BC Gearing Up For Annual Run
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
DURHAM, N.H. Usually the start of January means Boston College is about to go on a tear and ride a tidal wave of momentum through the rest of the regular season. That didn't happen this year, though. The Eagles entered this weekend's series against New Hampshire with a 1-3-1 record in the new year and a 2-5-1 mark since Dec. 9.
After getting swept by Maine last weekend, the Eagles had plenty of questions to answer. They scored seven goals in that series — a marked improvement over their 1.67 goals per game in their previous six contests — but coach Jerry York said he still thought his team needed to work harder to create more second-chance opportunities.
The biggest questions, though, were at the other end of the ice. BC allowed 11 goals against Maine — four on Chris Venti, five on Brian Billett and two on an empty net — and found itself no closer to finding a solution between the pipes. According to York, though, it wouldn't have mattered who was in net with some of the chances his defense gave up.
"Up at Maine, I thought we exposed our goaltenders to a lot of 2-on-1s and 3-on-1s," York said. "We had two winnable periods of time up at Maine. We just didn't respond very well to it, with the game right on the line. This week we talked about when the game's on the line, let's see if we can make good, smart plays."
With 4:42 left in Friday's series opener against UNH, it looked like the Eagles might suffer another late loss when Scott Pavelski gave the Wildcats a 3-2 lead. Instead, BC proved that this weekend wasn't going to be like last weekend. Johnny Gaudreau scored with 3:05 to go and then Steven Whitney netted the game-winner with 51 seconds left in regulation.
Saturday night's series finale in Durham went down to the wire as well. BC and UNH went to overtime tied 2-2 after a hard-fought and evenly-matched third period failed to decide a winner. The Eagles controlled play to start overtime and then drew a tripping call with 2:43 left in the extra session. A little more than a minute into the power play, Tommy Cross threw a shot into traffic and Barry Almeida knocked home the loose puck to give BC its first weekend sweep since the end of October.
"It's a huge weekend for us," Cross said. "We needed points. You look at the standings and the top teams are all real close up there, so home ice is gonna be a battle. We wanted to do some things this weekend that we didn't do last weekend, fundamentally. I think we did a lot of those things. We still have a long way to go, but it was definitely a step in the right direction."
The biggest thing the Eagles wanted to do was play better defensively and make life easier for their goalie, which was Parker Milner for this weekend. They certainly weren't flawless against UNH's offense, but they were better. They gave up just 13 shots on goal Friday night, and they did a pretty good job all weekend limiting the Wildcats' chances on the initial rush.
"Just taking care of the puck," Cross said when asked what the defense was working on most. "Those odd-man rushes happened because of turnovers, when the defense was out of position or the puck didn't get in deep or whatever. That puts the other team in a good spot to come and attack us. We wanted to take care of the puck and put it in good spots, tough spots for them. We improved on that, but it still hurt us a little. So we're gonna continue to work on that."
Behind the defense, Milner looked a little shaky the few times he was tested Friday night, but York decided to go back to him Saturday. It turned out to be the right call, as the junior saved 31 of the 33 shots he faced, including 17 from grade-A areas.
Milner opened the season as BC's full-time starter, but eventually gave way to freshman Brian Billett and senior Chris Venti after struggling from mid-November to early December. He hadn't started a game since Dec. 30 prior to this weekend, but York said all along that Milner was still competing for the job and that he would basically just go with whoever was hot and whoever was performing the best in practice.
"We're very competitive at that position, moreso than our forwards, moreso than our defense," York said. "We kind of know these are our 12 forwards and these are our six defensemen. The goaltenders, they're very close. We'll certainly look back on this weekend and say, 'Hey, Parker took a step forward.' I feel good about that, but I also feel that we have some really good depth in goal.
"We have good goaltending. Now it's just a question of, 'Are we gonna play smart and not give up odd-man rushes?' That broke our goaltenders down so easy the last month."
BC's defense did play smarter and didn't break down as much this weekend as it had recently. If the Eagles continue to improve defensively and continue to create more chances offensively — they've now registered 34 or more shots in each of their last four games — they might still be able to put together one of their trademark second-half runs. Cross, the team's senior captain, knows what those runs take and knows they don't come easy.
"I've been on teams that have gone on runs, but everyone in our locker room knows that those don't just happen," Cross said. "Teams in the past that have done that, they've done it because of things that they've done. We're starting to do some of those things. I think we can do it."