DENVER — Game day, almost game time. 60 minutes from a national title.
The key to today is routine, focus, and demeanor. In coaching there is the philosophy every game as big as the last one and the next one. Today is the last one but needs to be approached by the staffs and players in the way they have approached every other. Thinking of what the postgame looks like when you win could be the first step towards losing. Positive visualization is great, but what you visualize as a player is what you have to do on a shift-by-shift basis. Coaches won’t get sucked into this, these are two veteran staffs who have head coaches and assistants who have won this tourney before.
There are things that factor into today’s game that I feel are important to track, having seen each time numerous times this season. Here is what could factor in based on the data these teams have provided on ice this season.
Start with Boston College. BC’s key is getting on runs in a game and never getting off them, or getting knocked off them. Look at the North Dakota game. BC got momentum, sensed they were close to a kill and never took their foot off the throttle. That’s Boston College. They were down 4-1 to UNH in the Hockey East semifinals and got a break, scored to cut the lead to 4-2, and then were off and running.
BC is also a good momentum swing team as evidenced by their game in the regional semifinal against Minnesota. There were parts of the game during which Minnesota probably wished they had brought their own puck because they didn’t touch the one provided by the NCAA. However that second period saw Minnesota get its game going and saw BC lose some momentum. However, they withstood the run by Minnesota and eventually took the game over and won it.
BC brings several things to the table. They are very good faceoff recovery team. They do lose some draws at key times but are very good at getting to those areas where pucks are and either getting them back or neutralizing the loss of the draw.
The Eagles have the nastiest defense in the country and that’s something you don’t think of when you think BC. Head coach Jerry York always has teams that backcheck and gap well so that they are a defensive presence. This group of defensemen is big, mean, tough, nasty, and smart physically. You can see in games BC has played that they protect the front of the net well by using that size and agility.
Mike Brennan is a throwback. He is an on-ice leader who finishes every hit and is very good in front. Nick Petrecki is a monster at 6-foot-3 and is still growing. Carl Sneep has size and agility and angles very well until he get you close and eliminate you. Tim Filangieri is as physical, smart, and competitive as any defenseman in the nation. In Anthony Aiello and Tim Kunes you get two disciplined defenseman who can also think offense.
Teams have actually become intimidated by BC’s defense as games wear on. They spend a ton of time trying to get to the net, pay a physical price to do it, can’t, and stop trying. Then they’ll try to create off the cycle or play off the walls and get outmuscled. It’s a tough corps to deal with and will be a factor for Notre Dame to deal with. This might be the best defense they have played against all season and there were several good ones in the CCHA. BC is very different than Michigan or UNH because they don’t sell out as much defensively to support their offense. It’s a good team in terms of balancing their defensive-zone coverage and transition to offense.
John Muse has been solid in going wire to wire in net. His rebound control is very good and his positioning eliminates a lot of goals that goalies who play deeper are susceptible to. He is in command and does not get rattled easily. He is very much Cory Schneider in terms of demeanor and has had a Schneider like season.
Up front they have survived the loss of Brock Bradford and still keep going. They are deep and have been able to keep three bona fide scorers like Nathan Gerbe, Benn Ferriero, and Danny Bertram on separate lines to keep matching up a defense pair against a scoring line very tough. They can come at you four strong and their fourth line was their best in period one early against North Dakota. Matt Lombardi can play for me any day and that line is in your face and can do things with the puck.
BC won’t be nervous and has no issues with back to back losses in this game. They have a staff that won’t get nervous if they get down a goal because as they showed against Miami, they can score in bunches and that goes back to what was mentioned earlier in that they can survive down swings and get momentum back on their side.
Notre Dame is now further into unchartered waters but took a huge step against Michigan in their semi final game. Winning in OT is a big deal, but winning they way they did, after blowing a big lead and then a late lead. Notre Dame has issues with lead protection and BC has no problem playing from way behind.
For BC, Notre Dame will remind them a bit of Miami and Minnesota in terms of commitment to defense, but in looking back at Hockey East they are very much like Vermont. Notre Dame can have trouble at times handling offensive speed but they best two defensemen in the game in terms of playing rush are Teddy Ruth and Brock Sheehan and I guess they see Nathan Gerbe when Notre Dame can get a matchup. ND also has a solid mobile and big defense but they do give up more grade a chances than BC does on average.
For Notre Dame, they also have an ability to snuff out momentum and against Michigan they were on the verge of losing their 3-2 lead right after the 3-2 goal because Michigan was on fire. However, ND buckled down and settled the game down and were able to slow the pace. Huge key again for them.
So, to the X’s and O’s and intangibles.
Boston College wins if:
1) They set the tempo and keep the game up tempo. ND proved they can skate with elite offensive teams but BC has that capability to control a game wire to wire when they skate.
2) Be physical in their own zone. BC has owned their own zone most of the year.
3) Penalty kill. ND’s power play is average and BC should win the special teams game in this area.
4) They get good lead. Playing from behind isn’t Notre Dame’s forte.
Notre Dame wins if:
1) They win big shifts. Shifts after killing a penalty, shifts after goals for/against. Shifts late in periods. This is an area ND has been strong in.
2) To counter the special teams, ND needs to make sure BC puts up bagels on the power play because BC will score even strength. Allowing a power play goal makes the hole bigger.
3) Forecheck. ND is a good forecheck team but an even better NZ team with their 3rd man high and wing lock system. If they can keep BC wide and not allow the rush to develop speed they can be very effective in keeping the goals off the board.
4) Smart puck play. Like Michigan, BC will kill you in transition and ND is a good puck team so they need to make sure pucks get in and they can use their size to create chances.
Bottom line is both teams are loose and no one expected either to be here. ND is more the team playing with house money but BC has no problem playing as a favorite. If ND keeps Nathan Gerbe in check they’ll have a great chance to win. However, Gerbe is as focused as I have seen him in three years. He has a big game. BC wins.