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February 14, 2012 E-MAIL PRINT Bookmark and Share

Milner Time

BC Goalie Shows He's Ready in Beanpot Win

by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer

BOSTON — John Muse's career ended with 20 minutes remaining in the 2010-11 season. As the third period began in the West Regional semifinal against Colorado College, it was Parker Milner, not Muse, in the crease for Boston College.

Among the favorites to win the 2011 NCAA Tournament, BC began its final period of the season down, 7-2, to the Tigers. Rather than send Muse out, BC coach Jerry York decided, among other things, that Milner's time as the No. 1 goaltender had begun. The game ended with the Tigers advancing to the regional final after an 8-4 win.

After three-plus seasons backstopping BC to eight championships, Muse passed the legacy to Milner before it was really time. That legacy, a tradition of top class goaltending, has sustained BC on its current run of greatness. Since 2001, the Eagles have won three national championships, earned six Frozen Four appearances and six Hockey East Championships.

Leading the charge, for the most part, has been a group of gifted forwards, drawing national attention with scoring records and dazzling plays.

Often lost in the fanfare, however, has been a group of goaltenders that quietly assumed their duty in the crease. Turning away shots and guiding the Eagles to their success. Muse inherited that responsibility from Cory Schneider, who took the job from Matti Kaltiainen, who succeeded Scott Clemmensen. All four of these goaltenders won at least one major championship in their time at Boston College. But it was Muse who saw the Eagles through their most dominant period, ending his four years in Chestnut Hill with three conference championships, three Beanpots and two national championships.

That all ended last March in St. Louis, when Milner began the third period, the last of BC's season. At no point did anyone point to Milner and tell him his job was to win titles. Still, that's the precedent at BC. The Eagles win trophies, and it's reliable goaltending that gets them there.

Milner joined that club Monday night, calmly steering BC to its 17th Beanpot Championship, with a 3-2 overtime win against Boston University. The Eagles have now won three straight Beanpots and four of the last five.

Bill Arnold's goal at 19 minutes, 54 seconds of the overtime drew the praise, as the sophomore continues to emerge as one of Hockey East's best young players. But, like the goaltender usually is for BC, there was Milner, deftly steering shots aside. The junior made 34 saves, including seven in the extra session.

"It's one of the things you dream about when you commit to Boston College," Milner said after the win. "It's one of the cooler things to win. To hold that Beanpot, as a champion of Boston, is incredible.

"You never think too much about who came before you, but whenever you're out there, especially in a Beanpot game, you want to honor the Eagle jersey, and those who wore it before you. To be mentioned with other goaltenders that have won the Beanpot, like Cory Schneider and John Muse, it's great."

When the buzzer officially ended BC's season last March, common sense made Milner the No. 1 goaltender heading into the 2011-12 season. Now in this third year, he stood more tested than freshman Brian Billet and seldom-used senior Chris Venti.

As it often does for BC, the season began well, with Milner guiding BC to a championship in the IceBreaker Invitational in Grand Forks, N.D. Wins over Michigan State and North Dakota swelled his confidence, as the season progressed. Meanwhile, his teammates adopted a similar swagger, winning eight of their first nine games. Losses to Massachusetts, BU and Notre Dame quickly damaged that, though, and Milner found himself battling with Billet and, eventually, Venti for the top job in the crease at Conte Forum.

"I'd like to think that my confidence never wavered, but I'm sure it did," Milner said. "It's tough. We had a tough loss at Notre Dame and that kind of hurt it. It's good to try and persevere through it. The harder times are worth it to get here."

Billet's performance late in the first half saw him skip past Milner atop the BC depth chart, with the freshman winning his first three starts, including a win over BU one night after Milner allowed four goals in a 5-3 loss to the Terriers. Milner wouldn't play again until the first game of the second half — a 2-1 loss to Michigan that spread further doubt on the junior as the guy for BC.

Despite these struggles and appearances from both Billet and Venti, BC coach Jerry York, perhaps as well as anyone, understands the demeanor it takes to win championships. He saw it from Milner, even while Billet was winning his first three starts and Venti's unlikely spell as the starter peaked and ended just as quickly. He knew it would come. He'd seen it before.

"The competiton has made him a better goaltender," York said. "He's better in practice. He's been a better student of the game. (Winning the Beanpot) is going to be a real confidence booster for him, winning a championship with maybe the best goaltender in country (BU's Kieran Millan) down the other end, just matching him save for save."

As a freshman, Milner posted a 10-2-1 record, filling in for Muse, slowed by a nagging hip injury, for several games down the stretch. It was this run and his strong performances as a sophomore that told York he would come around at some point.

"(Filling in for Muse as a freshman) was excellent for Parker," York said. "He didn't get to play much last year, because (Muse) was on the top of his game.

"Competition drives you, whether you're a left wing or a defenseman. We have some good goaltenders, but we wanted someone to step up. Parker's done that pretty boldly in the last few weeks."

Milner has started the last five games for the Eagles — all BC wins. Aside from Monday's championship-winning performance, Milner's emergence has lifted BC to second place in Hockey East. In this stretch, he's posted a 1.67 goals-against average and a .928 save percentage. The performance of BC as a whole has improved, but the confidence the club feels in its newly named No. 1 plays a part.

"He's really come on strong lately," BC captain Tommy Cross said after Monday's win. "We have competition at every position. Goaltender is no different. Those guys push each other. They've made Parker better. His attitude remained very positive. He's really taken it upon himself to take over that spot. (Monday night), he played great. He was a rock for us in net. He definitely showed some real maturity."

With the Beanpot behind them, the Eagles shift their focus to the Hockey East regular season championship. One point back of Mass.-Lowell, with six games apiece left to play, yet another title sits within their reach. One month ago that championship — or any trophy — seemed a stretch. The ascent of Milner has resulted in yet another late-season run from the Eagles, though. Serving as a constant reminder of his need to maintain his effectiveness is his mid-season benching in favor of an untested freshman.

"When you lose your job, you never think you want be in there more than you do when you lose it, so, when you get it back, you just appreciate it so much more," he said.

The Parker Milner era in Chestnut Hill began one period earlier than most expected. Replacing his prolific predecessor in a game all but lost. Three months ago, that time almost ended as quickly. Monday night, though, served as Milner's official arrival as an elite goaltender in Hockey East and his announcement to all concerned that the Parker Milner era has only just begun. 

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