Can you believe this? Boston College came to Tampa Tuesday night hearing how closely matched they were to the best team from the West, the Gophers of the University of Minnesota. They heard that the Eagles and the Gophers were mirror images of each other, strong, fast, skilled and focused on their efforts to bring a national championship back to their home campuses. They heard predictions of a close game, one that might come down to a single play, a huge save or last second heroics. And yet. . .
BC won the national semifinal game Thursday night by an astounding 6-1 and there remains only unknown Ferris State that stands in the way between the Eagles and their fourth national championship in the last 12 seasons. (In case you didn't know, Ferris State is in Big Rapids, Michigan, has 14,500 students and is 200 miles northwest of Detroit and 250 miles northeast of Chicago.) If they can beat Boston College Saturday night all would agree that it would be marked as a major upset.
It wouldn't have been a major upset, however, if BC had been beaten by Minnesota and for quite a while it looked like that might actually happen. Boston College dominated for the first 10 minutes or so of the game and went ahead with a Steve Whitney goal with 5:03 gone on the clock. But Minnesota reversed field for the second part of the period and if it weren't for Parker Milner in goal, they could have easily gone ahead by a goal or two. Milner finished off the period, with a stretching pad save to stop a back door attempt on his goal, BC fans were praying for the period to end and it did, with the Eagles ahead by that lone goal, but with the Gophers ready to pounce when the second period started. But it didn't happen.
Like Ali playing rope-a-dope in the corner, Boston College often seems willing to let the other guys take their best shot while they plan their next score. For the second period, Destry Straight couldn't get his stick on the puck with a huge swath of the Minnesota goal empty and then the Eagles let Milner show the world just how good he is. He smothered Minnesota superstar Nick Bjugstad at the goal mouth, smothered other rebounds and showed how much concentration and anticipation he has learned to play with over the past two-and-a-half months. Kevin Hayes bounced off the ropes and played Ali first at 6:35 of the period, with goal number two for the Eagles on the end of a left point to right point to low left slot passing play. Then the Eagles went back to the ropes, stirring briefly when Bill Arnold hit the post and letting Milner hold them together until Chris Kreider and Paul Carey stunned the Gophers, at 17:45 and 19:43. Talk about a beaten fighter. Minnesota went to their dressing room between periods wondering what had hit them.
The force they felt came from many directions, besides the goal scorers themselves. Johnny Gaudreau was everywhere, ragging the puck in the offensive zone and slipping those unbelievable passes through traffic like he had already seen this play before. Bill Arnold was brutal against Minnesota big men and the entire BC defense stood big in front of Milner, especially huge sophomore Ike MacLeod who is learning to use his large frame effectively. Paul Carey scored a second goal in the final period and is ending his career in a streak of glory. Kevin Hayes played his best game of the season so far.
The final score might have looked like that of a mid-January trip to Vermont, but Minnesota is the best team that BC has played against this season. They played like it for the first period-and-a-half or so, but by the time they scored their only goal, at 1:26 of the third, they were totally demoralized and by the end they were swinging sticks and elbows as they waited for the clock to wind down. Boston College can turn a game around quicker than anyone else and once an opponent thinks they have the Eagles right where they want them, BC throws a jab, a hook and whatever else. They score real quickly, often painlessly, often in rapid succession before the other guys know what has happened. Ask Duluth about it. Ask Maine. Ask UMass. Ask Merrimack. And after Saturday night, you will probably be able to ask Ferris State.
So, Minnesota and Boston College headed into this game matched well on paper, with similar records, similar amounts of size, speed and skills. However in many sports they will tell you that "talent is cheap." It is the intangibles that make a difference between winning and losing. Right now that appear where BC has an edge. Boston College is at their toughest when the can smell blood. They can sense a weakness in their opponent and they can score a goal, they can win a game, and, they hope, they can cap a triumphant season.
Notes: I think that looking at our game, timely saves by our goaltender, opportunistic scoring, and then that bounce-back goal were keys to bringing us to our Saturday night game," head coach Jerry York said. "I am very excited about our possibility of winning a national championship, it's something we look forward to from the start of the year."
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