April 9, 2014 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Frozen Four Notebook: Boston College

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer

PHILADELPHIA — Boston College will play Union Thursday evening in the first national semfinal. Puck drop is scheduled for 5:06 p.m. on ESPN2.

The Eagles seek their sixth national championship and fifth since 2001. Additionally, two wins this weekend would give BC its fourth title since 2008.

Gaudreau comes home

Probable Hobey Baker winner Johnny Gaudreau has made himself quite a home at Boston College. In three years with the Eagles, the winger has picked up 172 points (77 goals and 95 assists). This year alone, he leads the nation with 77 points (35 goals and 42 assists).

Thursday, he'll play in a national semifinal for the second time, leading the Eagles against Union. Despite all of his success, this weekend marks his first true homecoming as a college hockey player.

Carneys Point, N.J., Gaudreau's hometown, is about 30 minutes west of Philadelphia. The Calgary Flames draft pick grew up as a Philadelphia Flyers fan and will play at the club's home rink for the first time.

"I've got a lot of friends and family asking for tickets and stuff like that," he said. "It's difficult to give them all tickets because we only get six each, but I'm trying to give out a few to my friends. My mother wasn't having too much of it because I had to give them all to the family. But it's good to have people want tickets and wanting to come watch the game. I'm really excited for this weekend."

With the Hobey Baker award, Gaudreau is all but guaranteed at least one piece of hardware this weekend. Like every other player competing in the Frozen Four, though, he has his mind on the one handed out on Saturday.

"Our goal all year was to get to Philly, and we're here now," he said. "Our next goal is to win a national championship. All the guys are excited that we're here, and we're ready to go."

First time around

BC goaltender Thatcher Demko has emerged as one of the nation's best young netminders in his first season at the Heights. On the year, he's posted a 2.20 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

He's had some struggles like any other rookie, but BC coach Jerry York is excited about the future with Demko between the pipes. The San Diego, Calif., native accelerated to begin his first season a year ahead of schedule. While the Eagles' top line carried the team to their place in the Frozen Four, his steady performance has quelled those concerns about BC's goaltending.

Despite his inexperience, Demko is following the lead of the Eagles' experienced juniors and seniors.

"Seniors and juniors are doing a great job of helping the underclass guys just feel more comfortable in this situation," he said. "It was a good skate today, and we're really excited to get on the ice."

The last time a BC freshman goaltender started in the Frozen Four was John Muse in 2008, and the Eagles won a national title.

New ground

The success of Demko and Gaudreau, along with the Frozen Four's location, has led to questions about college hockey's growth.

There is just one Division I program in New Jersey (Princeton), and there are zero in California despite the influx of players from the state. In Pennsylvania, there are three programs, but none of them are in the eastern portion of the state.

Both players have found success after spending time away from their hometowns. Gaudreau believes the presence of the Frozen Four will only add to the demand for a program in the area.

"I think they need to get a team down here first maybe and get some fans excited about a team down here at a college," Gaudreau said. "But I think hockey is getting bigger down here, and you see more players coming out of the area and going to play in the USHL or the EJ, and then potentially getting into Division I hockey.

"So it's good to see a lot more younger guys and a lot more New Jersey and Philly area guys getting into Division I college hockey. If we can keep producing and keep those numbers, it will be good area the area."

York sees the same potential. With more than 40 years in college hockey, he understands the desire to grow the game and what it takes for new programs to succeed.

"I think Penn State's going to bring (tradition) to the state," York said.

"I think Penn State making that commitment is going to really help a few other schools in this area really think seriously about hockey. But I think it was or used to be a real unique experience to the northeast and Minnesota, and it's expanding so much now throughout the country."

Outside help

York is fond of bringing in external sources of inspiration for his teams prior to important games. Last week, Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien visited the Eagles to discuss the value of role players performing in big games.

"He said, 'You gotta understand this, we have Bergeron, we have Lucic, we have Zdeno Chara, but we win because of guys like Kelly and Campbell,'" York said.  "People that he values that block shots, make good plays. 'So anybody in this room here, I know you have stars like we have stars, but you're not going to move on and advance without these type of people.'"

In the past, York has brought in a number of successful coaches from the Boston area and all of sports to discuss specific themes with his teams. Earlier this season, Phoenix Coyotes coach Dave Tippett visited the Eagles. New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and former Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers are among the other guests.

According to York, he offered Belichick a pair of tickets to the Frozen Four, but he couldn't make it.

After a long season, bringing in a new voice to change the message a bit can help players absorb certain ideas more effectively.

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