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March 4, 2011 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Gibbons Shows the Way

Boston College Leaps over UNH Into First Place With One Game to Go

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — A holler or two bolted from the stands when Joe Whitney stopped at the New Hampshire blue line.

“Why’d he stop?” this fan most likely thought, when the shifty senior hesitated and dropped the puck to his left. Moments later, that fan, the one who thought Whitney screwed up, nearly saw the Eagles second goal of the evening.

He or she, the fan, would have, too, if Brian Gibbons managed to tuck the puck into the net – the one left wide open after a quick deke drew UNH goaltender Matt DiGirolamo out of his crease – on a wraparound resembling a Massachusetts State Cop circling a rotary more than a play in a hockey game.

Rewind a few minutes.

Gibbons beat DiGirolamo on another wraparound, circling to the right of the UNH net, on his backhand, and tucking it between the post and the goaltender’s pad. Both wraparounds, both scoring chances, just a fragment of the arsenal Gibbons has thrown at defenseman and goaltenders in Hockey East in his four seasons at the Heights.

Playing with Whitney and Atkinson, the wingers flanking their do-it-all pivot, has made Gibbons' ascent to the role of No. 1 center a little easier than it may have been otherwise. In the end, though, it was Gibbons who earned that place. His talent leading the way, but his grit providing the perfect compliment.

Any of the 7,884 fans who saw the Eagles defeat UNH, 4-0, Friday night will remember the moments when Gibbons left DiGirolamo guessing or spun a defender before blazing to the UNH crease. Those are the pretty goals; the plays BC players make while they stroll to Frozen Fours.

It’s the other moments, though. When Gibbons and his linemates pair puck skills with grit, skating, checking and passing their way to a two-minute shift. A shift that doesn’t see the puck leave the UNH zone. One that began with aggressive fore-checking from another line, continued due to slick passing from Gibbons, Atkinson and Whitney and ended with Atkinson slamming a rebound past DiGirolamo for BC’s third goal.

Ultimately, Gibbons failed to notch an assist, but a few seconds – we’ll call it seven – before Atkinson’s 26th goal of the season and second of the night, Gibbons’ hustle earned the assist the rules denied him. The puck skipped back toward the blue line between Philip Samuelsson and Edwin Shea, seemingly destined for center ice, allowing UNH to escape its worst shift of a generally horrible evening without conceding a goal.

Like Gibbons, or any BC sniper would let happen.

Gibbons raced from the top of the face-off circle to the midpoint and swiped the puck back into the zone, where Atkinson and Whitney sustained the possession long enough to push the lead to 3-0.

“It started with the line that was out there before us. Stevie Whitney, Paul Carey and Bill Arnold were able to cycle the puck for a while and wear [UNH] down,” Gibbons said. “They weren’t able to get a [line] change, but our guys changed with Cam, Joey and I. We eventually poked it in.”

At times, people marvel at the skill level BC rushes out on a nightly basis. They remember those moments, when the Eagles dazzle – sometimes it’s an ungodly move around a defenseman or a pass through a throng that lands on a teammates’ stick just long enough to redirect itself into the inch of next a goaltender hasn’t covered.

BC coach Jerry York can recall a few of those, of course. He likes the gritty goals, though. The ones championship teams score.

At 9 minutes, 50 second of the second period, Atkinson and Gibbons demonstrated both elements of their game. Down a man after Whitney went off on a hooking minor, Gibbons darted forward as the lead man on the Eagles’ penalty kill. Turning quickly, he lost an edge and took a less-than-graceful tumble, creating a lane for a UNH breakout pass.

With his teammate out of the play, Atkinson darted across the blue line and picked the pass of brilliantly.

The pair moved in a alone on DiGirolamo, where it showed its greatness seconds following its grittiness. Atkinson beat DiGirolamo without much trouble to push the BC lead to 4-0.

Another shorthanded goal, BC’s 10th in Hockey East play this season, and another moment for the BC fans to remember on their ride home.

Gibbons has been a part of a few of those memories – winning national championships in freshman season and again last year to go with the pair of Beanpots and two Hockey East Tournament championships.

Saturday night at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H., Gibbons and the two other BC seniors can clinch one distinction they haven’t claimed in their careers – a Hockey East Regular Season championship.

Just another game, though. Expect Gibbons to be in his usual place, between Whitney and Atkinson on the Eagles’ top line. Nothing different – just like Friday night.

“He’s consistently shown [hustle] to us,” York said of Gibbons. “He’s an extremely hard competitor. He’s not the biggest kid, but he’s very quick and strong for his size. His heart and his compete-level are way off the charts.

A goal, a couple assists and two points for the Eagles.

Nothing less of Gibbons’ is to be expected.

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