Through Injury, Struggles, Muse leads Eagles Back to Championship
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
DETROIT There were three seconds left in the NCAA Tournament when Boston College goaltender John Muse realized it was over. A Wisconsin defenseman, accepting the fate of a 5-0 deficit, skated behind his own net and just stood there. Muse remembered a couple things from the last time he led a team to a national championship. Most importantly, to get the gear off quick because in a few ticks of a clock, about 20 young men were headed his way.
Muse threw his mask, the maroon and white job that reads "Moose" across the mouth, into the air just after he sent his stick and blocker flying away. Senior defenseman Carl Sneep, a few feet to his right, did the same before heading straight for his goaltender. The rest of the Eagles followed in celebration of the program's fourth national championship and second in three years.
The players, including those out of uniform, continued to pile onto Muse in the corner of the rink constructed on Ford Field. While the celebration continued, his mind drifted away for a little while. He doesn't know exactly where: It may have been on the operating table in New York, or the bench while freshman Parker Milner pieced together a 10-2-1 record in 13 starts this season. When he returned to the present, the weight of his teammates felt like nothing as a season full of doubts and pain disappeared in a cathartic celebration of another season-ending championship.
He had the surgery April 30, 2009. It was just over 12 months after he won the national title for the first time, as a highly celebrated freshman that played every minute of every game of his team's season. It was about a month after he and his teammates watched Boston University, that other program on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue, win a national championship — a championship that the Eagles were not able to defend after the Terriers ousted them from the Hockey East Tournament in the semifinals.
The pain began at some point during the 2008-09 season, but Muse can't recall exactly. Mostly because he'd like nothing more than to forget that the season ever happened.
"We had a pretty disappointing season. It was not only disappointing but embarrassing," Muse said following BC's win on Saturday. "We went from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. We were all sitting at home last Easter Break watching BU win a championship."
The surgery removed bone chips from his right hip, repaired a torn labrum, and ground the bones that connect at the hip joint down. Despite the major surgery, Muse began his rehab the next day, and he never really stopped. Five days a week throughout the summer he labored to repair the joint that limited his lateral movement and made the hours following games and practices truly excruciating.
The need to repair the injury drove Muse, of course, but his desire to make amends with his team and himself for the Eagles' absence from the 2009 NCAA Tournament provided the extra motivation. When the season began, BC coach Jerry York handed his junior goaltender a little more motivation in the form of a gifted freshman netminder from Pittsburgh. As the season progressed, Muse denied that the success the freshman enjoyed — 10-2-1 record and a 2.32 goals-against average — bothered him.
"There was time when I wasn't playing," Muse said. "It was pretty difficult. I knew that I'd get my chance again, and I knew that I'd play well when I did get my chance. I've had confidence throughout the year. I think I've improved each game. I didn't want to get down on myself when I wasn't playing. I tried to stay positive - no complaints or anything. It was difficult, but I had to keep playing the way I was playing."
The season progressed, and Milner continued to win games for the Eagles, while Muse never really reached that next level. He won games, but knowing whether or not it was Muse or his team leading the way made people in the Heights wonder if Milner wasn't the man for the job. Especially when Milner started the first game of the Hockey East Quarterfinals against Massachusetts.
Some thought the move demonstrated York's lack of faith in Muse. More than anything, it was part of his plan. A rested Muse in the later rounds of the conference tournament and throughout the NCAA Tournament gave BC its best chance to return to the national championship. Even as Milner's numbers impressed, there was never a question who would be the No. 1 when the games shifted away from Conte Forum.
"He doesn't get flustered. He's a very poised young man. Came right out of Nobles & Greenough, 18 years old, came into BC and won a national championship. Wasn't one of those where [he took] two or three years where he learned his craft in junior hockey," York said.
"He doesn't get any all-American awards or First or Second Team in [Hockey East], but if you're picking a goaltender to win a money game, you have to go with John Muse."
York's known that about him all along, too. While he didn't have much of a choice when Cory Schneider signed with the Vancouver Canucks following the Eagles' loss to Michigan State in the 2007 national championship game, the confidence he placed in Muse resonated throughout the team. In his three years, he's 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament, and 6-0 in championship games of the Beanpot, Hockey East and NCAA Tournaments.
"Our coaches had faith in him, and so did we," BC senior Ben Smith said. "We trust our coaches' instincts. He stepped in, and he worked hard right from the start — 8-0 in the NCAA Tournament is pretty impressive."
Those eight wins in the NCAA Tournament equate to a pair of national championships. Some of the best collegiate goaltenders in recent memory, including Michigan State's Ryan Miller and Maine's Jimmy Howard, didn't manage one. In fact, the last collegiate goaltender to win two championships was Michigan's Marty Turco in 1996 and 1998. Turco has more than 240 wins in his NHL career aside from his status as one of college hockey's best all-time goaltenders.
"I don't know if I'm there yet," Muse said, dismissing the comparison to Turco with a laugh. "He's been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL for a long time. I'm still just a junior in college."
A junior in college with two national championships to his credit on a team expected to return nine of its top 11 scorers and its decorated goaltender next season.
The numbers are impressive, but to Muse they are a reminder of the year that BC failed to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament and the amount of work necessary to be on the bottom of the pile again next year in St. Paul, Minn.
"I can't wait [for the 2010-11 season to start]," Muse said. "At the same time, we had a lot of good players coming back last year too, and we didn't fufill our expectations. It's going to take a lot of hard work this summer, throughout the preseason and all of next year to get back here."