Atkinson's Hat Trick Another Feather in Breakthrough Year
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. Forgive Boston College coach Jerry York for forgetting the exact number of goals sophomore Cam Atkinson has scored this season. The number was pretty high before Sunday's Regional Championship, so it's understandable.
Then he added three more to end the night with 27.
When the game ended, the Eagles had nine goals, and their ticket to the program's fourth Frozen Four in the last five seasons. Yale had seven in the game, so not everything went well for the Eagles. But York will take it. Just win and advance, that's all he's concerned with. The Eagles won 9-7.
Winning, though, means scoring goals, and York worried where those would come from in 2009-10 when last season ended. Brock Bradford and his 25 goals were gone. So were Kyle Kucharski and Benn Ferriero; his other top scorers.
As he sat down with his players after the season to assess everything he saw from them, he made it clear that there was one player in particular that he needed more from. That player was Atkinson.
When a kid becomes a man while playing for York, he learns to listen.
Everything Atkinson struggled with last season started with his failure to learn the college game and adjust. A full season knowing his expectations without having to adjust, without having to second guess himself on either end of the ice meant a full season just playing hockey.
"Every freshman year is a huge adjustment for any player, no matter where you play. I guess it gave me a little motivation in the summer to get stronger and really focus on the things I needed to work on," Atkinson said following Sunday's win.
Midway through the season, though, York decided the Eagles needed a spark. Following a loss to Boston University on Jan. 8 at Fenway Park, York paired Atkinson, a ball of muscle jammed into 5-foot-8 frame, with shifty center Brian Gibbons and crafty winger Joe Whitney. Coaches experiment with line combinations throughout the season, and the result is rarely more than a new couple of linemates the next weekend. Sometimes, though, they find something; a couple players who just know how to play together, whether they've spent time on the same shift or not.
Call it luck, but 800 wins and three national championships — two with BC and another with Bowling Green in 1984 — mean that York's found it a few times before.
"They're two of the best player I've ever played with. We move the puck so well together. It always seems to go from tape to tape," Atkinson said. "When we move the puck like we did tonight, it's hard for other teams to defend us.
"We got six goals tonight, the whole line. It seemed liked [Whitney and Gibbons] were doing all the work, and I was just finishing it."
Six goals is an anomaly, but Atkinson saw after the first night they spent together that they had something. The game came against Providence and took only 60 seconds for Atkinson to score his 11th goal of the season with assists from Gibbons and Whitney. Eight minutes later, Gibbons scored on assists from Whitney and Atkinson. York didn't change much after that.
"Cam knew from the beginning of the year that he was going to have a big year," Whitney said. "He was putting the puck in the net from the start. But we got put together earlier this season, and we started clicking right away. Whenever [Atkinson]'s open, we try to get him the puck; he can shoot it pretty good," Whitney finished with a laugh.
Since the smallish forwards came together, Atkinson has scored 17 goals and turned the BC offense into one of the most reliable and dynamic in the country. Lots of players can score goals, but Atkinson demonstrated against Yale that he can beat goaltenders any way he has to. In the win, he picked top corners form the high slot and turned a Whitney blocked shot into a breakway goal.
Refining his scoring touch took some time. Working on a wrist shot on an empty net in practice is one thing, but getting those looks in a game against real competition is the only way to turn good shots into good goals. Spending time with Whitney and Gibbons, who can find an open man when they don't even realize they're open, has given him a few chances to refine that ability.
"It's good for him, and it's obviously good for me and Gibby too. When we find him, we know he can put the puck in the net," Whitney said. "Every time we get it to him, we know it has a chance to go in. It's good for him to be able to work on his scoring abilities. It's clear that he's come a long way since the beginning of the year."
After three games without a goal, Atkinson found his way out of the slump at the perfect time for BC. That's the mark of the truly great goal scorers; scoring big goals at big moments. Whether or not Atkinson is one of the best isn't determined at this point, but the Frozen Four will provide a little more incite.
"He's progressed to the point where he has to be considered one of the best players in the country," York said.
York's made up his mind already, though, that should be good enough for the rest of us.