Meditative Muse Backstops Eagles to Title
by Avash Kalra/Staff Writer
DENVER "Muse: verb, 'to engage in meditation, to consider or say thoughtfully.'"
Now, the Boston College Eagles can add to that definition: "noun, 'champion.'"
On Saturday, a mile above sea level at Denver's Pepsi Center, BC rookie goaltender John Muse made 20 saves in a 4-1 win over Notre Dame, helping the Eagles overcome a championship game hump that, indeed, seemed a mile high itself.
Boston College was the national runner-up each of the last two seasons and played 2,275 minutes of hockey before it finally triumphed in the title game. And Muse was in the net for every second.
"He's just so poised," said BC head coach Jerry York, who now has three national titles to his credit — two with Boston College. "He's not running all over the place. He just stays calm and collected and plays his angles very well and just competes like a bulldog."
Added BC junior Nathan Gerbe, who had five goals during the Frozen Four, "John's been unbelievable. He's got a championship under his belt his freshman year, and that's a huge thing to say about him. Some goaltenders couldn't do that, like Cory Schneider and Scott Clemmensen. And those are two great goalies, and John's right up there. He's an elite goalie. He's been great all year. He's one of the most poised kids I've ever met. Even when the puck is in our end, he never panics.
"He's always great, and now he's a champion."
Muse was the only goaltender in the country to play every minute of his team's games between the pipes. The freshman from East Falmouth, Mass., now improves to 8-0 in postseason games, with a goals-against average under 1.50 and a save percentage over .950 over that span.
Indeed, he has been the model of consistency for a tough, gritty BC team all season.
"I pride myself in being able to play a lot," said Muse. "Martin Brodeur, I look up to him and his work ethic because he plays almost every single game. Being able to play every minute has been a real honor for me."
Muse also named Anaheim Ducks goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere as a role model. Giguere, in his "rookie" appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, didn't skate away with the Cup. Muse, on the other hand is one-for-one in championship games (three-for-three when including the Beanpot and Hockey East title tilts).
And York, who earned coaching win No. 803 with Muse in net on Saturday, commented on his freshman netminder's endurance as well.
"With all these collisions with goaltenders, it seems like there's always someone hitting them, whether it's their guys or our guys," said York. "So his stamina is terrific."
After the championship game victory, Muse stood quietly outside the BC locker room as his teammates celebrated wildly inside. Really, his demeanor appeared as if he had just won a relatively meaningless early season exhibition game.
But poise at all times has defined Muse all season. After winning the championship, the rookie revealed some of his pre-game rituals — one of which makes his last name all the more appropriate.
"I don't talk ... at all ... before games," said Muse, cracking a smile. "I do my thing. I stretch, I juggle, I just try to get my coordination down.
"And I do a little meditation too to calm myself down."
Calmness is hard to come by when playing in a national championship game — never mind as a freshman. Somehow, Muse was able to handle the pressure with ease.
"We all get nervous," said York. "Coaches get nervous. But [Muse] handles it. He focuses on making that first save, playing well the first five minutes. He breaks it down very well."
On Saturday against Notre Dame, Muse did indeed make the first save ... and more. Among his five stops in the first period was a sparkling pad save on Fighting Irish forward Ryan Thang. Indeed, the rookie held a hungry underdog Notre Dame team off the board in the first period, which was just the fourth scoreless opening period in NCAA championship game history.
Those saves paved the way for Gerbe and company to take control of the game in the third period. And watching Muse make the early saves only increased the Eagles' confidence.
"I think, as a defenseman, when you have a goalie back there who's so confident, nothing fazes him," said senior captain Mike Brennan, who could barely let go of the championship trophy during the post-game press conference. "A goal goes in ... nothing fazes him. When you know that as a defenseman, you have confidence in him, you have confidence in your own zone. You know he's going to be there when we have a breakdown, and that's how he's been all year. He's definitely one of the biggest reasons why we won the national championship."
The Irish took notice, as well.
Said Notre Dame captain Mark Van Guilder, "He was awesome tonight. He's been awesome for a while. It's pretty special for a freshman to do something like that. He made some big saves, and I think that was maybe the differences. We weren't able to capitalize on our chances, and they were."
For the Eagles, Muse was easily their most pleasant surprise all year. After losing junior Cory Schneider to the pros before the season began, the responsibility fell squarely on Muse's shoulders — and on his leg pads and his catching glove, too — to lead BC back to the title game.
"We had no idea," said York when asked if he ever thought Muse could accomplish what he has. "We had a young kid coming in to play at the Hockey East level. We were on pins and needles as a coaching staff and as a team. We had no idea how he was going to handle the pressure of playing at Boston College."
Added Muse, "I can't say I thought I was going to be playing for the national title when I started, but it's been a pleasant surprise."
Then, Muse added something else, perhaps hoping to re-define the word 'champion' as well.
"I've got three more national championships to go for."