Looking in a Mirror
BC, Minnesota Boast Similar Styles, Looks
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
For the second consecutive game, Boston College will stand across the ice from a WCHA powerhouse. One of the few major differences this time around, though, is what at stake.
Boston College and Minnesota will play in the second national semifinal game on Thursday night at the Tampa Times Forum. The winner moves on to Saturday's national championship game, where it will play either Union or Ferris State.
That next step is hardly on the mind of either club right now, though. As they make their way down to Tampa, both BC coach Jerry York and Minnesota coach Don Lucia have all they can handle in their next opponent.
Similarly talented clubs, Minnesota and BC have as much in common as two teams could this late in the season. Each features an aggressive offense, strong two-way defensive corps and goaltending that can shut opponents down.
Perhaps the major factor tilting advantage toward the Eagles in Thursday's national semifinal is NCAA Tournament and Frozen Four experience. Eleven of the Eagles 19 regulars were on the 2010 national championship team, including top defensemen Brian Dumoulin and Tommy Cross.
Up front, only junior winger Chris Kreider played a similar role as a forward in 2010.
Senior Barry Almeida served on the Eagles checking line at the time, shutting down top lines from Miami and Wisconsin on the way the Eagles' most recent championship. Almeida's evolution from bottom-six checking forward has given the Eagles one of the premier three-zone players in college hockey to go along with its usual complement of highly skilled forwards.
The play of junior goaltender Parker Milner has been the starkest contrast for the Eagles in their current 17-game winning stream, which was preceded immediately by a 6-9-1 stretch that reminded York all too much of the 2008-09 season when the Eagles failed to qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
Milner began the season as the starter, but the junior lost his job in early December. Freshman Brian Billet and senior Chris Venti saw time as York scrambled to find his No. 1. After they experienced similar highs and lows, York went back to Milner on Jan. 27 against New Hampshire.
That was 17 games ago. The Eagles haven't lost since, and Milner's numbers in that run have been magnificent. On the year, Milner's boasts a 1.70 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage — outstanding numbers in their own right. However, since the first win of this current streak, he has a 1.11 goals-against average and a .960 save percentage.
Milner was on the bench when the Eagles won the national championship in 2009-10, while John Muse guided BC to its second national title in three season. Again last year, Milner backed up Muse who finished his career among the all-time leaders in Chestnut Hill.
Meanwhile, Minnesota goaltender Kent Patterson's season took a decidedly less turbulent route. The senior entered his final year as the undisputed No. 1 for the Golden Gophers. His 2.23 goals-against average and .911 save percentage don't border on the ridiculous like Milner, but few can question his role as one of the nation's most consistent goaltenders this season.
Depsite a tough outing against North Dakota in a WCHA Final Five game — six goals allowed on 28 shots — Patterson corrected his play as the NCAA Tournament. Turning in strong performances in wins over Boston University and that same North Dakota team in the West Regional helped Minnesota clinch its first trip to the Frozen Four since 2005.
Patterson's play will be especially important for the Gophers against BC. Even against the most defensively astute clubs, BC can create frequent scoring chances. Minnesota coach Don Lucia plans to unleash his club Thursday night, letting his gifted players go shift for shift the Eagles. Patterson will need to be at his best to set aside the inevitable BC counter attacks. Ultimately, Lucia's confidence in Patterson is obvious, as the coach wouldn't groom his club for such a plan if he didn't trust his netminder.
Much has been said about the Eagles' offense, especially with its production on its current 17-game winning streak. However, it's Minnesota that leads the nation in scoring, averaging 3.67 goals per game.
Much like the Eagles, Minnesota features remarkable scoring depth. Erik Haula, Kyle Rau and Nick Bjugstad are among the club's scoring leaders, and have scored some big goals for the team. However, contributions from its defensemen, especially on the power play, and its remaining forwards have made Minnesota a difficult club to defend.
Allowing his club to play in the manner that earned it a bid to the Frozen Four may ultimately be the key for Lucia.