Simply the Best

He broke in on the goaltender. Mano a mano. He dipped one shoulder. The goalie reacted in kind.

His head and shoulders moved the other way. The goalie fought to recover. The dekes came in layers. The puck danced. The hands moved like a pickpocket’s. Head and shoulders dipped first one way and then the other, a blur of fake and counter-fake.

And then at some point Chris Drury’s competition ceased to be the sprawling figure in the crease and became the legends of past spectacular Beanpot goals. With the goaltender safely deked into the cheap seats, Drury painted the final brush stroke and the puck hit twine.

Da-da-da. Da-da-da.

Nationwide television, frequent celebrant of the Velvet Elvis in sport, hung Drury’s Mona Lisa in ESPN’s SportsCenter gallery. The rarity of the honor paid tribute to his 1996 Beanpot artistry.

That wasn’t the first time Drury caught the attention of those outside of college hockey. As a 12-year old, he electrified the sports world by pitching his Trumbull, Conn., team to a Little League World Series championship against staggering odds.

“The feeling was unbelievable,” says Drury. “We weren’t even supposed to be there. No one from our town had even won a game in the state tournament, so once we won a couple there we’d exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

He and his best friends from Trumbull didn’t stop there, though. They beat a heavily-favored team from California and ultimately squared off against a Taiwan squad considered virtually unbeatable.

“We weren’t even supposed to last a couple innings against Taiwan,” says Drury. “From the second inning on, it seemed like the crowd kept getting louder and louder, thinking that maybe these kids had a chance. It was just a great feeling to get the last out and realize our dreams.

“It gave me a taste of what winning was like at a young age. It made me want to get back there again.”

Drury didn’t taste success again on the national level, however, until he starred on the U.S. Select-17 hockey team that competed in Japan. When he was chosen MVP of a silver medal-winning team that beat Canada, it completed a remarkable turnaround in his hockey fortunes.

Unlike many collegiate stars, Drury didn’t pump in hundreds of goals as a youngster. “I was always the shortest player,” Drury says. “I was pretty clumsy and chubby when I was growing up, so I didn’t really do too much until I was about 14 or 15 years old.”

He began listening to his older brother, Ted, then an All-American at Harvard. When Ted came back from national training camps, he had a captive audience.

“He’d tell me what to eat and how to get stronger and faster,” says the younger Drury. “I listened to a lot of the stuff that he said. I’d ask him a lot of questions and just try to emulate what he was doing.”

At 16 he was invited to Colorado for the Select-16 tryouts, but didn’t come close to making the squad. A year later, the results were different. Countless 20-yard sprints, plyometrics, and competing in a league with collegiate players completed the transformation of the clumsy and chubby 14 year old with no serious hockey future into the Select-17 team MVP.

“That summer was the biggest improvement that everyone saw in me,” says Drury. “When I was 16, I was still slow and wasn’t really sure of myself. I was kind of in awe of the whole situation. When I was 17, I was a lot quicker and more confident. It was really satisfying that I set my goals and I reached them.”

Earlier that year, however, luck hadn’t seemed on Drury’s side. He broke a wrist playing hockey, taped it up and kept playing until the season ended. X-rays showed not only the break, but a need for surgery. The injury washed out his baseball season, one in which his team advanced to the state semifinals.

For a kid who’d always loved the sport, the forced sabbatical stung. Worse, it came during his junior year of high school, baseball’s prime recruiting period. The lost season, and his success on the Select-17 team that followed it, for all practical purposes decided which sport he would pursue in college.

Winning the Little League World Series and watching his older brother play in championship games on TV convinced Drury that he wanted no part of rebuilding programs.

“I wanted to have a chance to win it each year,” he says. “I didn’t want to have to wait until I was a senior. I knew that if I came to BU, I’d have a chance to make the lineup in my freshman year and hopefully have the chance to win a national championship.”

So BU coach Jack Parker added Drury’s name to a group that already included Jacques Joubert, Mike Grier, Jay Pandolfo, Mike Prendergast, Shawn Bates, Chris O’Sullivan and Rich Brennan. Surrounded by that cast, Drury initially got lost in the crowd.

“I was definitely frustrated until about Christmas,” Drury says. “I knew they had a lot of really great players, but I also wanted to contribute. I guess around Christmas or a little bit after I found my role. I was third- or fourth-line center at that point, and I just knew that every night I had to play good defense and maybe chip in a little bit of offense.

“I talked to my brother. He knew we had a good team and knew I had to play my role that year, and that things would work out in the future. He always had confidence in me and kept me upbeat in that situation.”

The team got out of the gate fast, leveled off, and then went on a tear right around the Beanpot.

“It seemed like it was all planned out,” says Drury. “Everyone knew [their roles]. We knew we had a good shot after going to the title game the year before; when we won the national championship, it was the biggest thrill of my life.”

Drury finished the season with 12 goals and 15 assists. Not bad for a third- or fourth-liner, but not up to his expectations. In the off-season he built up his strength and continued to work on explosive speed.

His scoring took off in his sophomore year; he finished with 35 goals and 32 assists. Drury earned a host of distinctions: Hobey Baker finalist, All-Hockey East, Beanpot MVP, NCAA East Regional All-Tournament.

Drury credits his emergence to a series of factors, but two gave him his biggest boost.

“I probably wouldn’t be here in this situation if it wasn’t for [BU strength and conditioning coach] Mike Boyle and all his explosive work and strict training,” Drury says. “It transfers onto the ice so well.”

Parker’s words of encouragement proved the other key.

“When someone of his stature says, ‘You’re doing a good job, keep it up,’ that goes a long way,” says Drury.

Despite his personal success, the season proved disappointing. The Terriers explosive offense led the nation with 236 goals and was a major factor in their midseason number-one ranking. But Providence upset BU in the Hockey East semifinals and Michigan dismantled them in the NCAA semis.

In the offseason Drury drove himself to take his game to the next level. The Terriers’ loss in the postseason was one motivator. Another was his experience at the World Junior Tournament.

“It was pretty humbling,” he says. “We played a lot of great teams like Canada and Sweden and Finland. Most of those guys are bigger and stronger and faster. It just made me realize how much harder I had to work.”

This year the scoring burden, which missed him completely as a freshman, and which he shared with players like Pandolfo, Grier and O’Sullivan last year, falls squarely on his shoulders. On a team bereft of depth up front, Drury often has to carry the load with little help.

“I don’t really see it as pressure,” he says. “It’s fun. It’s a challenge, just knowing that maybe some people out there think [that I’m the only one scoring.] Obviously I want to come every night and contribute, but we have many other players on this team who can score. Obviously it’s not just me.”

Despite his words, BU’s record speaks volumes. When Drury gets points, the Terriers are 15-1-5. When he’s shut out, they’re 0-5-0.

One game typifies his dominance this season. In December he dismantled arch-rival Boston College with four goals. Afterwards, BC coach Jerry York, who has a pretty fair player named Marty Reasoner on his squad, said of Drury, “He’s just above everybody else in Hockey East.”

Significantly, two of Drury’s four goals came during critical short-handed situations for BU. The first was during a BC five-on-three man advantage; the second, in the middle of a five-minute major. After the game, Parker talked about Drury’s greatness.

“As good a player as he is, I can’t remember having a kid who competes as hard as he does every time he’s at practice,” said Parker. “The only guy that comes close to him is a kid who played a long time ago, Jack O’Callahan.

“That’s what makes Drury so great. He’s a real talented player, but he’s a fabulous competitor.”

As the nation’s leading goal-scorer, Drury has had to adjust to extra defensive attention. For the first time since high school, teams are shadowing him.

“It doesn’t make for a fun game,” he says. “It’s tough to get going. Every time you try to move your feet, the other guy is grabbing you, or sticking you or jumping on your back. It’s frustrating. I’m just going to have to keep moving my feet.”

“If you’re standing still, you’re a pretty easy target to cover. But hopefully, what’ll happen soon is that other kids on this team will take off. Obviously, there’s the potential for that to happen. And once that happens no one’s going to care about me anymore.”

Drury dismisses compliments about his consistency, based on his scoring or assisting in 26 of 31 games last year and, shadowed or not, 21 of 26 this year.

“[Consistency] really doesn’t have anything to do with points,” he counters. “I just go out each night and try to work as hard as I can. If that happens, then you’ll get points and play well. But I don’t think the two go hand-in-hand. You can get points and play terrible. I think that’s a big misconception, at least in college hockey. People automatically assume that if you have points you’re playing well, and I don’t think that’s the case at all.”

Drury also isn’t about to rest on his laurels. “I think I need to get a lot better at a lot of things,” he says. “I need to get faster, stronger, quicker, and be able to pass forehand and backhand better. There’s nothing that I couldn’t get better at.”

For now, he’s focusing only on the games at hand. When asked about his expectations for this year’s postseason, he just laughs and says, “I’d just like to win on Friday.”

Drury, a third-round draft pick of the Colorado Avalanche, might be expected to feel that he has little left to prove in the college game, and could skip his senior year.

Shrugging his shoulders, he instead says matter-of-factly, “[It’ll be] another year of eligibility and another year of hockey here at BU. I look forward to that.”

The sounds you hear are opposing coaches and players groaning and rubbing their suddenly-throbbing temples. They feel a headache coming on — and it’s gonna be a big one.