Boston College-Alaska: The Vet And The Rookie

The grizzled veteran and the rookie.

When Boston College coach Jerry York stepped to the podium a day before his team’s opening round NCAA matchup with Alaska, he spoke like the veteran who’s seen it all. As, of course, he should. The Eagles missed the tournament last year but had appeared in the three previous national championship games, winning the title in 2008.

“It’s great to be back,” he said. “You don’t realize how much you miss the national tournament until you sit out a year. Last year, we had a disappointing year in the fact that we could not make the national tournament.”

That mindset is shared by the BC players.

“Last year’s outcome [was] a great motivational piece for us,” BC goaltender John Muse said. “It’s pretty tough when you go from the highest of highs in college hockey — [winning the national championship] — to pretty much the lowest of lows, not even making the national tournament.”

A year for BC without an invitation to the Big Dance is a disappointing year, the lowest of lows.

By contrast, Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson sounded like a rookie before the regional matchup. s, of course, he should. The Nanooks were making their first NCAA appearance in the 30-year history of the program.

“We’re excited to be here and for the opportunity to compete in the tournament,” he said. “It’s a really exciting time. On Sunday when we found out [our selection], Fairbanks went crazy, the school went crazy, and our players were very excited.”

So for both players and coaches, this matchup became one of the veteran coach and players who consider it “the lowest of lows” when they miss the NCAA tournament taking on the rookie coach and team at a school going crazy after its first invitation.

The outcome appeared predictable. The starry eyed rookie would be happy just to be there, intimidated by the NCAA veterans, prone to the key rookie mistake.

So much for predictability.

Boston College's Matt Lombardi celebrates his shorthanded goal (photo: Melissa Wade).

Boston College’s Matt Lombardi celebrates his shorthanded goal (photo: Melissa Wade).

The Nanooks played with the poise and confidence of, well, a team used to being here. Sure, they fell behind 1-0 to the real veterans — giving up their first short-handed goal of the season, no less — but they rallied to tie the score late in the second and had the proverbial 20 minutes that they’d have given their right arms for at the start of the season.

And yes, BC scored the game-winning goal early in the third period and added an empty-netter in the closing seconds for the 3-1 final.

But, man, the Nanooks did themselves proud.

“I thought they matched us,” York said after the game. “There wasn’t any stage fright in their players. We feel very fortunate that we’re moving on. It took a pretty good effort by us to get by Alaska.

“I wasn’t surprised with it. Our players are used to the more traditional schools when you play in the national tournament, but it didn’t take long watching them play for [us to say], ‘Hey, these guys are pretty good.'”

Somehow, the NCAA tournament rookies displayed the poise of veterans.

“It’s something we’ve had in the locker room all year,” Kevin Petovello said. “We’re a confident group. We haven’t made it to many levels or gotten a lot of recognition yet, but we’ve got a ton of guys in there with a lot of heart.

“We knew what we could do. It’s something we’ve built all year. We knew second chances didn’t come often so we were prepared. We wanted to make the best of it. Guys laid it on the line.”

They certainly did. For 60 minutes, they gave a team bidding to play in its fourth national championship game in five years all it could handle.

“I was real proud of how our team competed for our first time being in the tournament, how they handled themselves and handled this environment,” Alaska coach Dallas Ferguson said. “I was real proud of our team not only this week but all season long.”

The Nanooks fell a little short, but as rookies, they gave every reason to believe that they’ll be back.