Team of the Week: Boston College
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
For most, wins over Notre Dame and Boston University in a three-day span would signal an accomplishment that defined a regular season. Boston College coach Jerry York, however, viewed these victories as little more than a few well-played games on the path to his club's ultimate goal. The Eagles found themselves in two tough games last weekend, and escaped with victories with their usual style. For that, Boston College is CHN's Team of the Week.
York and his team, however, are more focused on the distinction that signifies college hockey's team of the year. Even though that won't be awarded until mid-April, York's microscope-telescope philosophy has his team clicking along, using each game as a chance to bolster its resume and improve its game.
"Games like (Sunday's against BU) help both of our teams get better," York said. "We push each other. Win or lose, we’re going to be better because of the game we played. They benefit both teams — the skating, the checking — just good hockey for both teams."
York conceded last week's wins signified a bit more than most. Wins over two of BC's chief rivals will do that. The pair of victories also left him with 921 career wins, three shy of tying Ron Mason as the winningest Division I coach of all time.
"It's a big weekend from our perspective. An excellent rival in Notre Dame, (BU) is our chief rival, but Notre Dame is also a pretty big rivalry for us," York said. "When we looked at the weekend, we thought it was going to be a good test for us. It certainly did, and I'm very aware that we could have lost both games. Both teams that we played were excellent teams.
"Both rivalry games make you play with more intensity to match other teams' intensity," York said. "We saw a lot of good players on Friday and Sunday."
On the surface, though, York conveyed little more glee than he does after any other regular season win. Ultimately, his sharp eye remains affixed on the steady improvements week to week that make his teams so successful in the most stressful times of year. His players echo their coach's focus.
"We circle every game, and the next game is the biggest game," junior center Patrick Brown said. "Obviously non-conference wins and games against BU are big for our Pairwise, but we attack every game and every shift the same way."
In years past, the Eagles lifting trophies in February, March and April looked much different than they did in October, November and December. In October and November of 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2011-12, BC recorded a combined .526 winning percentage, a far cry for its current 8-1-0 start. As certain elements of those teams rounded into shape, BC struggled at times in the early season.
At the moment, not much about BC is a problem for York. Goaltender Parker Milner is among the nation's best, with a .933 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against average. Meanwhile, BC's first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Pat Mullane and Steven Whitney creates chance after chance when it's on the ice. Gaudreau's seven goals and five assists are good enough for a team-best 12 points. His ultimate effect on games isn't necessarily his point production. BC's opponents worry about Gaudreau constantly, which leaves defensemen and forwards tired and shaken when the Eagles equally dangerous second line hits the ice.
After Sunday's win over BU, York's strongest endorsement came for his energy line, however, of Quinn Smith, Michael Sit and Danny Linell. The skill isn't quite the level of his top six, and none of the group strike fear in opposing coaches the way Gaudreau, Mullane, Bill Arnold or any of the Eagles' other most talented players can. Still, the group made life difficult for Notre Dame and BU last weekend, strong forechecking and smart play translated to chances and tired defensemen. Both Smith and Linell fit into the usual bottom six mold York and his assistants want at the Heights.
"I'm more excited about the play of our bottom six forwards," York said, including the line of Brown, Brooks Dyroff and Brendan Silk in his comments. "Our bottom six forwards have really gotten involved, and it's going to help us out."
In years past, players like Matt Lombardi, Matt Price and other less-heralded Eagles played shutdown roles and occasionally morphed into scoring threats. Lombardi's hat trick in the 2010 Hockey East championship game stands out most noticeably. Whether Smith, Linell or Sit ever have similar moments is unclear, and it isn't really their charge. Focusing on high-energy shifts, along with responsibilities on the penalty kill and Linell's on the power play, is more than enough for the group.
There's always star power at BC, and the Eagles' wins seem more impressive and inevitable as the season progresses. Last weekend, it was Notre Dame and BU falling victim to York's machine, and Hockey East foe Merrimack is up next. The less-heralded opponent means nothing. BC will use this chance to get better, interpreting the inevitable target the Warriors slapped on its back as more motivation to leave Conte Forum Friday night a better team than it arrived.