BC hockey OK with heading west, ready to defend national title
|03.25.11 at 8:03 am ET|
Making the NCAA tournament is nothing new for the Boston College Eagles — they’ve reached the big dance in 12 of the last 14 seasons. This year will be a little bit different for the Eagles, though, because they’ll be playing in a West Regional in the first round for the first time in 11 years.
Due to NCAA rules regarding host schools and intra-conference matchups in the first round, there was no other option but to send BC west. The Eagles, a No. 1 seed, couldn’t go to Bridgeport, Conn., because Yale was already there as the top seed. And they couldn’t go to Manchester, N.H., because that would’ve resulted in a first-round game against host school and fellow Hockey East member New Hampshire.
So instead, BC will be playing fourth-seeded Colorado College at Scottrade Center in St. Louis at 9 p.m. Friday night.
It would be easy for a 1 seed to complain about being forced to fly for the first round, but Eagles coach Jerry York isn’t doing that.
“It’s just part of the tournament,” York said during a media conference call Tuesday. “We all understand how it works. A number of years ago, none of the regionals were drawing very well. It took host schools to step up and say, ‘Listen, we’ll take the burden of this, we’ll host the tournament.’ … It’s been a very positive thing for us, and we understand that. I don’t mind getting on a plane and flying to St. Louis and playing a lot of different teams. That’s not a problem with me.”
It shouldn’t be a problem with his players, either. York began preparing his team for a trip like this way back in October when the Eagles played a pair of NCAA tournament teams on the road. They swept a two-game series at Denver in mid-October and then played at Notre Dame the following weekend, although they lost that contest.
“I think during the season, if I could use a golf analogy I was thinking about this morning, we played difficult courses,” York said. “We try to do that. We got out to play two of the NCAA participants now with two games at Denver and we played a game at Notre Dame. We try to make the course as difficult as we can during the year. And now you get to nationals and they tell you, ‘All right, Jerry, move back to the back, back tees.’ And you play a little more difficult schedule here. We anticipate that.”
As they do seemingly every year, the Eagles are hitting their stride when it matters most. They enter the NCAAs on an eight-game winning streak, most recently beating Merrimack 5-3 in the Hockey East championship game to win their second straight conference title and fifth in the last seven years.With BC’s sights now set on winning a second straight national championship and third in the last four years, York said the key to winning in the postseason is simple (although not simply achieved): “Hot goaltending, good special teams and stay healthy.”
The Eagles have all of that. In net, two-time national champion John Muse is having the best season of his career statistically, as he ranks in the top 10 nationally in both goals-against average (2.13) and save percentage (.926).
On special teams, BC ranks sixth on the power play (24.0 percent) and fourth on the penalty kill (86.9 percent). The Eagles also rank third in offense with 3.92 goals per game, led by Hobey Baker finalist Cam Atkinson’s 30 goals (good for second in the country).
BC will also be at full strength injury-wise this weekend, as forward Chris Kreider returns to the lineup after missing five games with a broken jaw.
Should the Eagles beat Colorado College, they would face either Michigan or Nebraska-Omaha in the regional final Saturday. But for now, the focus is on the Tigers, a team that plays a similar style as BC.
“I had a chance to watch the North Dakota-Colorado game in the WCHA semis the other night, and I was very impressed with the speed and I think just the creativity the Tigers play with,” York said. “I think they’re very quick, very unselfish and very creative, and those are adjectives we like to use to describe how we play.”
Of course, the Eagles aren’t the only New England team in the tournament. In fact, they’re not even the highest-seeded. The Yale Bulldogs are the No. 1 overall seed, and they get to play right in their backyard in Bridgeport.
The Bulldogs lead the nation in both offense (4.29 goals per game) and defense (2.00 goals against per game). They’re coming off their second ECAC championship in the last three years and they’ve won their last three games by a combined score of 14-0.
Yale will take on Air Force at 6:30 p.m. Friday and would advance to play either Union or Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday with a win.
Merrimack and New Hampshire, the other two New England teams in the tournament, will both be making the short drive to Manchester.
This marks Merrimack’s first NCAA appearance since 1988. The Warriors swept Maine in the Hockey East quarterfinals and beat New Hampshire 4-1 in the semis before falling to BC in the title game. Merrimack, the 2 seed in the regional, will face off against Notre Dame in the first round Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
UNH will play top-seeded Miami (Ohio) in the other regional semifinal at 4 p.m. Saturday. The Wildcats are appearing in the big dance for the 10th straight season, the second-longest such streak in the country. They haven’t reached the Frozen Four since 2003, though.
The Wildcats and RedHawks split a weekend series at Miami back in October. The two squads have been heading in opposite directions of late, though. Miami enters Saturday’s meeting on a 13-game unbeaten streak (tied for the longest in the country), while UNH has lost three of its last five.
The winners of the Miami-UNH and Merrimack-Notre Dame games will meet Sunday at 8 p.m. for a chance to advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn.