BOSTON — Until this year, no team had won three straight Hockey East tournaments. Until this year, no team had won five out of six. This year, Boston College changed all that.
The Eagles now own the longest Hockey East tournament winning streak: 12 games. Since 2007, they’ve posted a 20-1 record in league tournament games, their only loss coming to Boston University’s national championship team in 2009.
While Colorado College upset BC in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament, the Eagles have otherwise extended their dominance of the Hockey East tournament onto the national stage. They won national championships in 2008 and 2010 and advanced to the title games in 2006 and 2007.
Is anyone betting against them this year?
Current juniors on the squad have never lost a league tournament game. Only that loss to Colorado College sullies an otherwise perfect postseason career.
Other Hockey East teams have shown extended excellence during the regular season. BC won six regular season titles in Hockey East’s first seven years. BU won five straight regular season titles in the mid-1990s.
But the vagaries of tournament play have prevented three-peats in every other case until now.
Why has Boston College been so off-the-charts successful?
“We stress trophies at BC,” Eagles coach Jerry York says. “We talk a lot about them. That’s your legacy. We gear toward that.
“It’s a long, long season and that’s what we stress.”
Arguably, the Eagles are perennially one of the most battle-tested teams in college hockey. All that success in the Hockey East and NCAA tournaments helps. So does the Beanpot, which adds one more coveted trophy to play for and two more high-profile games that get the Eagles more comfortable in the spotlight.
“You always get better at big games by playing in them,” York says. “Everyone is watching. That’s an environment you can’t reproduce in Kelley Rink.”
As Maine coach Tim Whitehead noted in defeat, “I was very impressed with BC, as always. That’s a tough team to beat. They know how to win.”
The Eagles also recruit undeniable talent. On Saturday, freshman Johnny Gaudreau won the tournament MVP award, scoring his 18th and 19th goals of the season. At 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds dripping wet, the diminutive forward continues BC’s tradition of small, highly skilled forwards.
Brian Gionta … Nathan Gerbe … Johnny Gaudreau.
The Killer G’s.
But while the Eagles are hardly alone in boasting skill aplenty up front, many forwards lack enthusiasm when it comes to playing in the defensive zone. Not so for York’s crew. It’s no coincidence that the Eagles have earned the title as Hockey East’s stingiest team defense during the regular season three years running.
“We’ve got high-end forwards,” York says. “We’ve always recruited that type of player. But they’ve bought into playing good, solid defense.
“We’re not giving up a lot of goals even during the regular season. Our goals against are two … one … zero. That goals against [performance] is indicative that you’re going to be in every championship-type game.”
A big part of that is also the guy between the pipes. York was blessed in recent years with the likes of Johnny Muse and before him, Cory Schneider. Midseason questions about Parker Milner’s ability to seize that mantle have been answered as he’s allowed only 16 goals over the last 14 games.
“Johnny Muse was almost unbeatable in March,” York says. “Now Parker Milner has stepped into that. You need that top goaltender.”
BC enters the NCAA tournament as the consensus top team in the country and the No. 1 overall seed. An upset like the one against Colorado College last year could happen, but don’t count on it.
Since 2007, the Eagles have posted a 31-3 record in postseason games.
Don’t be surprised if in three more weeks that has become 35-3.