Eagles Flying Again
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Boston College coach Jerry York is not just happy to be here, but he is glad to see the tournament back in Milwaukee.
"The proximity of the hotel to the Bradley Center, the restaurants, everything is self-contained," York said. "Hockey fans that can mingle make an environment. Sometimes you lose it in the bigger cities."
Not much was expected of a team that had four freshman defensemen, but the outlook changed when the Eagles got off to a fast start. But after building a big lead in Hockey East, BC started to stumble while Boston University got hot, and BC lost the Hockey East regular-season title on the last day. Along the way, BC also lost the Beanpot final and the Hockey East tournament final to the Terriers, the latter coming in overtime.
Still, by then, BC had righted the ship, and when the NCAAs rolled around, the Eagles blitzed Miami, 5-0, then put up the same score in getting revenge, finally, on BU.
"As the year went on, I thought we were having a better year than I envisioned," York said. "Then we hit that late slide and needed to get back on the tracks. Then against Vermont (in the Hockey East quarterfinals), we were down a goal with one minute to go in the first game (and won in overtime). We were on the bubble with the season about to end, we rallied and caught fire.
"It's not the best team I had recently, but we're playing very well right now."
Goaltender Cory Schneider is a reason why BC has a shot in this tournament, even though its odds are probably fourth among the four. Schneider was at the World Juniors with Team USA, and while the team only came in fourth, Schneider played well and came back with maturity and confidence. He became the first goalie in history to record back-to-back shutouts in the NCAA tournament, a feat equaled the next day by Wisconsin's Brian Elliott.
"His World Junior experience, playing in those pressure games in late December and early January, that really helped him mature as a player," York said. "And he's better because of it. He's had an excellent year. ... I thought he was good last year. He thought his regional last year wasn't as sharp, but he was a young puppy then."
Then there's Chris Collins, the senior who had been fairly productive his first three years but exploded this season with 31 goals, including five shorthanded, and a plus-32 rating. He won the Hockey East Player of the Year and is a top three finalist for the Hobey Baker Award.
"If I knew I'd give it to all our players, but it's terrific to watch," said York. "He developed more puck patience, which he never really had. He can wait on the goaltender and make a good play. That's a key to his play. He's always been a good, hard, determined, tenacious player.
"Thirty-one goals ... that's a lot. I've talked to him about it. He's been watching other great players play, turning the TV on, or watching other players with him over the years. But sometimes it's by osmosis almost. You watch a good player hold the puck and make a play. But he's got it now. Let's just hope he doesn't lose it."
Collins is joined up front by 6-foot-7 power forward Brian Boyle, who had 22 goals and 52 points, a plus-28, and is another likely candidate to go pro after this tournament. Boyle even played defense on the shorthanded unit this year, compensating for all the young defensemen as York employed Boyle's long reach.
Also compensating for the young defenseman is senior anchor Peter Harrold, one of the top defensemen in the country, a lot like Mike Mottau was for BC when he won the Hobey in 2001 and the Eagles won a national title. Brett Motherwell is the best of the young 'D.' He has three goals and 22 points this season.
York has also gotten some inspiration out of George Mason's Final Four run in basketball. York was a coach at Bowling Green when current George Mason coach Jim Larranaga was there as well, and he maintains a relationship with him.
"We steadied the ship," York said. "We're getting hot at the right time, and this is what keeps you alive."
The Eagles have revenge on their minds in the semifinals against North Dakota, a team that handled BC (and BU) easily in the regional final last year.
Boyle talked about the impending showdown with the Sioux after the Eagles dispatched BU on March 25 in Worcester, Mass.
"It's a new year now, but the guys that are back remember what happened last year when we were in this very building and we lost to them," Boyle said.
"We know pretty much what we're going to get there. They're a talented team, six or seven guys first rounders, but we have two weeks to prepare for them.
"We're peaking, we're confident, as I'm sure they are, and it's going to be a battle."