March 25, 2012

Eagles Advance

Boston College scored early, they scored late, and even though they didn't manage to score in between, they managed to get by the Air Force Academy in Worcester Saturday evening by the score of 2-0. The Eagles now await Minnesota-Duluth, the winner of the other regional semifinal and the question remains whether another such an effort would be good enough to beat the defending national champs when they meet Sunday night.

It was the 16th win in a row for BC and during this amazing stretch of good fortune we have often seen a BC team that played like they were invincible and just as often we have seen a team that, you might say, played just "good enough." Saturday evening it was "good enough."

Boston College came out flying as the game began in front of a decidedly partisan BC crowd, marching band and all. There was no question about which team had the most speed and the most skilled players. BC went on a power player just 1:03 into the game and they even manufactured an effective offensive rush before the delayed whistle blew. But, Air Force was playing a gritty defensive game and it wasn't until 7:39 was gone in the game that BC scored.

This first goal was a good example of what BC is capable of. Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Destry Straight played keep away as they cycled the puck down low behind Air Force goalie Jason Dorf. Straight to Kreider to Hayes to Kreider to Hayes and back to Kreider. Hayes with his long arms wrapped the puck around from Dorf's left and slipped the puck to the other side of the crease where Kreider popped it in.

It looked like the Eagles would be able to do that all night long, but who would have thought that it would be 18:39 of the final period before Boston College would score again? That was another muscle job by Kreider, jamming a rebound from the top of the crease, but what happened with all those minutes in between?

By the end of the first period, shots on goal were just about even. Air Force, however, had the more dangerous scoring opportunities and once again it was BC goalie Parker Milner who kept his team headed in the right direction, with several huge saves from prime scoring areas. His teammates, meanwhile, dominated in puck possession, but were unable to seriously threaten Dorf and the Air Force goal. If this highly talented BC team has a weakness, it is that they often forget to score goals despite the firepower they have from players like Barry Almeida, Paul Carey, Johnny Gaudreau and Chris Kreider.

"We knew we couldn't match up with them on speed or skills," Air Force coach Frank Serratore said after the game. "Boston College is a heck of a hockey team. Our plan was to limit their shooting to the perimeter and try to be in a position to win it in the third period. We hardly gave them any odd man rushes. Unfortunately we couldn't score a goal."

But Boston College couldn't score either. They played with speed and poise and grace, but that isn't always enough. The Boston Ballet has those same attributes, but you don't see them scoring very many goals. Boston College outshot the Air Force 11-4 in the second period, but Serratore admitted that "my goalie didn't have to play great, because we weren't giving them any good chances."

So the question remains for Sunday night, the final hurdle before college hockey's best four teams move on to the Frozen Four. Can BC score enough goals as the caliber of the opposition now increases exponentially? Defense is not a question for the Eagles and it would be difficult to point out a weak spot from the blue line back. Patrick Wey was a physical standout against Air Force and it has been enjoyable over this winning streak to watch Ike MacLeod as he has gained confidence and grown into his huge frame.

"If you are going to be a champion in any sport you have to play good defense," Jerry York explained after the game. "The key for us has been that we are not giving up a lot of goals."

As for Sunday night, York points out that "Kreider has a history of having good tournaments." Paul Carey had nine shots on goal against Air Force and other shots came equally across the BC lines with Kreider, Steve Whitney, Michael Sit, Johnny Gaudreau and defenseman Tommy Cross all getting three shots. Sunday night more of them will have to go in.

"I scored the goals, but my linemates have been playing unbelievable hockey," Kreider said, adding hope for Eagle fans. "Destry Straight is just a freshman and Kevin Hayes in using his size to an advantage now. Air Force was just a tough team to play against. They played their system to a T."

"Boston College is a heck of a hockey team," coach Serratore said. "But, I think they beat a heck of a -hockey team too."

Sunday night's game will be televised, thus the 8 pm. start. "I am disappointed that the game has to start so late," Jerry York said. "I think it means that a lot of our fans will be forced to stay home when we might have had a full house. I feel bad for the Worcester people who do such a good job out here."

NOTES: The Eagles (30-10-1) are looking to take a familiar route to the Frozen Four and another NCAA championship. Three times in the past 11 years they've advanced from Worcester and captured the NCAA title, winning it in 2001, `08 and `10. . . It was the 16th straight win for the Eagles, and came with a similar pattern. BC has allowed two or fewer goals 15 times during its winning streak. . . The win extended BC's longest winning streak in York's 18 seasons as coach of the Eagles. . . It was the first time Air Force was shutout this season.

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