April 7, 2012

NATIONAL CHAMPS!

Boston College took their fifth national college hockey championship Saturday night in Tampa, Florida, beating Ferris State 4-1. Fortunately for the Eagles nobody ever said that they had to look pretty doing it. Instead of the flash and dash that many expected to see against an outmanned opponent, BC used grit and drive to wear away a determined adversary, much like they have done several times in amassing 19 consecutive victories and this national title over the past 10 weeks.

The BC team this season has been one that has been able to don top hats and tails to dance with the best of teams, but at the same time, when necessary, they have been able get their hands dirty and show what they can do with picks and shovels. Saturday night was a pick and shovel night.

Ferris State came into the championship game with an impressive record and the championship of a league (CCHA) with a superior list of big name hockey programs, such as Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame, Miami, Ohio State and Bowling Green, the team that was the first of BC coach Jerry York's national champs. These were no chumps. Yet few thought that they would be able to match Boston College's skills, speed and depth of talent. But, by using a very disciplined and opportunistic system, Ferris State kept this national final to a one-goal game until there was less than three minutes remaining.

Ferris State came into the championship game noted for their defensive play and they held Boston College in check throughout the game. Fortunately for Boston fans, the Eagles have learned over the course of the season to be patient and to play an effective defensive game of their own while waiting for scoring opportunities to arise. The game opened as usual, with both teams testing each other with little result. Ferris State had a two-on-one denied by BC goalie Parker Milner just 35 seconds into the game, but then Boston College found an opening of their own at 3:18 of the first, with the starting lineup on the ice for both teams for just the second time. Ferris State's All-American goalie Taylor Nelson gave up an unfortunate rebound that bounced off two defensemen's sticks. Barry Almeida grabbed it for the Eagles, saw Steve Whitney over on Nelson's right and slid the puck to him for a goal on a wide open side of the net and a 1-0 lead. Like so many time during this winning streak you might have imagined BC quickly adding to this advantage. But like so many other times, it didn't happen.

Ferris State continued to apply defensive pressure. They seemed to have a defender on a body as soon as BC touched the puck and they weren't allowing the Eagles to skate through the neutral zone unimpeded. And, it wasn't very long before you saw that the Bulldogs had thoughts of goal scoring on their own minds. At 5:19 of the period, Ferris State was on the scoreboard. Patch Alber got caught pinching up near center ice and the Bulldogs sent two men towards Milner, with defenseman Ike MacLeod on one side and winger Pat Mullane on the other. Unfortunately, Mullane didn't look much like a defenseman, got his feet tangled as he turned, and allowed a quick shot on Milner. Milner stopped the first shot, but the puck sat in front of him as two Bulldogs took a swipe at it with no resistance from BC backcheckers. Fourth-liner Garrett Thompson poked it in for the tying goal.

Boston College came back five minutes later, broke up a Ferris State breakout and scored what would be the game-winner. All-American defenseman Brian Dumoulin sent an easy pass/wrist shot towards the net and it deflected off Paul Carey's stick for the goal. Boston College again took advantage of an opportunity, which was a good thing because there wouldn't be many more.

Ferris State's tenacity was keeping the BC attack from getting started. They backchecked well and they clogged the neutral zone. They were effectively negating BC's speed advantage. Offensively, the Bulldogs were able to set up play in the BC zone more often than one would have liked. Fortunately for the Eagles, Parker Milner continued to stand out in the goal and there were virtually no rebounds for Ferris State to take advantage of. For the second period Boston College had a few chances to score, from Destry Straight and Barry Almeida in particular. But Ferris State had their good tries too and the game moved to the third period.

Boston College killed off a powerplay for the first 1:37 of the period and then they went on a powerplay of their own just seconds after that kill. They didn't score with the extra skater, but that try seemed to energize the Eagle attack and they began to put more pressure on Nelson. They couldn't score, though. Milner made a big save with around seven minutes remaining, showing that great anticipation to stuff a Bulldog try from his back door. By now, however, fans were sitting with one eye on the game and the other on the score clock. From seven minutes, to six, and down past five, then four, tension built. Where would the next goal come from?

Then the clock said there was three minutes left in the game and Johnny Gaudreau had the puck and was heading for the Ferris State zone, with two defenders back. He kicked the puck forward with his skate and confused one of them out of the play. Then he faked the other guy, kept the puck glued to his stick blade and roofed a backhander up and over Nelson. Steve Whitney had the empty netter with 1:03 remaining and the national championship belonged to Boston College, without a doubt.

Jerry York is always quick to compliment a team that his boys have just beaten and this time it was obvious to see what he meant. Ferris State came to play hard and they refused to give up their own chance at the national title. But Boston College was just too much to handle. Looking back on the past ten weeks you can see that BC could win the "laughers," like they did against Northeastern (7-1) or Vermont (6-1) or Providence (7-0.) But they proved that they could also win the "lunchpail" games, like UMass in the Hockey East tournament, like Merrimack, like BU in the Beanpot and of course, like Ferris State in the most important game of them all.

Now all that remains for the Eagles are the parade and the visit to the White House, a farewell for those departing and plans for next year. Boston College has now won three of the past five national titles and next October will begin the expected quest for one more. Reports on the incoming freshmen are encouraging.

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