Eagles Alive and Well ... For Now
by Roman J. Uschak/Special to CHN
They're not dead yet.
The Boston College Eagles have arisen from the premature ashes of a possible end to their 2006-07 campaign following last week's two-step sweep of Vermont in a best-of-3 Hockey East quarterfinal series at BC's Kelley Rink.
A loss to the Catamounts would have almost certainly doomed the Eagles, who were ranked as high as No. 1 in the national polls earlier this season and as high as fourth in the Pairwise, the system used by the NCAA to determine which 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament.
BC, though, had tumbled out of the top 10 and to as low as 15th in the Pairwise following its 1-5-1 finish, including losses to conference rivals Boston University (in the Beanpot), Maine and New Hampshire. The Eagles ultimately finished just one point short of their fourth consecutive conference crown when the regular season concluded on March 4.
Not only did BC finish with a 2-7-1 overall mark against BU (1-3), Maine (0-3) and UNH (1-1-1) this winter, but recent setbacks to those three foes, combined with a split against Massachusetts-Lowell, had left the Eagles perilously close to missing the NCAAs for the first time since 2002, and just the second time since 1998.
BC looked to its biggest players (other than 6-foot-7 junior Brian Boyle, who scored one goal and set up three others) last weekend in sweeping Vermont for the second time this season, including senior captain Peter Harrold, who scored the game-winner in Game 1 in sudden-death, and sophomore goaltender Cory Schneider, who stopped 48 of 52 shots over the weekend.
The biggest contributor of all, though, was senior assistant captain and top scorer Chris Collins, who notched four goals and an assist in the two contests to earn himself Hockey East Player of the Week accolades, his team an NCAA reprieve, and head coach Jerry York his 745th career win in Game 2. York, now second all-time on the NCAA coaching column behind Ron Mason, praised Hockey East neophyte Vermont when it was over.
"Vermont has been a great addition to the league," said York. "Defensively, they are very sound and their offense is also capable of scoring goals. They make our league stronger."
Collins sent the opener with the Catamounts into overtime on his tying marker with just 59 seconds remaining in regulation last Thursday in BC's 3-2 overtime triumph. He then collected the hat trick and added an assist on Friday as BC rolled to a 6-2 victory and into another meeting with Maine in the conference semifinals this Thursday at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.
Collins currently leads the Eagles with 30 goals and 27 assists for 57 points in 36 games, and is BC's first 30-goal scorer since current New Jersey Devils star Brian Gionta tallied 33 times back in 2000-01 as BC claimed its first national title in 52 years. He has since been named a Hobey finalist and Hockey East Player of the Year.
BC (22-11-3 overall) likely bought itself some breathing room with its two wins last week against a former team-under-consideration in Vermont, pushing the Eagles back among the top 10 in the Pairwise; but now BC faces a Black Bear contingent that handled the Eagles by 4-1 and 3-1 scores in Orono last month after eking out a 2-1 win in Chestnut Hill back in October. 6-foot-5 freshman goaltender Ben Bishop held the high-powered Eagles, who have averaged 3.44 goals per game, to just one tally in each of those three encounters while stopping 81 shots in all for Maine (26-10-2 overall), which is 8-0-2 in its last ten outings.
"We're clearly still a bubble team," said York. "These two (Vermont) wins will help us, but our focus is still on winning the Hockey East tournament."
This marks the second straight season that the Eagles and Black Bears will meet in the Hockey East semifinals, with BC talking a 2-1 decision in double overtime last March on a goal by Andrew Alberts en route to a 3-1 win over UNH in the conference championship game.