Boston College FF Preview
by Matt Taylor/CHN Reporter
Winners of 12 straight, a streak dating back to the middle of February, Boston College still had practice last week even as the mercury was reaching into the 60s, quite rare for March in Beantown.
"If the players come to the rink in shorts then you know it's been a good year," said Eagles coach Jerry York, whose team will face North Dakota in the late game Friday for a chance at what would be the program's third national title and second with York at the helm.
This is all familiar territory for the Eagles, who advanced to their 20th Frozen Four on the strength of victories over St. Lawrence and Miami in the Northeast Regional. They now return to attempt to conquer the Fighting Sioux, who they beat 6-5 in this same round last year.
"We have a terrific rivalry with them," York said. "It's hard to establish rivalries anymore out of league but we've played them so often."
York has a point. Besides last year's tilt, the teams met twice in 2004-05, with the Eagles winning an early-season tilt before North Dakota returned the favor with a win in the East Regional Final. They also split a pair the previous year. The two also split national championship games in back-to-back years, 2000 and 2001.
Boston College is led in scoring by forward-turned-defenseman Brian Boyle, whose experience playing defense has steadied the team while waiting for the return of regular blueliners Anthony Aiello and Carl Sneep. Sneep returned for the Northeast Regional.
"It was an interesting dilemma for us because we lost two defensemen to injuries and we were really short in that area," York said. "Brian has played a little bit of defense but then again were we going to take the league's leading scorer and move him back on defense, what would that do to our offense?"
The results turned out to be mutually beneficial to both corps.
"What has happened was he was very amenable to the role," York said. "He probably thought it was going to be a short-term role but when he got back there our offense improved because he can break pucks out better and he added a lot of stability to our defense and of course defense helps offense and I think he's adjusted very well there."
Other coaches have taken notice. Tim Whitehead of Maine, who guided his team to a return Frozen Four trip as well, has seen Boyle play both ways regularly in Hockey East action.
"The big thing about watching Brian over the years is how physically strong he is and not because he's so big but he has the balance on his feet and it allows him to maintain possession of the puck," Whitehead said. "I'm sure Jerry was holding his breath a little moving him back because he didn't want to lose the offense but he's really brought a lot of that back there as well."
While Boyle remains on the blue line, a slew of talented underclassmen have taken over the reins of the high-powered attack. Sophomore Brock Bradford was named MVP of the Hockey East Tournament and tallied a goal and two assists against St. Lawrence, giving him 43 points on the season. Classmate Benn Ferriero has 23 goals and assists, good enough to rank him as the team's second leading scorer. Perhaps the most talented is Nathan Gerbe, who has been a special teams nightmare with eight power-play goals and four shorthanded tallies. He also has six game winners. On the blueline, sophomore Brett Motherwell has 23 assists.
Although it's clear the Eagles have an abundance of talent both new and old, York wants continued improvement as the sophomores make their second Frozen Four appearance in as many years.
"They have been very instrumental to our success, certainly those are exciting players," York said. "I think with our team you forget whose freshman whose sophomore whose seniors just they're all good players, whether it takes them three years to mature."
Of special pride to York though was the performance put in by senior Joe Rooney in the Northeast Regional Final. He scored a pair of goals just under three minutes apart to break a scoreless tie.
"His first couple years he was a factor in our games but now as a senior he's one of the best players on the ice game in and game out," York said. Rooney didn't score more than 20 points in any of his first three years, but doubled that this season. "So I love to see improvement over the four years and hopefully the sophomores will take the next step and progress like Joe did."
There was a time when York, who also coached Bowling Green to a championship and won the Spencer Penrose Award as Coach of the Year at Clarkson, doubted this year's team no matter how talented they appeared on paper. After three straight losses in January, York started to notice improvement.
"Our penalty kill and power play are so much better as I watch them, they're influencing the games," York said, scouting his own team.
He also noticed improvement in his goaltender Cory Schneider.
"I think during the course of the year he wanted to be just perfect he was concerned about shutouts and save percentage and wasn't playing as well as he did last year," he said. "Then he kind of settled down and started to win games and that was his major focus and his save percentage went way up and his goals against went way down."
Now, with his team clicking like no other still playing, York knows the work they put in since that losing streak is paying off.
"They kept on working and grinding, there was no magic formula and they just seemed to catch fire right after the Beanpot."
And with one more solid weekend, the Eagles can extinguish the competition and bag title number two.