Chalk it up to experience?
The Hockey East championship game has in recent years constituted a Boston College rite of spring. On this night, BC seniors were competing in their fourth straight title contest, having won in 2005 and 2007. The Eagles could count a cumulative 30 appearances in their lineup.
On the even bigger stage of the NCAA tournament, BC has advanced to the national championship game two years running.
By contrast, Vermont was making its first Hockey East championship weekend appearance with no NCAA tournament berths since 1997.
Heading into the game, UVM coach Kevin Sneddon referred to his team as “the most mentally strong team in the country,” but clearly the Catamounts faced a tough challenge, both mentally and physically.
In theory, they might be the higher seed, third, to Boston College’s fourth, but could there be any doubt as to the favorite?
“That’s something that we didn’t try to think about too much,” UVM captain Mark Lutz said. “We focused on what we wanted to do. We all knew they had a great team and were very experienced but we wanted to take it one step at a time. Tonight was just one more step in hopefully a bigger puzzle.”
As the first period unfolded, the underdog Catamounts were generating the best chances. Ironically, it was left to the least tournament-tested Eagle to stymie them. Freshman goaltender John Muse stopped Jack Downing on the doorstep, Colin Vock on a rebound, and Brian Roloff on a two-on-one.
“I thought our first 10-15 minutes might have been the best hockey I’ve seen our team play all year offensively,” UVM coach Kevin Sneddon said. “It was frustrating that every time we had those opportunities either Muse made the save or we shot wide.”
Experienced or not, Muse has done that all year, playing every minute of BC’s season.
“He’s given us the confidence to win every game,” Nathan Gerbe said. “You have to give the young freshman a lot of props for that.”
In the final two minutes of the opening period, the BC offense accomplished what Vermont’s could not, getting on the scoreboard with a Ben Smith tap-in of a rebound.
“Our 1-0 lead was strictly a goaltending performance by John that put us in that position,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It could have easily been 3-1.”
Having weathered the early storm, though, the Eagles asserted themselves in the second period, outshooting Vermont 11-4 while building a 3-0 lead.
“We were able to stay calm and poised,” Gerbe said. “A lot of the guys, especially our senior class, really kept us straight throughout the whole game. Everyone is a little nervous to start the game, but after a while you calm down and start playing your game and not their game.”
After it became the Eagles’ game, Vermont could not get it back. Gerbe’s empty-net goal finished the scoring and BC had its third Hockey East title in four years.
“When they had their opportunities, they buried it,” Sneddon said. “But that’s the sign of a great team, and that’s what Boston College is.”
Which, of course, leads to the next stage of the season. Can the Eagles make a third-straight run to the national championship game and perhaps take care of that piece of unfinished business?
“The hardest thing to do is get there,” Gerbe said. “We learned that the last two years. We can’t look forward to the national championship game. We’re going to be playing pretty good teams in the regionals. We’ve just got to keep playing the same game we played this weekend against New Hampshire and Vermont.”
That could very well do the trick.