Dutchmen, Bennett Outdo Vaunted Eagles
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
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PHILADELPHIA Jerry York could wear a handful of national championship rings if he wanted. With four at Boston College and one as the coach of Bowling Green in 1984, York's made a career of teaching young, talented hockey players to become dominant college hockey teams.
His rings, his 963 career wins, his legacy as a whole makes no mistake: Jerry York is the best coach in the history of college hockey.
Thursday night, he led his Boston College team into a national semifinal, seeking a fourth NCAA title in the last seven seasons. The Eagles were every bit as stacked as they always are, every bit the dominant offensive force and defensive machine college hockey's come to expect.
But Union wasn't threatened by any of that. Leading the Dutchmen into the game was Rick Bennett, a coach still considered young by York's standards. Entering the game, Bennett's career postseason record stood at 17-2, losses to Ferris State in a 2012 national semifinal and Quinnipiac in last year's regional final are the only black marks.
Union trailed, 1-0, to start the second period. Nothing was said to start the second. Nothing needed saying. Union knows what it is. They learned that identity from Bennett and his staff.
"I think that's the mindset that we come in with," Union captain Mat Bodie said. "It's just one shift at a time. Other teams are going to score goals on you. That's how hockey goes. And it's just the mindset the guys have going in. Just bounce back. We've done a great job of scoring quick goals after other. It took us for a while, but we felt if we got one we'd get a few more. And obviously that second period was huge for us."
The shots BC goaltender Thatcher Demko saw so well in the first suddenly came through screens. The rebounds that settled harmlessly onto BC sticks became second- and third-chance goals.
And a one-goal deficit became a 2-1 lead.
The Eagles' skill, the work York does with his players was evident, of course. BC battled back time and time again. Still, a Union win just seemed inevitable as the second period progressed. Any stretch of BC momentum came from its skill. The Dutchmen had an answer from most of it, and nothing had to come from their coach.
They know their jobs already. Support the puck, break it out efficiently and grind the opponent to its core. No movement is wasted. No possession is short. That isn't just talent. That's coaching. That's the residue of Rick Bennett and his staff.
"The main focus, we knew the puck was going to be in Johnny's hand coming up ice," Union defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. "That was our focus. But when it was in zone, we stuck to our system. I don't think we've changed all year our system to any team."
Wednesday afternoon, Bennett won his first Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year, following his CHN Coach of the Year Award from last week. Even with a midseason incident against rival Rensselaer, the work done to turn a strong Union team into a national title contender proved too great to ignore.
The following evening, the brilliance of Bennett and his staff was on display once again. BC's top line had a typically productive night, but the Dutchmen prevented Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes and Bill Arnold from taking hold of the game as they so often do. Union focused on stopping the Eagles' gifted leaders, but they kept the bulk of their work directed internally.
"We didn't really talk about that line much at all to be quite honest with you," Bennett said. "We showed a little on film, I think it was a few days ago, and showed them they're very dangerous. But called them by their numbers, never by names."
In the third period, Union senior Matt Hatch received a game misconduct for a hit from behind. Forced to kill a five-minute major penalty, the Dutchmen were perfect in defending their lead. Just three shots in those five minutes found their way to Union goaltender Colin Stevens. Sticks were always in passing lanes, bodies blocked shots without thinking of safety. The Eagles failed to score and seconds later, the lead swelled to a pair.
"They're a great shot-blocking team," BC captain Patrick Brown said. "I was on the net front, and I couldn't even see the puck. Every time we had the puck at the point, they had two or three guys in lanes."
"Their defensemen were so good at I thought that was actually the best defensive corps we've faced of getting pucks through," Bennett said. "But at crucial times, as you mentioned, there were some nice blocked shots that we needed that really lifted our bench."
Freshman Mike Vecchione pushed Union's lead to 4-2 just as the major penalty expired. Again, a bit of Bennett's tutelage revealed itself leading to the goal. Vecchione followed the puck after a breakaway and banged a rebound past Demko.
When Nate Leaman left Union for Providence, some anticipated a potential rebuild as Bennett took over. Not only have the Dutchmen avoided any setbacks, they've carried the torch without a hiccup. All week they've confidently proclaimed themselves a contender for the national championship. They know who they are. They know what's expected of them. That confidence starts to develop the second they arrive on campus.
It comes from their coaches.
Thursday night, Bennett said little to his players. They went about their business as they always do, as Bennett and his assistants insist. The Eagles and their legendary coach tried to answer every challenge. They fought for a win until the final second of the game. But Thursday night belonged to Union. Thursday, Union and their coach were just better.