Unsung Heroes Lead Boston College Again
by Mike Machnik/CHN Senior Editor
WORCESTER, Mass. It wasn't easy, but No. 1 seed Boston College kept rolling with a 3-1 win over fourth-seeded Alaska in the semifinals of the NCAA Northeast Regional. BC will meet the winner of North Dakota-Yale in Sunday's regional final, with the winner headed to Detroit for the Frozen Four in April.
And, like last week, unheralded players led the way for the Eagles, with Matt Lombardi, MVP of the Hockey East Tournament, scoring a first-period shorthanded goal and linemate Matt Price adding an unusual empty netter, around freshman Pat Mullane's winner in the third.
Eagles coach Jerry York seemed relieved to get a victory over a Nanook team that didn't show any of the jitters you'd expect from a first time NCAA appearance.
"Our team was in a terrific battle tonight," said York. "We knew Alaska was good. I didn't realize just how good a player [Dion] Knelsen (one assist) was. He is as good a player as we've played against all year, and we've played teams from all over the country.
"I think Alaska and [head coach] Dallas [Ferguson] have to be very pleased. This was their first tournament action and they played us so well. The game certainly could have gone either direction, tied after two periods."
It wasn't a typical win for BC (26-10-3), not that there has been a typical win during this stretch. The Eagles have now won six in a row and are 9-0-1 in their last 10. In that span — 607:02 of hockey — BC has only been behind for 55 seconds, and that came late in the second period of a 3-2 win over New Hampshire on March 8.
Despite that, the Eagles have won almost every kind of game, including a 7-6 shootout over Maine in the Hockey East final and tonight's close battle.
But this is the time of year when games don't go as you necessarily expect, and teams that move on often get contributions from guys they might not normally be getting them from.
Alaska (18-12-9) did an effective job of shutting down BC's top forwards, thanks largely to the play of freshman goaltender Scott Greenham (29 saves). That meant someone else had to step up. Lombardi started it by forcing the play at his own blue line on the shorthand and going in alone to beat Greenham with a backhander past his outstretched pad 8:54 into the first.
"I thought Matty Price had another really solid game," York said. "His line, with Matt Lombardi, they're really doing some special things on the ice as we go through the season.
"Barry Almeida is really coming on strong, but I think right now Matt Price and Matt Lombardi are the catalysts for our team."
"Any team that's going to make a push here is going to need everyone to step up," Price said. "Everyone's going to play a different role every night. Sometimes your checkers are going to score. That's something you need. The more guys we can get going, the better off we're going to be, and I think you've seen that the last couple of games."
"When we don't have our top line of Gibbons, Atkinson and Whitney, when they're not scoring, we're so deep that we can have Matt Lombardi, who's playing well for us lately, come through with huge goals," said Mullane. "We can have guys like that scoring goals and that really helps us when our top lines aren't playing well."
Mullane snapped a 1-1 tie 3:46 into the third when he deflected a shot by rookie defenseman Patch Alber past Greenham for his eighth goal of the year.
"They came down on a 3-on-2, I'm not sure whether it was a blocked shot or the puck just missed the net. But it squeaked around the boards and I picked it up, looked up and we had a 3-on-2," Mullane said. "[I] dropped it to Steve Whitney, and he had a lot of poise to hold up and catch Patch Alber coming in pretty late. We always work hard on hitting our D coming in late, and it paid off tonight. Patch made a great look backdoor, and I was just lucky enough to have my stick in the right place."
That was the difference in the game. Price was given credit for a goal with 12 seconds remaining when he was taken down on a bid to score into the empty Nanook net, but otherwise it was a one-goal game.
Alaska had tied it 1-1 late in the second on a power-play goal by top rookie Andy Taranto (18th), who collected a Knelsen centering pass that had hit a BC skate and landed on his stick. The play was started by defenseman Joe Sova, who kept the puck in at the left point and sent it aroudn the boards to Knelson behind the net.
The Nanooks had four power plays in the second period and seemed to get better and build momentum with each one, culminating in Taranto's goal on the doorstep.
So a key to the third for BC was staying out of the box. Last week against Maine, third period penalties hurt the Eagles and helped Maine come back to tie and force overtime. But tonight, BC didn't take a single penalty in the third, keeping the dangerous Taranto and Knelsen off the ice on the man advantage for the rest of the game.
"Part of taking penalties is, the other team has good chances, they're either quicker or they make plays where you get caught and you trip a guy or you hook a guy," said York. "We had some offensive zone penalties, where, if you're going to take a penalty, it's got to be in the defensive zone.
"Those four straight penalties we took in the second period, we almost survived the bullet there, but right at the end they scored. I think all teams that we play, we've got to be conscious of playing very hard defensively but try to do it without fouling."
The Eagles also got a particularly strong performance from their goaltender, John Muse, even though it was certain all week that York would go with Muse, the 2008 national champ as a freshman, over current freshman Parker Milner.
"If I had to pick one reason why we're advancing, it would be the play of John Muse [28 saves]," said York. "I'll see it on film again, but [watching] from the bench, he made some incredible saves.
"They make some good plays, and they had some strong offensive, Grade-A chances."
A funny moment came in the post game press conference when BC coach Jerry York was asked what he knew about the Nanooks, and responded by talking about the well-known viral video featuring Alaska's world famous polar bear mascot.
"They have a YouTube presentation, it's on YouTube, their introduction. It's got thousands of hits. The kids had seen that throughout the course of the year. A polar bear, taking out campuses, taking out — battles, stuff like that.
"I showed it to my grandson — and he started crying. I said, that's probably not the thing to show."