Exorcising Their Demons

Perhaps it’s a good thing that no player on the Boston College roster describes himself as a history major in the team’s media guide.

In Saturday night’s Hockey East championship game, BC faced its third big overtime game at the FleetCenter in the last two years, and the Eagles had lost the previous two. In last year’s national championship game against Michigan, a crossbar was all that stood between them and an overtime victory, which would have been their first national title since 1949.

Heavily favored in this season’s Beanpot, the Eagles were stumped by Boston University goaltender Michel Larocque despite dominating the third period. Then Terrier forwards Russ Bartlett and Chris Heron teamed up for an improbable game-winner in overtime on a diving, flailing shot that took a bizarre bounce.

Saturday night, top-seeded University of New Hampshire seemed to be hatching a similar plot. Down 4-1 in the first period, the Wildcats clawed their way back into the game. They stunned BC with two second-period goals in just ten seconds. BC led in the game for 53 minutes and 20 seconds, only to have third-line left wing Johnny Rogers tie the game 4-4 by scoring just his third collegiate goal with under five minutes to play.

As the teams concluded regulation and headed into the locker room in anticipation of overtime, you can bet that the many Eagle fans in attendance had their heart rates beating at a time-and-a-half pace.

Despite that turn of events, nobody in the Eagle locker room was about to get a two-minute penalty for slashing his wrists.

“We wanted to be on our toes and go after it, not on our heels,” BC coach Jerry York said. “You have to stay right in the present. We weren’t thinking, ‘Hey, we lost the last time we were here.’ We wanted to go out and force the issue.

“Sometimes you don’t score the goal that way, but you give yourself a chance to win a hockey game.”

Ironically, perhaps the difference was that the Eagles’ tough overtime losses in the building gave them some experience that their opponents lacked. UNH has never won a Hockey East tournament and owns only a 1-3-0 record at the FleetCenter. This was the Wildcats’ first OT game at the facility.

BC captain Brendan Buckley explained how the team turned those painful losses into a positive.

“No one really tries to talk about it coming into the game,” Buckley said. “But then they tied it up, and we’re going into overtime.

“In the locker room we said this is our turn to win a big game in overtime. We’ve felt what it’s like to lose them, and maybe we’ve learned from those experiences.”

Easier said then done, as goalie Scott Clemmensen admitted that The Ghost of Crossbars Past has danced in his head since last April.

“Any time you lose a national championship game like that, without a doubt it adds fuel to the fire going into the season,” Clemmensen said. “I’ve never seen a replay of the game last year against Michigan, but it just leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”

Buckley agreed. “It’s a random thing you see on TV when they advertise hockey, and you see Michigan going nuts and all….I try not to think about it too much. It gives me a bad feeling whenever I see that on tape, or whenever anyone brings it up.”

But Clemmensen also pointed the flip side of that awful feeling. “That’s what you train hard for all summer; that’s why you can’t wait for the season to start.”

“I think it’s helped our team,” Buckley added, “knowing what it’s like to get there and knowing what it takes to win it.”

At 6:58, the Eagles did just that. Blake Bellefeuille — who played like a man possessed in both the semifinal and final, and who was a no-brainer for tourney MVP — peeled off the boards with the puck and fired a vicious wrister past goalie Ty Conklin high on the stick side.

“I was at the blue line and my partner Brooks Orpik stepped up, made a play, kept the puck in,” Buckley said. “Blake had pretty much a two-on-one with Andy [Powers], and he put it upstairs on the short side.

“[Bellefeuille] is a tremendous player — he’s played well all year,” the BC captain added. “He competes, he takes the body, he can play defense, and he can bury the puck. He’s one of our top guns going down the stretch.”

Perhaps the most telling statistic of the night was that BC outshot UNH 8-0 during the overtime period.

“Overtime in this building hasn’t been too good to us,” Clemmensen said, chuckling. “I think we were due this time. I just have to tip my hat to my teammates. I didn’t see any shots in overtime, and we really came out of the gate believing in ourselves.”

Having exorcised the evil spirits pervading the FleetCenter, the Eagles will try to settle a similar score if they get to fly west for another crack at a national championship game this April.

That would be the sort of history that the Eagles wouldn’t mind studying.