March 21, 2010 PRINT Bookmark and Share

BC Outlasts Tough Hockey East Field For Title

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

BOSTON — No one, not even Jerry York, understood the true extent of the parity that defined the 2009-10 Hockey East season – a season that ended Saturday when Matt Lombardi found the smallest of holes between the pads of Maine goaltender Dave Wilson at 5 minutes, 25 seconds of overtime to clinch Boston College its third conference championship in the last four seasons.

York's Eagles likely earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with the win and bring New Hampshire and Vermont along into the 16-team field. As the 10 teams that make up one of the nation's power conferences beat up on each other through the first weekend in March, a very real possibility of just one team — BC — advancing to play in March's other madness loomed. Since the league was founded in 1985, it has sent at least two teams to the tournament every year.

Thank Miami for knocking off Ferris State in the CCHA consolation game Saturday afternoon when you get a chance Mr. Umile – you too Mr. Sneddon. Neither New Hampshire, thanks to a 1-5-1 record in non-conference play, or Vermont, who failed to establish itself as one of the nation's elite at any point this season, knew whether or not their seasons were over when they fell from the Hockey East Tournament.

Ostensibly, it seems odd that the home of the last two national champions would have to wait until the very last day of their postseason to lockup a single at-large bid. The reasons, though, are many, and they're scattered everywhere; from the goaltending leaders to the teams' records, there just wasn't any example of dominance anywhere in the league.

Well, maybe BC over Massachusetts — the Eagles beat the Minutemen five times, including a two-game sweep in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Beyond that, though, season series and weekend home-and-homes rarely told us much about the league. They were all good, but no one was really that much better than anyone else. In fact, not until Dec. 4 and 5 when Maine swept a pair from at Providence did a team record a weekend sweep of a Hockey East opponent.

"We'll find out [Sunday] what is going to happen for sure, but everyone has seen that the league has been full of parity all year," BC captain Matt Price said. "It's a great league. Every weekend, you're going to be playing a top-end team that's going to give you a test that's going to prepare you for something down the road. I think we saw that right through [Saturday's championship game]. We found a way to win, and I think the game was a tribute to the league."

As the teams shuffled for position in the conference standings, the other five conferences started noticing that a new Hockey East team appeared in the national polls every week, and a new one fell from the table just as fast. Talk of a down year started instantly, and the league's coaches chuckled at the implication.

"It's just a hard, tough grind through the year," York said following Saturday's win. "We won't see any teams out there that are better than the teams we've played on a continual basis; some will be just as good, but there won't be anyone better than what we're used to playing. I think that's clear that the last two champions have come from our league. This year, I think we have a chance to do it again."

They emphatically answered "No." to every question implying a declining level of play, and pointed to this week.

"Just wait until March," seemed to be the consensus.

Well, it's March. The tournament field will be finalized Sunday morning, but the PairWise tells us that the three Hockey East teams that did qualify and will be tested early and at every stage of the tournament should they pass the first one.

"There's no doubt that any teams that come out of this league are very prepared for the national tournament," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "Hopefully BC will be joined by UNH and Vermont, which would be great for our conference; it's such a strong league. It'd be a shame not to have three teams from the league at least in the tournament.

"The tough part [of the loss] is that we really felt that if we were able to get by BC, we would've had as good a shot as anybody to win the national tournament. It's a frustrating situation for us now."

They're confident that they will, too. While others viewed the season as a year of transition, the players and coaches see it as a year that defined the league's progress from 1 to 10 and proof that the three representing it in the tournament will show the rest of the nation why they never to hesitate, accurately or not, to call it the best in the country.

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