DENVER — Entering this week’s Frozen Four, it was thought that if Boston College were to have a shot at a national title, leading scorer Nathan Gerbe would need to be a major contributor.
After scoring five goals and adding three assists in two games, calling Gerbe a major contributor may be an understatement, but calling the Boston College Eagles national champions is a perfect fit.
Gerbe scored the game’s opening two goals and added two assists on Saturday evening as the Eagles ended Notre Dame’s Cinderella run with a 4-1 victory to take home the school’s second national title this decade and third all-time in front of a capacity crowd of 18,632 at the Pepsi Center in Denver.
“We talked right after the regionals, that in nine days, our season would be over,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “We stressed the fact that if you win a national title, your season never ends.”
This title adds to BC’s legacy, matching the achievement of the 2001 and 1949 championship teams. But it’s also redemption for the past two seasons that ended with losses for the Eagles in the national title game.
“We knew what [losing] felt like, and we wanted to know what it felt like to win,” said Gerbe. “It’s such a great feeling. [Those losses] helped our team experience wise coming into the game; we had so much poise.”
That poise was tested most in a turning point early in the third period.
With BC leading 3-1, Notre Dame caught the Eagles in transition and defenseman Kyle Lawson appeared to score to close the gap to one. The play was reviewed by video replay official Greg Shepherd and it was decided that Lawson’s skate was moving towards the net and made contact with the puck. It took eight anxious minutes for the review to finally disallow the goal.
BC completed the ultimate turning point 35 seconds later when Gerbe fished a puck out from behind the net and fed Ben Smith, who half-fanned on the shot but got enough of the puck to beat Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce over the left shoulder.
Suddenly what seemed like a one-goal lead extended to three and the Eagles were well on their way to the title.
“It was the turning point of the game, no doubt about it,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “I thought we had something going at that time.”
“When a chance like that goes by and it goes your way, you get a lot of energy from it,” said BC captain Mike Brennan. “Our team didn’t want to go 3-2. They went out harder and Gerbe went out and threw that puck out there and [Ben Smith] got a piece of it and it went in.”
Notre Dame would gets its chances later in the period, but BC goaltender John Muse, the first rookie goaltender to win the national title since Denver’s Peter Mannino in 2005, shut the door, finishing the game with 20 saves.
The game opened with a first period in which both teams struggled to get much going offensively. BC controlled much of the frame territorially, but the Fighting Irish had the best offensive chances. Christian Hansen had a grade-A bid at 14:30 that Muse was able to stop short side.
On the play, though, Notre Dame was able to draw a penalty to BC’s Matt Greene. The Irish put solid pressure on the Eagles on the ensuing power play but were unable to beat Muse. BC’s penalty kill finished the game a perfect 8-for-8 on the penalty kill and allowed just one goal in 24 chances throughout the NCAA tournament.
The Eagles offense, which looked tentative in the first, exploded to start the second. They broke the deadlock when Gerbe one-timed a pass from Brian Gibbons over the shoulder of Pearce (19 saves) at 2:23 to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
At 5:37, this time on the power play, Gerbe netted his fifth goal of the Frozen Four and 35th of the season when he sped off the halfboards and poked home the puck before Pearce could cover the left post for a 2-0 lead.
Gerbe then helped extend the lead to 3-0, again on the power play, when he dished a pass to Joe Whitney, who blasted a shot from the point inside the right post at 8:11. BC finished the game with two power-play goals in four chances.
Notre Dame didn’t quit, though. Skating four-on-four, Kevin Deeth worked a perfect give-and-go with Lawson. Deeth finished the play with a wrist shot over Muse’s blocker to cut the lead to two at 8:11.
Notre Dame threatened several times throughout the remainder of regulation, but Muse stood tall to earn a spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Notre Dame, which made a magical run through the NCAA tournament, beginning as a fourth seed and reaching the national title game, came a win short of its ultimate goal. Still, the club made a powerful statement with its performance, finishing the season at 27-16-4.
“Notre Dame is going to be one of those brand-name schools for hockey like the Wisconsins, the Boston Universitys, the North Dakotas, the Boston Colleges,” said York. “They’re in that mix of teams now. It’s great for the sport when a school like that can now play hockey at the highest level. It’s going to be a great benefit to all of us.”
Boston College captured the national title for the first time since 2001, finished the season with a season best nine-game winning streak and compiled an overall record of 25-11-8. It’s the third championship for the school and second under York.
It also puts Boston College among the elite teams in Boston, joining the 2007 World Series champion Red Sox; the New England Patriots, who have captured three Super Bowls and finished runner-up this NFL season; and the Celtics, who will enter the NBA playoffs with the league’s best record.
“It’s great to be able to join the Red Sox, hopefully the Celtics and the Patriots,” said York. “It’s a great time to be successful in our city right now.”