No Excuses

You know things are going awry when even your pep band bites the dust. Not just the tuba player. Not just the trombonist. The whole stinking band.

With players dropping like flies prior to Boston College’s Hockey East championship game against New Hampshire, the band was merely the latest subtraction from the Eagles lineup.

The first broadside absorbed in BC’s war of attrition, and without question the biggest loss, came a week ago when Patrick Eaves suffered a bruised shoulder and lung in the third period of the clinching quarterfinal game against Massachusetts. The 5-1 win took on Pyrrhic proportions considering that Eaves would be named Hockey East Player of the Year days later. Replacing Eaves’ 19 goals and 29 assists, not to mention his exceptional work on the penalty kill, was a daunting, if not impossible, task.

The second and third broadsides came on Friday. Prior to the semifinal win over Maine, blood work on defenseman Peter Harrold confirmed that he had contracted acute mononucleosis. Then midway through the game Stephen Gionta separated his shoulder, knocking him out for the weekend.

And as for the pep band? Its members were sitting in a Durham, North Carolina bar, drinking beer and eating wings. They were whetting their whistles, so to speak, in preparation for tomorrow’s women’s basketball game.

Band members aside, the attrition had reached such proportions that the Eagles didn’t have a healthy scratch for the title game. With Eaves, Harrold and Gionta in civilian clothes, Joe Adams was dressing for only his fourth game, sophomore Justin Greene for only the eighth of his career and forward Taylor Leahy had moved to defense for the second consecutive game.

And if there was further attrition? Third-string goaltender Robbie Miller might have to ditch his blocker and catching glove for skater’s garb.

Adding insult to the injuries was the semifinal with Maine going to double overtime, the last thing needed by a team whose depth is being challenged.

In the end, though, Boston College overcame fatigue and attrition to win its first Hockey East tournament title since 2001, defeating New Hampshire, 3-1. Player after player rose to the challenge. Brian Boyle filled the scoring void, winning tournament MVP honors with two goals in the title game after another one in the semifinals. Chris Collins, filling in for Eaves on the top line, added a highlight reel tally to seal to win late in the third period. Andrew Alberts played immense while playing immense minutes. Role players stepped up in suddenly bigger roles.

“Physically we might have been tired, but mentally we were really focused and sometimes that drives you past the point of being tired,” coach Jerry York said. “It’s a big game under the bright lights on a big stage. This is something they all strive for and it’s an easy game to be jacked up for.”

Even so, the bright lights and the big stage hadn’t been kind to the Eagles back in February when they lost to Boston University in the Beanpot, 2-1. In that loss, however, the seeds of the Hockey East championship were sown. Captain Ryan Shannon sat at the podium and refused to look anywhere but in the team mirror.

“It hurts,” he said at the time, “but more importantly we got a good look at our team and what we bring to a big venue. We got a lot to learn from this experience. We have the Hockey East tournament and the national tournament ahead of us. We’ve got a chance to make changes and work harder.

“I just think that this particular team needs to learn how to play in a big venue with all these people watching and being able to execute under those high-pressure situations.”

Six weeks later, the Eagles won the Hockey East championship in front of a sellout FleetCenter crowd.

“The reality of it is that we weren’t good in pressure situations under the big lights,” Shannon said after the win. “BU knew that; they flourished in that kind of environment. They’re called the Beanpot school.

“Sitting in the locker room after the Beanpot loss, heads were down. We do a thing called windows and mirrors. After you win a game, you give a window. You look around the room and give compliments to other guys. When you lose a game, you look in the mirror and you say what you could have done better. I said, ‘Maybe I need to step up a little bit. I need to lead you guys a little bit better.'”

When the injuries hit one after another at the worst possible time, BC’s leadership — Shannon is one of 10 seniors — made the difference. Instead of feeling bad for themselves and cursing their bad luck, the Eagles refused to accept the excuses for losing that were handed to them on a silver platter.

“It’s so easy to make excuses,” Shannon said. “When you get tired and you’re down and out and everything is against you, it’s easy to just surrender and give up. The pain either comes over time by not winning a championship or it comes just at that moment [of pushing yourself harder] and then you have that great feeling of success.”

Now that Boston College has experienced that great feeling of success by winning the league’s regular season and tournament championships, it’s on to the NCAA tournament where the Eagles will look to reprise the 2001 triple play.

“It feels too good not to win another one,” Shannon said with a smile. “We have a really strong passion in our locker room. Guys don’t want this to end. We want to go all the way to April ninth.”