Similarities and Differences In BC-Providence Series
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
When Boston College starts the postseason tonight against Providence, it will be looking to break out a funk that saw it go 2-5-1 in the last eight Hockey East games. In fact, those were the last eight games following the Beanpot championship win against Harvard — standing in direct contrast to rival Boston University, which went in the other direction after losing the Beanpot semi to the Eagles.
In what's been a roller coaster season — following two national championship game losses — complete with player suspensions and defections, a freshman goalie that's played every game, and two broken arms to top player Brock Bradford. But BC (17-11-8) is still in position to make the NCAAs, and there is no reason why it can't make a run at a Hockey East title.
"I feel pretty good about our attitude and our work habits that we've accumulated during the course of the year," said BC coach Jerry York. "Now, we enter a completely different season — the playoff season. This is where you make your mark on what type of year you've had."
No. 4-seeded BC takes on Providence, which has had its own roller coaster to deal with — though the Friars don't have the Eagles' recent strength to fall back on. It's been since 2001 that Providence made it past this weekend, and over 20 years since the Friars were a national power.
But Providence shares something in common with BC — a bad finish. Providence is 1-5-2 in the last eight games — though the win and one tie came against the Eagles. Providence lost by a combined 8-0 in two games against Boston University last week, when it had a chance to grasp a home-ice spot. Instead, as the No. 5 seed, it will be a trip to Chestnut Hill.
"The confidence level is fine," said PC coach Tim Army. "I don't like to use the word confidence in sports. I don't think there's such a word in sports. I listened to (NHL forward) Patrick Marlow the other night talking about confidence level. Confidence is a direct result of hard work and commitment from an individual or a collective group."
Providence has been good at shutting down BC this season, holding it to just six goals in three games. One of the guys it has shut down is Nathan Gerbe, who at one point was in the mix for the Hobey, but has seen his production tail off with the rest of the Eagles.
He still has 24 goals and 48 points to lead the team, but has just two goals in his last nine games.
"His numbers have tailed off a little bit, but his play hasn't," York said. "I think he has been just as big a factor in the games we have played. Now, he is checked very, very well."
York pointed out a Boston Globe article about Boston Bruins forward Phil Kessel, who played two years with Gerbe in the national program.
"(Kessel) said, 'I've watched Nathan play a lot because he is my former linemate ... one of the things in the NHL game is that you never get shadowed and harassed as much,'" said York. "He said it's going to be a lot easier for him when he gets to the NHL level as far as that part of the game. He is amazed at the abuse and the tight checking that Nathan has every time he plays the college game. He says, once he gets to the NHL, he'll have to deal with better players, but you're not allowed to do what other teams do to Nathan.
"I think that's part of why he has been shut down a little bit, but his play has still been very very good. He's a guy that can really explode down the stretch for us. We just have to find a way to combat the ever-present checking that he gets against him. But it's difficult. We do that by hopefully having other players stepping up and becoming a better (or equal) threat than Nathan."
Part of shutting down the Eagles, of course, is on the shoulders of Providence goalie Tyler Sims, who has 31 of the team's 34 decisions this season.
"I think he's been pretty consistent particularly over the second half," Army said of Sims. "He's managed the games quite well. Two of his best games were at Boston College.
"Overall his focus is good and he's made strides in his game. We haven't been outshot very often in games. The two games we won at BC we were outshot. We rely on Tyler to manage those games well and give us some stability in the net and I think he's been able to do that particularly in the second half. His mind is in a good spot, his focus is good. He's made some adjustments to his game, he has more patience."
On the other side is freshman John Muse, who had to step into the shoes of Cory Schneider. All Muse has done is play every minute of every game this season, one of only two goalies in the country to do that.
York dismissed any notion that Muse is tiring.
"For John to achieve that milestone of all 36 games, we feel pretty good about that, especially his play of late," York said. "He has gotten a great deal of respect in the locker room for his work ethic and the ability to go out every single night and actually put us in a situation to win. His stats are fairly close to Cory Schneider's. His wins are not, but we had a deeper team over the last couple years. He has had to come in and shore up a team that lost some key players from last year and his stats are really close to Cory's."
The series may come down to that catch-word of experience. Cliche or not, it can matter this time of year.
"I certainly think that it helps you," York said. "As you go into the tournament, the whole psyche of teams change. You know it the minute that you step into the locker room that first night. Everyone understands that if you win, you advance. You don't really get that during the course of the year.
"I think we have a lot of veterans that have gone through a good run the last few springs, so I think that will help us. But, every year is different. I've been coaching a long time and can't quite figure it out."