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College Hockey:
Battle Along The Blue Line

— The opportunity remains for the Eagles to remove the “1949″ title — referring to the school’s last national championship — thanks to a dramatic third-period comeback on the way to a 4-2 victory over St. Lawrence on Thursday night. That’s the good news for the Eagles. The bad news for the Eagles is their next opponent: North Dakota, a team that bases its existence on the “run-and-gun” offense.

And thus it’s time for the Eagle defense to step to the forefront once again.

“We’re trying to enjoy the moment and just be energized by it,” said Eagles head coach Jerry York. “It’s not a situation where we can be just overjoyed to be here. We want to be energized and try to win a national championship.

“Having said that, when you get this far in the season, the other club is always going to be a very good hockey team. There isn’t any reason to think that North Dakota isn’t the club it’s been over the last three years.”

York is alert to the offensive style of North Dakota, and believes this year’s club ranks among the best.

“I call North Dakota one of the Original Six,” said York, referencing the club’s storied tradition in college hockey and the founders of the NHL in one fell swoop. “This particular team is very quick. [Jeff] Panzer is one of the outstanding forwards in college hockey, and with Goehring back in the goal, they have an All-American in goal.”

The defensive style that the Eagles will need to play is no strange concept. York has preached an “offense from defense” style of play all season, which has led to Boston College setting a school record for lowest goals-against average. The system is embedded in the heads of all the players, proven by talking to any of them.

“[At this point in the year] you have to tighten up [the defense] a lot,” said junior defenseman Brooks Orpik. “You can’t take as many offensive chances.

“We have guys like [Mike] Mottau and Bobby [Allen] who are offensive. Then the rest of our guys sit back and play [defense].”

Given this Sioux style of play, one thing that helps the Eagles is having the Hobey Baker Award winner, Mike Mottau, anchoring the blue line. It was Mottau who sparked the comeback in Thursday’s semifinal, scoring a third-period goal to even the game at two.

“Mike has been a great leader for us all year,” said fellow senior Blake Bellefeuille. “He gave a great speech before the third period, and then it was unbelievable — he went out and scored the tying goal.

“You’ve got to believe in a guy like Mike Mottau. When he speaks, everybody listens. He’s been there all year for us and I can’t say enough about the guy.”

Though the two clubs have only met 12 times in history, the Eagles and Sioux are at least a little familiar with each other. The two teams met one year ago in the NCAA West Regional, when the Eagles upset then top-seeded North Dakota, 3-1. It was the third meeting of the two clubs in the NCAA tournament, with the Eagles victorious twice.

And though some things are different, York still believe that a lot of the Sioux team is the same.

“They’re different in the fact that [current Los Angeles Kings forward Jason] Blake is not there,” York said. “But a lot of the same faces besides Jason are there.

“They’ve really changed from their heyday of the 70′s and 80′s. Then they were a really strong, physical team — an intimidating team — and they won a lot of games using that as a background. But they’ve evolved, just like the WCHA has, to a quick, up-tempo club.”

Putting the opponent aside, the Eagles have used the last two seasons as a springboard to this national championship game. Two years ago, BC reached the championship by lighting the nation on fire in the second half of the season before eventually falling to Michigan, 3-2 in overtime. And last season, Maine ended the Eagles’ run during the semifinals.

Bellefeuille commented on what that experience has meant to the club, and what the expectations are Saturday.

“Going into the [1998 championship game], there was kind of no pressure,” said Bellefeuille. “We were on a streak there and just went in to have fun.

“I think the attitude on our team is a lot different this year. We’re going into this game right here knowing that we have the guys on the team that can go out and win the game. We take nothing away from [North Dakota], but we feel we can go in there and win tomorrow night.”

York agrees.

“Two years ago, it was the first time that anyone on the team had played in the Frozen Four. This year I think about 90 percent of our team has played in two Frozen Four. We’ve got a little more experience, a little more understanding of what’s going on here.

“There’s a lot of obstacles still in the way if we want to win a national championship,” said York. “But that’s the way it should be this time of year.”

And if those obstacles are scaled by the Eagles on Saturday evening, no one in Chestnut Hill will have to listen to “1949″ ever again. You have to think that listening to people say “2000″ just won’t be very painful.

BC Notes: Goaltender Scott Clemmensen did not attend the postgame press conference after Thursday’s semifinal win over St. Lawrence. York said that he had tweaked a muscle, but later added that it’s nothing to be concerned about.

“[Scott's muscle pain] is not an issue,” York clarified. “The trainer just wanted to ice whatever it was, and that’s why he didn’t come down.”

If BC is victorious on Saturday night, it will reach the 30-win plateau for the first time since the 1986-87 season. That year’s club, led by Kevin Stevens, posted a record of 31-9-0, but lost in the NCAA quarterfinals to Minnesota. That was the only club in BC history to win 30 games; the last two seasons, BC has posted 27 and 28 wins, and both year’s lost in the Frozen Four (1998, championship game to Michigan, and 1999, semifinals to Maine).


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