More of the Same
Hockey East Schedule Prepared BC for Title Run
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
TAMPA, Fla. For players and coaches, the excitement of the NCAA Tournament also brings an element of worry. Playing teams from throughout the country, scouting reports and gameplans can be difficult to assemble.
Since the NCAA Tournament began two weeks ago, Boston College has won games against Air Force, Minnesota-Duluth and Minnesota — three different clubs with varying systems and strengths. The result came down the same with BC winning and advancing to Saturday's national championship game.
Their opponent again will be an unfamiliar one in CCHA regular season champion Ferris State. The Bulldogs rode their tight-checking, power game to a 3-1 win over Union on Thursday afternoon.
Off the ice, the Eagles approach each opponent in the same manner — respecting their strengths but still focusing on their own. This idea carried BC through its grueling Hockey East schedule, galvanizing the club for its latest ascent to the acme of college hockey.
"Hockey East is a tough league, very competitive — great teams, great players, great coaches," BC senior Barry Almeida said. "Playing so many games against those teams prepared us for the big stage. We just take (the Frozen Four) as other games. We play good teams all season and we know we're going to play good teams here."
This is the case for most clubs in college hockey. All five conferences continue to improve, preparing clubs for the ultimate prize. Within Hockey East, the varying playing styles among the league's 10 teams offers a slightly different route.
In the national championship game, the Eagles' opponent features a deliberate approach focused on controlling play and keeping opponents from asserting their own will. BC's sees a similar system from Vermont. While the Catamounts' 2011-12 campaign was one of their worst in recent memory, they drew the best from the league's top end clubs, including Boston College.
For a freshman like Johnny Gaudreau, difficult tests from the even the least successful teams in Hockey East taught him to temper his superb skill with the physicality and speed of Division I hockey.
"Every game is really competitive in Hockey East," Gaudreau said. "Even Vermont gave us good games. The grind definitely prepared us well for this tournament. There were four teams from Hockey East in the NCAA Tournament and a couple more could've been here."
During its run the Eagles encountered skilled players, such as UMD's Jack Connolly and Minnesota's Kyle Rau, and an Air Force team focused on bottling the Eagles' speed. Each opponent planned to exploit one element of the Eagles' games, and each ultimately failed.
Looking at Hockey East, the gameplans these teams threw at the Eagles may have seemed novel. The only problem was that BC had seen it before. Whether it's the speed and enforcement of Boston University, the tight-checking system of Merrimack or the skating-focused transition game of Massachusetts, there isn't a style BC hasn't seen — and defeated — this season.
"Each team is built so differently, but it helps us get ready for the national tournament," BC captain Tommy Cross said. "A team like UMass skates like crazy, and they're talented. They never stop moving their feet. It helped us get ready for a team like Minnesota that skates as well as they do. We play a team like Merrimack. They grind it out, they're physical. It helped us get ready for parts of Duluth and Air Force."
Advancing through Hockey East as both the regular season and tournament champions, BC stands as the lone remaining Hockey East team. BU, Maine and Massachusetts-Lowell all received at-large bids to the tournament. Following BC's win on Thursday, Gaudreau said he was surprised just one team from the league progressed to Tampa.
"Any of the teams from Hockey East could've gotten to the Frozen Four," he said.
With Saturday's national championship signifying the last collegiate game of the season, the Eagles take pride in representing their program on a national stage. What's more, they consider representing their league a similar honor.
"It's good to have your league competing for national titles," Cross said. "I know every team in the CCHA is rooting for Ferris. To be able to represent (Hockey East), it speaks to the quality of our league. It's good for our league to have a team here."
Last season, the Eagles loss in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, paired with Regional exists from New Hampshire and Merrimack, meant a Hockey East-less Frozen Four for the first time since 2005 when all four representatives hailed from the WCHA. Returning to the Frozen Four signifies the league's strength aside from the Eagles' continued dominance regionally and nationally.
Winning Saturday's game would register as the Eagles' fifth national championship, whereas the game itself is Ferris State's first-ever appearance in the title game. Despite the disparity in prestige, the Eagles understand the consequence of not giving Ferris their best effort. Something they learned from their 27 Hockey East games this season.
"There are some great teams in our league," Cross said. "Every team was a tough out."