MANCHESTER, N.H. — Even supporting actors like a moment or two in the spotlight.
Boston College’s leading men on most nights are goaltender Cory Schneider and forward-turned-defenseman Brian Boyle. Or perhaps super-sophs Nathan Gerbe, Benn Ferriero and Brock Bradford. But when the spotlight becomes brightest — playoff season — Joe Rooney rises to the occasion.
Ten days ago, Hockey East named him its top defensive forward, the league’s equivalent of an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor. One night later, however, he elbowed his way into some of the spotlight, scoring a goal and adding an assist in a Hockey East semifinal win over archrival Boston University. He then followed that up with two assists against New Hampshire en route to a league title.
Rooney didn’t score in the NCAA Northeast Regional opener, but BC needed him big time one day later against a Miami team that had upset top-seeded New Hampshire. The RedHawks gave BC all it could handle in a scoreless first period, bringing into question whether the Eagles would advance to their second straight Frozen Four and third in Rooney’s four years.
An assistant captain, Rooney challenged his team to take the game over. Having talked the talk, he walked the walk. First, he converted a great setup by Benn Ferriero for a 1-0 lead. Then, he collected the puck off a turnover behind the Miami net, reached around goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and stuffed it in for a lead the Eagles would never surrender.
Rooney’s performance, however, went beyond the goal scoring and leadership. He also put other facets of his game, teamwork and defense, on display. Carrying the puck on a two-on-none with Ferriero, Rooney gave up the shot at a hat trick and passed to his linemate for the better chance. Zatloff made a spectacular save, but Rooney’s unshakeable team-first attitude couldn’t be missed even by a neophyte. Then with the game still in the balance going into the third period, Rooney and Ferriero filled their customary role as the first penalty-killing unit and shut down Miami’s last best chance.
Leadership, goalscoring, teamwork and defense. Not a bad combination.
“He stepped right up on the big stage,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We had a lot of good performances, but he led the charge.”
The starring performance in the spotlight reprised Rooney’s role in last year’s Northeast Regional where he scored two goals with two assists for the first of back-to-back berths in the All-Tournament Team.
“I seem to like this game, the regional final,” Rooney said. “It’s so easy to get fired up for these games.”
Rooney, however, had been forced to get his teammates fired up earlier in the season when the Eagles’ inconsistency put this championship run into question.
“First half of the year, he was our best player,” Boyle said. “He was the most consistent guy. Everyone else elevated their game to take his lead.”
Boyle and Rooney go back further than just the past four years at BC. They also played prep school hockey together as linemates at St. Sebastian’s.
“He’s one of the hardest workers and best teammates that I’ve ever had,” Boyle said. “I’m really happy that he had the spotlight today.
“He just keeps his mouth shut and works hard. He doesn’t complain and he doesn’t talk about himself. He’s a humble kid who works extremely hard. He’s a great leader by example. You just love to see a guy like that have success.”
The success has been no accident. The Hockey East Defensive Forward of the Year was told after his freshman season that he’d have to improve his play along the walls and in the defensive zone. So he worked at it with assistant coach Mike Cavanaugh.
“It’s a special thing knowing that I’ve done a good job at it,” he said. “I’m pretty proud of that.”
The points have also come much more in abundance this year. His 41 points almost match the total of his first three seasons at BC.
“I didn’t exactly get a ton of them my first three years,” he said. “This year, I had a breakout year. I just try to play as well as I can in both ends.”
The results speak for themselves.
“He’s always been a good player, but in his junior and senior years he’s stepped it up a whole notch,” York said. “His PK is terrific. His four-on-four play and power-play, too. He’s a legitimate all-league type player.”
The spotlight now moves to St. Louis.