Two years ago, John Muse lived a charmed life. He started, and played every minute of, Boston College’s 44 games. He earned all-tournament honors in the Hockey East tournament and then again at the Frozen Four, leading his team to a national championship.
Last year, he once again started every game, but neither he nor the Eagles enjoyed the same success. They finished sixth during the regular season. A loss in the league semifinals ended their season. Muse’s goals-against average rose from 2.20 to 2.72; his save percentage fell from .921 to .904.
He hadn’t suddenly become a sieve, but it wasn’t the old jersey No. 1 in the BC nets. Nagging groin pain, later identified as a torn labrum in his hip, was at least part of the problem.
In the offseason, Muse underwent hip surgery. Optimists assumed it would return the old No. 1 to the BC nets; pessimists watched Boston Red Sox third baseman Mike Lowell hobble around after hip labrum surgery and shuddered. The Eagles were doomed.
BC tried to scour up a potential replacement, difficult to obtain so long after the conventional recruiting period, and came up with Parker Milner.
Original projections for Muse’s return were possibly in November. Possibly. Instead, he was back between the pipes for BC’s opening game on Oct. 18.
But not all the way back.
“I hadn’t skated for about five months because of the surgery,” Muse says. “My hip wasn’t bothering me. I had a few aches and pains here and there because I hadn’t played in so long, but for the most part I felt good physically. It was just difficult getting my timing back, getting back into the swing of things.”
Game by game he got stronger. By January, he seemed to have hit his stride.
“Once we came back from Christmas break, I felt like I was playing where I wanted to be,” he says. “But obviously I can always get better. That’s what I work on in practice, trying to get better every time I’m on the ice.”
Muse, however, wasn’t the only one getting better. Milner, the insurance policy and heir apparent, wasn’t playing second fiddle to anyone. He earned the February Hockey East goaltender of the month award, going 4-0-0 with a 0.93 GAA and a .963 save percentage.
A 0.93 GAA and a .963 save percentage.
The same freshman who had allowed Muse to come back at the appropriate speed from the hip surgery was making a convincing case for the No. 1 job. Muse, the guy who had started every game for two years was potentially … the backup.
“Any goalie will tell you it’s difficult not playing every night,” Muse says. “You want to be in there playing and helping your team out. Parker is a great goalie. He pushes me and I push him. We get along great.”
But when the playoffs started, it wasn’t the old No. 1 in the BC crease. It was the new No. 35, Milner.
Muse says now, “He was playing well. You don’t change things when a goalie is playing well.” But the demotion had to sting.
BC coach Jerry York says, “He must have thought, ‘Hey when my chance comes I better play pretty well because I’ve got great competition here.'”
That chance came after the first playoff game against Massachusetts, a sub-par performance by Milner in a 6-5 win. Muse barged through the open door, allowing only two goals in closing out UMass, and returned to the BC crease for the Eagles’ semifinal game against Vermont.
Jersey No. 1 was again No. 1 on the BC depth chart.
The result? Muse stopped all 30 shots he faced, including a key second-period breakaway.
Jersey No. 1 was once again the old No. 1.
“I don’t know if it’s so much me as the entire team,” Muse says. “You saw tonight how well we play defensively. Not only our defense but our forwards, too, getting back-pressure when we turn over the puck, which isn’t too often, and breaking the puck out.
“All those things limit their chances. When they don’t get too many chances, it makes my job easier.”
An easier job.
After a year and a half that have been anything but easy for Muse, easy is nice and so is a job.
Now he just wants that easy job for five more games.