A Lesson in Leading
Eagles Demonstrate Trademark Finish in Win
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
WORCESTER, Mass. Air Force coach Frank Serratore liked what he saw from his team during Saturday's 2-0 loss to Boston College in the Northeast Regional at the DCU Center.
Knowing his opponent, Serratore controlled his club. The instructions were clear. Play smart. Keep the game close and try to win late.
Despite falling behind, 1-0, 7 minutes, 39 seconds into the game, Air Force stuck to Serratore's mandate: keep the Eagles to the outside and collapse when their gifted forwards worked the puck down low. Led by goaltender Jason Torf and its top defensive pairing of Tim Kirby and Scott Mathis, the Falcons held the Eagles to one goal through the first two periods.
Most expected an exciting third period. It may have looked that way, too. Ultimately, a questionable cross-checking call on Air Force's Dan Wiessenhofer negated the Falcons' comeback attempt. However, simply assuming they would've leveled the score is a bit of a stretch. Throughout its current win streak, which reached 16 games on Saturday afternoon, the Eagles have demonstrated an ability to build leads, but they protect them just as well.
"We play time and score," BC coach Jerry York said. "I think our players understand that if you're leading, 1-0, you don't have to score that second goal to win a game.
"You don't come in and say 'I want to score a second goal' and pinch as defenseman or take chances to score a goal."
Since the postseason began, BC has won its five games by a combined eight goals. Despite the close results, and desperate comeback attempts from its opponents, the Eagles' leads rarely seemed much in doubt. While BC never relents from its aggressive offensive game, something changes as late leads become closer and closer to wins.
On Saturday, up 1-0 late, the Eagles' forward lines behaved as they always do. As possession shifted, they moved up ice quickly, dumping pucks into corners and booking it to the bench for fresh legs. A standard line change to be sure. However, as BC looks to build its lead for most the game, its crafty forwards extend shifts and advance when they see their chances. With the win in sight, the mindset changes. The lead is large enough already. BC just wants the win.
The mark of college hockey's best programs isn't just winning, but doing it with flare. Few clubs can pile it on like BC, but almost no one can lock a match up quite like the Eagles.
"We take a lot of pride taking care of the puck in the defensive zone and throughout the ice, especially late in games," BC center Pat Mullane said. "As we advance, the teams we play are getting better, so we aren't going to score as many goals. We understand that. Moving forward, we have to protect leads late in games. I think we do a really good job."
The turbulence of learning to win often prevents talented clubs from reaching their ultimate potential. Holding leads without veering from the system and style that result in that lead often negates the advantage entirely. When this switch is flicked, the Eagles uptempo system looks mostly the same. The difference lying in the goal, which shifts from scoring to preventing their opponents from mounting a comeback.
However, there is no sitting back, no reticence nor second guessing like there so often is for other clubs early in their education on winning.
"We know we're going to have to sacrifice some points here and there," Mullane said. "We know we're going to have to be going down to block some shots. We aren't going to be able to make pretty plays. We have to get it in and forecheck and do the little things that make us successful."
Ultimately, it comes down to the usual BC concept of winning and advancing. Play to win, and play smart. Build leads, protect leads and win games.
Sunday night, the Eagles face the defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional final. Following the Bulldogs' win over Maine on Saturday, coach Scott Sandelin mentioned his club's need to score the first goal against BC. The Bulldogs, in their last two games, have spotted their opponents multiple goals before mounting comebacks.
As the Eagles have demonstrated in the last 16 games, and most of the last decade, it doesn't take two goals to end the game comfortably. One is all they need.