend in the best-of-three quarterfinals starting Friday night at the Conte Forum. UMass won two of the three games the teams have played this season. The Minutemen have always played BC tough under coach Toot Cahoon and they also have their sites set on the league's final weekend at The Garden. But don't worry BC fans.Tommy Cross said in his own post-game analysis. "There is a lot of confidence in our locker room right now," he said.

NOTES: Milner stopped every shot he faced in his 59:10 to capture his 21st victory this season. He was relieved by senior Chris Venti for the game's final 50 seconds. . . Boston College honored its eight-member senior class - D Tommy Cross, F Barry Almeida, F Tommy Atkinson, Mgr. Chris Malloy, Mgr. Samson Lee, D Edwin Shea and G Chris Venti - prior to faceoff. The group improved to 102-42-10 in their four seasons at The Heights ... The Eagles held the Catamounts scoreless on five power-play opportunities and enter the postseason 20-for-20 on the penalty kill over the last six games ... Meanwhile, BC was held scoreless on its two power-play chances tonight, snapping a streak of 12 straight games in which a power-play goal was scored.

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