Unlikely Career of BC's Alber Ends in Regional Loss
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
PROVIDENCE, R.I. Patch Alber skated back toward Boston College goaltender Parker Milner. Slowly, he drifted forward, his head and shoulders drooping the same way they had for countless seniors across the country these last few weeks.
Boston College's season ended, three games earlier than it always seems to. Alber and his Eagles were eliminated from the 2013 NCAA tournament Saturday night, losing to ECAC champion Union, 5-1, in the East Regional semifinal.
Alber's time in Chestnut Hill was different than it was for most his classmates. Chris Kreider, Pat Mullane, Steven Whitney and others — the usual group of highly skilled hockey players with endless futures in the game — joined Alber as freshmen in 2009.
Unlike his classmates, Alber's place in BC's lineup was never a certainty, especially at the beginning. By the time Saturday night's game ended, his spot in BC history was permanent.
Despite his status as a recruited walk-on, guaranteed nothing more than a chance to earn a spot, Alber became one of BC's most trusted, most important defensemen. The type of player that reminds his superstar classmates of the privilege they all shared — the privilege to play for BC coach Jerry York and to wear the maroon-and-gold sweater of one of college hockey’s most successful programs.
"It's a true testament to how he is as a person." Mullane, Alber's classmate and current BC captain, said after Saturday's defeat. "He works hard and comes from an honest family — that's the way he plays hockey. He knew coming in that nothing was going to be given to him, and he worked hard for it."
Injuries and inexperience on the 2009-10 BC blue line thrust Alber into the lineup in the season's latter portion. He dressed in the 2010 NCAA tournament, scoring a goal in BC's 7-1 win over Miami in a national semifinal. These achievements are expected of BC as a team. For Alber, a Clifton Park, N.Y., native, that chance was never a certainty.
"(BC coach Jerry York) came to see me a few times when I was playing for the (Boston Junior Bruins)," Alber said. "He offered me a walk-on spot with the team. I never thought I'd get that chance, so it was an easy decision. I never thought in my wildest dreams it would play out like it did.”
In four years as an Eagle, Alber’s role shifted from black ace to bottom-pairing stopgap to top-four stalwart. His mindset never changed, however. With each new year comes more highly talented players for Boston College – a program that defines the reload rather than rebuild concept more than any other in college sports.
Almost nothing about Alber’s makeup fits with the archetype of a Boston College defenseman. Known for their dynamic forwards, hulking, physical defensemen with remarkable puck skills are as prominent in the BC lineup as any shifty playmaker that tortures opposing defensemen and goaltenders.
Alber meets none of those criteria. His senior season at Boston College marked the arrival of a gifted crop of freshman defensemen, highlighted by Florida Panthers' first-round draft pick Michael Matheson – a player that quickly became BC’s best defenseman. York still expected Alber to contribute, to, along with Patrick Wey and Isaac MacLeod, mentor the newest crop of Eagle defensemen.
“You look at him, he’s scrawny, and he’s small,” Mullane said. “But he’s a good hockey player. What he brings to the team, you can’t put into words. He’s a leader. He brought guys like Michael Matheson and Teddy Doherty along. He’s a great defenseman that’s going to be missed.”
Alber’s ultimate value to his team was evident midway through the season when he suffered a torn meniscus prior to a game against Alabama-Huntsville in Minneapolis. The injury looked certain to end his senior season and handicap the Eagles' already-inexperienced defensive corps.
It was clear where BC missed Alber most. After defeating UAH without much trouble, a win that made York college hockey’s all-time winningest coach, BC ran into Minnesota and promptly lost, 8-1. The devastating loss became a quick memory for BC, but Alber’s absence made the season’s second half a tough one. Losses to Massachusetts and Maine came as a result of a green defensive group that struggled to adjust without Alber’s calming puck-moving presence.
“It was tough. Knowing that may end my career then watching the team struggle, I felt horrible,” Alber said. “I felt kind of helpless because I could only watch and try to get back as fast as I could. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to play again, even if I recovered on schedule.”
Initially ruled out for three months, Alber’s effort – the same that led to his place in BC’s lineup – resulted in a fast recovery. He returned to BC’s lineup in time for the first round of the Hockey East tournament. The Eagles swept Vermont, advancing to the Hockey East semifinals. Despite a loss to Boston University – the first loss at the TD Garden in the four-year career of Alber and his classmates – his return made the Eagles a tough draw for anyone come NCAA tournament time.
“Even with (the losses to BU and Union), I’m happy I was able to play again this season because it’s what I love to do,” Alber said. “We’ve been through a lot this year, and my class has been through even more in the last four years. We wanted to be the first BC class to win four Hockey East tournaments and three national championships. Ultimately, it didn’t happen, but it’s been a dream for me regardless.”
BC’s senior class leaves Boston College as the most successful group in program history. To its claim are three Hockey East tournament championships, two Hockey East regular-season titles, four Beanpots, 114 wins and two national championships. The 19-0 run to last season’s national title goes down as one of college hockey’s most dominant stretches.
“Right now, there are five of us, but guys like Chris Kreider, Brian Dumoulin and Phil Samuelsson are as much a part of it as any of us,” Alber said. “Those guys are my brothers. They’ll still be my best friends 40 years from now. I can’t really describe how lucky I am to have been a part of this group. I guess it’s over now, but I’ll always be part of that group and Boston College hockey.”
Alber called his four years at BC "lucky" after Saturday’s loss to Union, forced to articulate his feelings on a career that was never a certainty — four years that always meant earning a spot in the lineup.
Boston College was lucky to have Patch Alber.