March 26, 2012

Back in the Frozen Four

Parker Milner.

That is all you have to remember about this past weekend in Worcester, a city that Jerry York is now calling his favorite town (except for Watertown). Milner made 33 saves for his second shutout in a row and York's BC Eagles won their 10th NCAA tournament game in 11 starts in Worcester as Boston College beat the University of Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 Sunday night. Now it is on to the Frozen Four in Tampa and that final trophy of the season is well in sight.

Boston College broke open a tight defensive battle and scored twice in a 1:26 span of the second period to send the defending national champion Bulldogs home disappointed. They added two more goals in the third period, but it was Milner's brilliant play throughout the 60 minutes that was the key to success for the top-ranked Eagles. It is hard to believe that is barely more than two months (January 27) since Milner regained his starting goaltending job and his team began the 17 game winning streak that has propelled them to the cusp of another national championship. Milner has given up just 19 goals during the winning streak, for a 1.11 goal-against-average and he has apparently inspired his teammates to championships in the Beanpot, Hockey East regular season and tournament, and now the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Remember back in January when the Eagles were returning to Chestnut Hill after losing twice in Orono, Me., in the midst of a three month slump with a record that was growing with that unfortunate rhythm of win one, lose one? This was hardly the tune you would normally hear from potential champions. Then maybe out of desperation, or maybe because he saw something in practice sessions, coach York returned to using Milner as his regular goalie. The previous time Milner was tabbed the regular starter was in October and November, but back then he was giving up bad rebounds and soft goals and York had been trying to get some consistency from his other netminders, Brian Billet and Chris Venti.

"They say that the first thing you have to do if you want to be a good coach is to follow the 'G-A-G rule'," York told reporters with a smile after the game. 'That stands for "Get a Goalie.'" York got Milner back and the past two months have been the result. "We worked hard with him," goalie coach Jim Logue told EagleAction. "We worked with him day and night. He had to learn to concentrate and control the puck after he made the save. Now you see that he is using his glove to catch so many more pucks."

"I came out most mornings and worked with coaches Greg Brown and Mike Cavanaugh and Jim Logue," Milner added. Modestly, he said that his record is the result of a "full team effort." Milner was named the most outstanding player of the NCAA Northeast Regional as a result of this modest effort. "He has been unbelievable," team Captain Tommy Cross added. "He has been making the routine saves and a lot other that he should have no business in stopping."

Out in front of Milner, his BC teammates were struggling with a strong, physical Duluth team which was showing that they could skate with BC when they had to and could knock them around other times. Their forechecking was very aggressive and their defensemen were pinching into the offensive zone right from the start. "They came hard," York said. "Their forecheck was the hardest that we have seen and it made it very hard on our defensemen."

The first period was very evenly played. Bill Arnold missed on a semi-breakaway and a Johnny Gaudreau break was blown dead because BC had too many men on the ice. BC was playing a dump and chase game, trying to get the puck down low in the offensive zone, but Duluth goalie Kenny Reiter was very good stopping the puck on the rim and firing it clear of the zone high along the glass.

Opening the second period, Duluth came out even a little more aggressive, if possible, and was pushing the play hard at BC. But then, as Air Force coach Frank Serratore pointed out Saturday night, "Boston College comes at you in flurries." Sunday night's flurry began at 4:01 of the period with Duluth missing on a clear and the puck coming loose behind Reiter. Johnny Gaudreau picked it up, faked going left and then stepped right, but he lost the puck and fortunately it squirted in front of the goal and Pat Mullane jammed it in from close for the opening score. Just 1:26 later Barry Almeida forechecked hard, got the puck down deep and slid it over to Steve Whitney on the back boards. Duluth defenders seemed to have lost sight of the play and Whitney casually passed it in from where Bill Arnold rifled it home. "When Steve gets me the puck like that," Arnold explained "I have to get it home."

For the third period, Patrick Wey's goal was a bit of a fluke, a pop fly which squeezed between Reiter and the post. Johnny Gaudreau scored his 20th goal of the year on a breakaway and the game was obviously out of reach. Milner made a couple of more outstanding saves while his mates killed a five-on-three penalty and it wasn't long before the game was over.

The reported attendance of 4,470 was obviously pro-Boston College, but they made little noise throughout the game and there was an eerie sense in the arena as if watching a televised game with the sound turned off. Inside of one minute remaining, however, the fans all got to their feet and gave the team a standing ovation, a fitting end to this part of the season.

Boston College will now face the University of Minnesota in the national semifinals in Tampa April 5 at 8pm. Duluth defenseman Brady Lamb said that Minnesota compares favorably with Boston College. "Both teams have great depth, great speed, good size and a very good goalie." he said. "It should be a very good game."

The edge for Boston College, however, may be Parker Milner. "I would rank Parker Milner right up there with any goalie that we have played against all year," Duluth captain Jack Connolly said in conclusion.

NOTES: Coach Sandelin said he knows how good BC's been in the national spotlight lately. "Obviously it says a lot about their program. They have a great tradition. When you build that, it's a culture," he said before later adding "I want to be like them.". . . Milner isn't the only BC goalie this century to leave Worcester with back-to-back shutouts. Cory Schneider, now of the Vancouver Canucks, did the same thing in March 2006 against Miami (Ohio) and Boston University. . . Wey, Cross and Chris Kreider were named to the all-tournament team. . . This was the first time since 2000 that any two most recent national champions met in the NCAA tournament (Maine beat Michigan). . . This was officially Milner's third shutout of the season. In two other shutouts Milner was replaced late by Chris Venti and therefore sacrificed the official designation on his own record.

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