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Most of the time, it goes to forwards. They get it when they score a key momentum-turning goal or bury a game-winner late in the third period or in overtime.
And when the forwards don’t get it, the goaltenders do for tossing a shutout or making one acrobatic save after another.
For them to get noticed, they either have to score a goal or screw up. For the average blueliner, the latter is more likely to happen.
Boston College’s Mike Mottau, however, is anything but average. He’s already a two-time All-American and is a mortal lock to make that three in the next few weeks.
Most of that fame comes from his offense. Even a hockey neophyte can look at the stats and appreciate his abilities. Earlier this year, he set a Hockey East record for most career points in league games by a defenseman with 93 — 14 goals and 79 assists.
On this evening, he broke a BC record for career games played with 159 as soon as he stepped on the ice. Then, with 40 seconds left in what looked like a 1-0 loss to Maine, he tied another school mark — this one for career assists (127) — when he took a faceoff won by Blake Bellefeuille and slid a D-to-D pass to Bobby Allen, who ripped a shot into the net to tie the game.
“I don’t really think about it,” he said days earlier when asked about the assist record. “One of my roommates keeps track. I don’t know how many away I am. It’ll be exciting, but I’m just concentrating on winning games now.”
No doubt about it, Mottau’s offense deservedly draws attention and is a big reason why Boston College has been Hockey East’s top scoring team the last three years.
“It’s so much easier when you have great defensemen who can just move the puck up and get it on your tape and you’re out of your zone,” said Brian Gionta earlier this season. “Mottau, Allen and all of them, they’re just a great bunch of guys who know the game and get the puck out of your zone.
“That’s the biggest key, because if that first pass isn’t right on, then it slows the game right down and you get caught in your own end. We probably have one of the best defensive corps in the country. That’s a huge benefit to us.”
But Mottau is far from a one-dimensional offensive threat. He’s every bit as exceptional, if not more so, in his own end. On Thursday, he won the Hockey East award for Best Defensive Defenseman, a rare honor for someone who is also the league’s top-scoring blueliner.
The evidence on this evening came repeatedly. Within a span of a few minutes in the second period, he broke up a pass on a two-on-one, delivered a thundering check to Barrett Heisten and then later showed his offensive dimension, hitting Ales Dolinar with a potential breakaway pass at the far blue line.
So it was a no-brainer to have Mottau on the ice for a key defensive zone faceoff in the closing seconds with the score tied, 1-1, and the game set to go into overtime thanks to the stunning goal by Allen.
But with 2.5 seconds left on the clock, the game went, in BC coach Jerry York’s words, “from euphoria to disappointment.” Maine’s Niko Dimitrakos took a faceoff won back to him and cut around a picked-off Mottau and ripped asunder Eagle hopes of a Hockey East tournament three-peat.
Of course, the season isn’t over for Boston College.
“You take a hit and move on,” said York.
There’s still a shot at a national championship. The Eagles solidified their grasp on a berth in the NCAA tournament by rallying to defeat New Hampshire in the Hockey East semifinal game one night earlier, in no small part to Mottau’s rarely discussed leadership.
“He just told us [before the third period] that this was not going to be our last game,” said Bellefeuille. “We don’t have an automatic bid for the NCAAs, so he just emphasized, ‘Let’s not let this be our last game.’ He really got us pumped up.”
York is even more emphatic about what Mottau’s leadership means to the Eagles beyond his offensive and defensive prowess.
“I’ve coached 28 teams and there are captains and co-captains, so that’s a lot of top kids involved,” he said. “But he’s by far the best captain I’ve ever had. His comrade-ship with the other players and just the peer pressure that he puts on his contemporaries to do the right thing and work hard. He’s got terrific leadership skills.”
There’s also the remaining matter of individual awards. Mottau has already been named Hockey East Co-Player of the Year with UNH’s Ty Conklin, as well as another All-Hockey East First Team selection.
What’s left other than a third All-America honor? Mottau was recently named one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award along with teammates Jeff Farkas and Gionta.
The odds don’t favor Mottau, even though he may well be the best player in the country. Only two defensemen have won the honor, Tom Kurvers in 1984 and Mark Fusco in 1983. That’s a long dry spell for blueliners.
“I don’t think about it,” he said recently outside the BC locker room. “We have some Hobey Baker candidates here. It’s good to look back after a season and look at points and accolades. It’s nice. But when it’s happening, I don’t think about it because it’s almost a distraction. Right now, we just want to win games. The points and recognition are secondary.”
He then added with a grin, “For a defenseman, you’ve got to take that as secondary all the time.”