Steven Whitney knows all about big games. The senior winger has seen Beanpot overtimes, and BC/BU rivalries and National Championship games. But, the high pressure situations never end when you play for a team like Boston College and this weekend arrives as the biggest weekend end of the year so far for the Eagles- a home and home series against their most formidable Hockey East competition, the Wildcats from UNH.
Of course Boston College won the National Championship last year and UNH didn't even make the playoffs (for the first time since 2001.) But this Boston College team is ranked third nationally and UNH is rated #4. The Eagles lead Hockey East by two points over UNH, but the Wildcats have a game at hand.
New Hampshire has the leading scorer in the Hockey East in Kevin Goumas. Goalie Casey DeSmith leads the league in goals against average, save percentage and shutouts. But, fate has not been kind to UNH in their recent encounters with BC. The rivalry goes back 76 years, to 1937, and the series is almost even (64-63-12 in BC's favor.) But, since blowing a 4-1 lead and losing a Hockey East semifinal back in 2008, New Hampshire's record against BC is 3-11-1.
Last year Boston College was starting their run to the Frozen Four when Steven Whitney broke a 3-3 tie at UNH with just 51.3 seconds left in the game. The Eagles completed a three game sweep of the Wildcats and never looked back. On paper, UNH is a much better team than they were last year.
"We had them twice last year and gave it up," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "But that was last year. Hopefully we can do a better job finishing this year."
Wednesday Steven (his friends call him Steve) stood outside the locker room on the way back from a weightlifting session. Like his older brother, former BC captain Joe, Steve has muscles everywhere. At a glance, one might say he would have no chance in finding a watchband to get around those wrists. He explained how he and his teammates get ready for these headline making games.
"Of course we try to approach it the same way as any other weekend," he said. "But we know that we are going to see a good team. We try to be particularly sharp in practice. It has become obvious to us that if we have a good week in practice, we are going to play good.
"And yes, this has been a very good week for us."
This week has probably been the most stable in the past month for BC. Coach Jerry York missed a couple of days due to eye surgery, but steady defenseman Isaac MacLeod is back full time. (Patch Alber is still out.) Destry Straight is back from an ankle injury. The subtle rumble of York's record for victories has played out. And, most importantly Johnny Gaudreau, now known worldwide as "Johnny Hockey," returns from the World Juniors to claim his spot on the wing opposite Whitney.
"I enjoyed playing with Destry this past weekend," Whitney said, "but Johnny is a different player than most any other player. He can see everything on the ice. He will find you if you are open and he will get you the puck. We both play the same type of game, but he is just so good at it. He has got unbelievable skill."
"The coaches have been breaking down film for us all week," Whitney said. "We all know a lot of the players from other years. They are skilled and they are fast like us and they have a good goalie. That makes them good team in my eyes."
Since being ranked first in the country for almost two months, Boston College has hit a relative slump, with a couple of ties to Providence and Yale, an unimpressive victory over a weak-sister squad from Alabama-Huntsville, and a trouncing by new number one Minnesota.
In the most recent game, against Yale last Friday night, a game misconduct penalty left the Eagles shorthanded on defense and it seemed that Whitney was on the ice the entire third period.
"We were short on guys, so I played my shift and I played defense on the power play and the penalty kill," he said. I wouldn't say that I was fatigued, but I knew I was out there a lot of the time. Yale was a very fast team and they rolled four lines at us all night."
New Hampshire will be a tough opponent to start thing rolling again, but a pressure filled game like this one will be is excites Steve Whitney.
"It has been awesome being a BC hockey player," he said. "I watched BC since I was a kid. My brother committed to BC and he liked it. It was the only place I wanted to be. I never thought of going anywhere else.
"Playing here, we get great guys every year. We recruit not only the best players," he said, "but we also get the best kids. Everyone is a good guy around here, so it makes it fun to come to the rink. Around campus we all try to fly under the radar. There are a lot of hockey fans here, and people know who we are, but we all play by the rules."
Playing by the rules has worked out right for Steve, obviously, with championship rings on two fingers and dreams of continuing a hockey career next year. Undrafted by the pros, he said "I hope somebody picks me up."
Before heading for the showers, however, Steve Whitney was asked about the brother combinations he had seen while playing for BC.
Who is better, Jimmy Hayes or Kevin Hayes, he was asked. "Well," he chuckled. "Jimmy plays in the NHL, so we have to wait and see if Kevin gets there."
And then came the hard question- Joe Whitney or Steve Whitney? He paused. Then he paused again. "Joe is playing pro hockey already," he answered. "So I'll say Joe. . . But, you never know."