January 22, 2011 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Defense Never Rests for BC

by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter

BOSTON — There is no blueprint for a Boston College defenseman. Some point to size as the primary characteristic, others swear by smarts.

BC coach Jerry York denies it all. Yes, some of his defensemen are big, others border on gigantic. Still, a few physically unremarkable players man the blue line for York. He points to Edwin Shea – 6-feet, 190 pounds – and Patch Alber – 5-foot-10, 170 pounds – on his current roster, and even the casual fan can remember Anthony Aiello and Mike Brennan as the success stories York can take credit for.

There stands no single, defining trait of a singular BC defenseman, according to York. He swears.

BC defensemen, though, that's just a completely different story. Each group York has brought to the Heights contained a series of traits that allowed whichever version of the Eagles it played for to perform as York wanted — fast, smart and successful.

On this current group of Eagles, which defeated its Comm. Ave counterparts Boston University, 3-2, at Agganis Arena Friday night, those carefully selected parts that make the whole resonate as loudly as ever.

Some, namely Brian Dumoulin at 6-foot-4, 210 pounds, serve as the muscle, clearing the crease in front of all-everything goaltender John Muse. While others, such as Patrick Wey and Phillip Samuelsson, play the more hybrid role of keeping Muse’s sight intact and moving the puck up ice.

The key for York lies in assembling a group of players that complement each other perfectly. Friday night, Wey skated with junior Tommy Cross, Dumoulin paired with Alber and Samuelsson coupled brilliantly with Shea. Each duo boasts the perfect combination of tenacity, skill, speed and guile; it’s not an accident either.

“We’re trying to find hockey players,” York said, dismissing the notion that size is his lone criterion for a defenseman. “Patch Alber’s not a big kid. The ability to just go back and get a puck to make a play is big for us. We try to look at combinations: a defenseman who can play on the power play, someone who can move the puck and contribute on offense and you need a great shut down defenseman. We try to get a pretty good combination of those [archetypes.] So we’ve got speed and skill and size and strength. When you get all four in one, you’ve got something.”

A hallmark of BC blue liners in the program’s decade-long demonstration of dominance has been their ability to make their goaltender’s job easy. Even against BU’s Alex Chiasson, one of the most complete forwards in Hockey East, the BC defensemen kept Muse free to spy on shots. And when the occasional puck finds its way out of Muse’s grasp, a BC defenseman always seems to find it first, shuffling it to the corner harmlessly.

At times, York’s superb collection of young stars falls under the shadow of Muse. However, it's Muse more than anyone who understands the value of a strong blue line. Beyond that, he, now as a senior, knows the factors that make a great defensive unit, himself included.

“I think it’s our cohesiveness,” Muse said. “We’re all really good friends and get along great. I think it shows on the ice. We communicate with each other really well. I communicate with the D when I’m going back to get a puck and let them know what I’m doing with the puck. When they go back, they do the same for me. It’s just a great group of guys. Everyone on this team has a lot of experience from last year.”

Last year, of course, the Eagles won their second national championship in three years – the second with Muse in net. As a junior, Muse, along with BC’s lone upperclassman defender Carl Sneep, led the Eagles’ unit. Two years prior, though, Muse was the kid beginning his collegiate career as the unknown on a team otherwise certain for a championship.

No one knew much about Muse at that point. A few Eagles, though, had earned reputations for staunch defending, while playing in front of Muse’s predecessor Cory Schneider. Having watched BC defensemen, such as Brennan, Nick Petrecki, Tim Filangieri and the rest of them, clear pucks and undress overzealous wingers in his years as an underclassman, Muse quickly learned his responsibilities and exactly what to expect from his defensemen.

Like his goaltender, York sees this group developing into one of nation’s best – seemingly faster than he initially expected.

“They’ve just matured more. We’ve got four sophomores that play regularly,” York said. “They’re getting physically stronger, and they’re maturing. Their games are a little more poised. They’ve been good, and they were good last year; but they’ve just gotten better because of age and experience.

“[Their experiences together are] really important for us,” York continued. “They gained a lot of experience for us last year, and they won a trophy. That helps them a lot.”

The trophy they won in Detroit last season stands as the Eagles’ motivation to continue the long, slow process to their peak. Even now, a quick look at their roster shows a blue line with fewer total games than most other legitimate contenders around the country. It’s not the quantity of experience that matters, though, it’s the quality. And whether it’s Brian Dumoulin or Patrick Wey or Patch Alber or Phillip Samuelsson, the Eagles have a lot of it.

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