Eagles Look to Rebound in Friendly Confines
BC Enters Regional In Unfamiliar Situation
by Jen Dobias/CHN Reporter
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For Boston College, Worcester might as well be a second home. In Jerry York’s tenure as head coach, all four of BC’s national championship runs began at the DCU Center.
“It’s got some good karma to her,” York said. “But, again, your team brings karma, not necessarily the site you play in.”
Compared to the other teams in the Northeast Regional, BC may have the least karma, in the form of momentum, to cash in on going into the NCAA tournament. Denver, Massachusetts-Lowell and Minnesota State all won their respective tournament titles this past weekend, while the Eagles watched from home after being dispatched in the Hockey East quarterfinals for the first time since 2004.
“We’re not necessarily concerned with what happened yesterday or the day before,” York said. “We’re focused on how well we play Saturday afternoon. Like the Bruins, they’ve won 12 straight, but when the playoffs come they’re not thinking back on [that]. This is the playoffs.”
And the Eagles have had plenty of time to prepare for the playoffs. York likened BC’s schedule in March, during which the team has played only four games, to being “on the driving range a lot” instead of on “the golf course.” He said that the Eagles are anxious to “tee it up and get on the golf course.”
“Having that extra week off, things have been a little slow,” Isaac MacLeod said. “It feels like we haven’t played hockey in awhile. But, at the same time, it’s helped us in the sense that we’ve been given time to work on things that we need to work on in practice and study some film. So hopefully we’ve used it pretty well to be ready this weekend for Denver.”
After running off a 19-game unbeaten streak from Dec. 6 to Feb. 22, BC is 1-3 in its last four contests. It’s difficult, though, to gauge the team’s performance because all four of those games were played against the same opponent, an Irish team that effectively stifled the Eagles’ high-flying attack by playing a disciplined defensive system. At the same time, more so than before, BC’s youth showed, as Notre Dame took advantage of Eagle miscues to put games out of reach.
“Obviously, there are some growing pains that we’ve seen over the year,” MacLeod said. “But everyone that’s in our lineup is able to contribute to our team and has helped us in some way or another this year.”
Nobody has contributed more than the first line of Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes. Since being put together on Dec. 6, they have been unstoppable, sparking BC’s unbeaten streak, tied for the longest under York. But even before the stretch against the Irish, there were signs that, while it’s difficult to keep them off the score sheet, they can be contained.
Over BC’s last eight games, 15 of their 25 points came on the power play. During Game 2 of BC’s quarterfinal series against Notre Dame, they scored nine points, with six coming at even strength. If you remove this game, the trio has combined for four even-strength points – three goals and one assist – since Feb. 14.
“I’d say that’s fair,” Arnold said when asked if the line hasn’t been generating as much offense at even strength as before. “We’ve been getting chances, but we haven’t been burying them as much as we did when we were first put together. But we’re still confident in each other, and the goals will come.”
Obviously, it would be difficult for anyone to keep up such a torrid pace. And, in the past eight games, BC faced some of the top defensive teams in the country. Massachusetts-Lowell has allowed the least goals against in the nation (72), while Notre Dame is sixth (82). Vermont, too, is no slouch defensively, currently sitting in a tie for tenth in the NCAA with BC in this category (84).
Arnold was quick to mention that, as the top line has gone through a bit of a slump, Patrick Brown has come through. The captain, whose previous career high in points was 11, has 10 (five goals and five assists) over the past eight games and was held pointless just once. He also netted a goal in each quarterfinal match.
“Pat has put together a nice streak recently,” Arnold said. “He’s been anchoring that second line for us.”
But, as their gaudy numbers attest, Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes have carried BC offensively for most of the season. Secondary scoring is vital in the NCAA tournament, but the top line will get the call in key situations.
“They’re standard bearers,” York said. “They’re going to have to be on top of their game and play well defensively and offensively. They get checked every time they play an opponent. They’re circled in red that line. They’ve fought through that a lot, and they’ll have to do it again this weekend.”
All four of BC’s national championships in the York era may have began in Worcester, but each was preceded by a Hockey East tournament title. The last time the Eagles were eliminated in the league quarterfinals, they did make it to the Frozen Four, but they fell to Hockey East tournament champion Maine, 2-1, in the semifinals.
The Eagles aren’t thinking about any of that, though. The way they see it, four teams stand between them and their sixth national championship, first among them Denver, a squad fresh off of capturing the inaugural NCHC tournament crown as the sixth seed.
“When you get to this point in the season, all the teams that are still playing are good teams. Every game is going to be hard to win,” MacLeod said. “As long as we play Eagle hockey for a full 60 minutes, I think we’re giving ourselves a good shot.”