March 18, 2012

Eagles Win Hockey East

Boston College saved their best for last, controlling a tough University of Maine team Saturday night at the Garden by a score of 4-1 and thus capturing their third Hockey East championship in a row. The Eagles now move to the NCAA tournament, probably next Saturday as a number one seed in Worcester and all but erasing any memory of that three month long slump which plagued them for three months earlier in the winter. Gone is the fear that this team was "going nowhere," replaced by the realization that these same Eagles are now one of the favorites to end the season as the best college hockey team in the country.

Ironically, the last time Boston College failed to win a game was against this same Maine team back on January 20 and 21 and coach Jerry York has repeatedly said that the bus ride back to Boston from Orono, Me. was a ride that lasted five hours, but "seemed like 10." Since that date York's team has tightened up mentally and physically, winning 15 games in a row in what York always calls "the trophy season." Over that span Boston College has won the Beanpot, the Hockey East regular season trophy and now the fancy Lamoriello Cup, with only the national championship trophy yet to win.

Maine was a team that had followed a similar path to the Garden as BC, tightening up their play as the season drew to a close. And in eliminating Maine, BC thus ends any speculation that their unprecedented winning streak was the result of the schedule offering up the weak sisters of the league for sacrifice.

Maine actually came out of the box full of run Saturday night and they were at BC throats before the first couple of shifts had gone by. Goaltender Parker Milner had already turned back two grade A scoring chances before the game was a minute old. If there is a single reason for BC's turnaround in the season, it has to be credited to the play of Milner and this outstanding effort continued Saturday night. Both teams were taking a lot of shots on goal (the total of 85 for the game was a record for a Hockey East final) and before 5 minutes were gone in the game Maine had already taken 7 shots and BC had taken 6. It was BC's seventh shot finally produced something on the scoreboard. With 5:24 gone in the period Maine defenseman Nick Pryor deflected a shot from the point by BC's Patch Alber, the puck dropped to his feet and in an instant, Johnny Gaudreau was there to slam it home before Maine goalie Dan Sullivan could figure what was going on. Then, 2:07 later Gaudreau was at it again. This time it was on a power play and Chris Kreider sent a pass/wrist shot on goal. Pat Mullane tangled with the defense on Sullivan's right and tapped the puck to the other side of the slot where Gaudreau again slammed it home.

That it was Gaudreau doing the damage was indeed significant, as his play during the BC winning streak has mirrored the play of Milner. The tiny freshman has hands as fast as Muhammad Ali and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Boston College was now ahead by two goals and that would eventually be enough for Boston College to declare themselves champions of their league. If Milner and Gaudreau had begun their runs a lot earlier in the season, they probably both would be named All-Americans, they might finish in a tie for the Hobie Baker Award and they would be named to the hall-of-fame by the end of next week. Maybe they would be asked to sing on American Idol. But as it is, the two have to content themselves with being named to the all-tournament team (along with defenseman Brian Dumoulin) and Gaudreau being named MVP of the entire tournament.

Maine showed themselves a threat in the second period with a point blank goal from the slot that beat Milner cleanly (after all, he is human too), but Boston College added single goals in the final two periods to keep the game out of reach. Barry Almeida's goal was an empty netter, but Pat Mullane's came right near the end of the second period on a nice rush led by Paul Carey. He shot on goal, Gaudreau (of course) swooped in for the rebound, circled behind the net (his home territory) and slid a pass to a charging Mullane. Gaudreau keeps getting his name on the scorecard.

Granted, Maine was playing without their best player,Spencer Abbott, recently named the Hockey East player-of-the-year. He suffered a concussion Friday night in the semis and is questionable for the first round of the NCAA's. But, as Maine coach Tim Whitehead said after the game, his team made adjustments and the reason for his team losing was the effort from Boston College. "I was very impressed with BC," Whitehead said. "They know how to win. Getting behind two goals to them makes it a very tough hill to climb. They are tough in all three areas- in goal, on defense and up front."

Jerry York agreed. "I think this is the best game that we have played over the past several weeks. And the key reasons for this improvement can be said to come from Parker Milner and Johnny Gaudreau. Coming back from those two games in Maine we knew we weren't firing on all cylinders and our goaltending was up and down. Since then we have gotten better every week. Parker has been outstanding and we have a lot of very good player upfront. We are very deep."

Whitehead commented on the number of shots that his team took at Milner, but pointed out that his team wasn't getting enough bodies in front of Milner. BC captain Tommy Cross agreed.

"We did a real good job tonight of keeping the Maine players from out in front of our goal," he said. "Also, our forwards were backchecking very well. Our forwards back pressure was as good as it has been all year and that is a big help for the defensemen."

Boston College remains healthy heading into the NCAA tournament and no injuries were reported from Saturday night. The official NCAA brackets will be announced at noon on Sunday, but postseason pundits seem to agree that BC will play in Worcester next Saturday against Air Force. Hopefully it will be a better bus ride that the January trip to Orono. "We did the Worcester trip two years ago," Cross reminded. On that trip the Eagles followed two wins there with the national championship two weeks later.

NOTES: BC becomes the first team to win three consecutive Hockey East championships. . . The Eagles have also established a new Hockey East record for consecutive wins in tournament play with 12, breaking their old mark of 11 set from 1998 to 2000. . . This is the Eagles' 11th Hockey East title overall, their 5th title in the last six years and their 6th in the last eight years. . . They are now 11-5 all-time in the championship game, 6-1 in their last seven appearances dating back to 2005. . . This is the 14th time, and second consecutive, that the No. 1 seed has won the Hockey East championship. The No. 1 seed is now 14-6 in title game play. . . Gaudreau is the fifth freshman to win the Tournament MVP Award. Four of the five have come from BC (Leetch-1987, Lagrand-1990, Kobasew-2001) The only other freshman to win the MVP Award was the last, BU's Kieran Millan in 2009. . . Attendance for tonight's championship game was 13,709, yielding a two-night total of 27,683. . . "Gaudreau has those qualities that you can't teach," Jerry York said.

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