Fire And Ice
BC's Winning Culture Built on Lethal Mix of Skill, Discipline and Hard Work
by Scott McLaughlin/CHN Writer
TAMPA, Fla. Jerry York has mastered what most college hockey coaches can only dream of. He has figured out how to land blue-chip recruits who can set the ice on fire with their speed and skill, and then get them to buy into a defense-first system that sometimes limits their offensive freedom.
He has the offense to beat any defensive system it encounters, and the defensive discipline to shut down anyone.
The result of this perfect mix was Boston College's 19th straight win on Saturday night and its third national championship in the last five years. The Eagles' 4-1 win over Ferris State in Saturday's national title game didn't come as easily as the score would indicate, and it was far from the prettiest game they've played this season.
But the Eagles don't need things to be easy or pretty. Defense isn't, and that's where it all starts for BC. Even in the second period when Ferris State was controlling time of possession, the Eagles remained structurally sound.
Although they struggled to get through the neutral zone and establish themselves in the offensive zone, they never panicked in the defensive end. They continued to force the Bulldogs to the outside, they continued to block shots and win battles down low, and they continued to at least get pucks across the blue line. Only two of Ferris State's 30 second-period shot attempts came from the grade-A area below the faceoff dots.
"We always try to stick to our game plan," said senior assistant captain Paul Carey. "Of course we do film and study up on other teams, so we knew they were gonna be a very good defensive team. We knew offense wasn't gonna come easy. But we needed to make sure we were steadfast in our defense and didn't force anything."
BC clamped down even tighter in the third, limiting Ferris State to just four shots on goal through the first 16 minutes of the period. The Eagles' one-goal lead wasn't in jeopardy, and the national championship was just a few minutes away as long as they stuck to their system.
Then, with just over three minutes to go, the skill came shining through to seal the title. Freshman sensation Johnny Gaudreau collected the puck at his own blue line, raced through the neutral zone, and turned around Ferris State defenseman Brett Wysopal before roofing a backhander over Taylor Nelson's right arm.
It was the kind of move BC forwards like Gaudreau are capable of making at any time, but one they only attempt when the opportunity is just right, when there isn't a safer play to make. In this case, BC was completing a line change and all four of his teammates were behind him. So had Gaudreau been stopped, Ferris State wouldn't have gotten an easy odd-man rush the other way.
In situations where an odd-man rush could happen, the Eagles are better than anyone at recognizing that and reacting accordingly. Forwards don't get cute, and defensemen don't pinch unless they know someone is covering for them. It all sounds so simple, but few other teams have the patience and discipline of BC.
The whole process starts before guys even arrive on campus. York's team-first culture is so ingrained in the Eagles' DNA that every recruit knows what he is getting into. He knows he will be expected to sacrifice personal stats for the betterment of team. If he cares more about personal glory and impressing scouts than winning at the college level, then BC simply isn't for him.
"I think it's part of our whole culture," York said. "You have to understand when you come to BC that the Eagle is more important than any one player. Our goals are to win trophies. If you don't play good defense, if you play shinny hockey a little bit, you might get more points, but you're not gonna be part of a winning culture and you're not gonna stay in our program. They buy into it because they want to be successful."
It's a process that isn't perfected as soon as the team hits the ice in September. It's one that is worked on over the course of the season, with plenty of selfish plays and mental mistakes along the way that serve as teaching moments. But when the process is complete, the results are remarkable.
This year, the process started nearing completion in early February, right around Beanpot time, when BC was already a couple wins into its 19-game run. From then until Saturday night's coronation, the Eagles never allowed more than two goals, and they trailed just twice.
"It takes a lot," Carey said of the process. "Sometimes it's hard to get the puck and dump it in and chase it, because every guy on our team can make plays. Earlier in the season, some guys would try to make plays themselves. Finally we all started buying in, and I think that's when you saw our team really turn it around. I think that's why we're so successful here, because the coaches can get such good players to buy into their system."
Perhaps that explains the late-season runs that have become a hallmark of not just this season, but most of the York era.
So while other colleges struggle to find a balance between talented players and team players, York continues to assemble one group after another in which there isn't a difference between the two.