If you’re going to win a national championship, your big guns have to produce.
Since the first game of the playoffs however, Boston College’s top line of Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney has been surprisingly silent. Heading into BC’s Northeast Regional matchup with Yale, the trio had scored only a single goal in four games.
The Eagles had won — defeating Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine to win the Hockey East tournament and then Alaska in the NCAA tournament opener — but others had been forced to carry the scoring load. The likes of Matt Lombardi, a defensive specialist, filled the void left by the mostly silent big guns.
“When [that] line was going through a really tough stretch here, it was still doing things to help us win games, whether it was blocking shots or winning faceoffs,” BC coach Jerry York said. “It said 0-0-0 for the point line and they wanted to get better in that area, but they were still helping us win games.
“They were working hard and practicing hard. Their effort has always been there. They just hadn’t had much luck.
“To be successful, you can’t be a one-line team. Lines can get shut down. You need depth, and we have that depth this year.”
That depth extends to 16 Eagles with double-digit point totals.
Still, silent big guns was not a recipe for ongoing success, especially against an opponent like Yale. The Bulldogs came into the contest as the top-scoring team in college hockey, the only one averaging over four goals a game. This would not be a 2-1 or 3-2 contest.
The big guns needed to fire.
And they did.
They wasted little time, getting started while playing four-on-four when Atkinson sprung Gibbons for a breakaway that the junior converted.
Whitney got into the act early in the second period, making the score 3-1, then Atkinson scored his 25th and 26th goals of the season, widening the gap to 5-2 before Whitney added another for a seemingly insurmountable 6-2 lead.
Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam. Bam.
Atkinson finished off the hat trick early in the third period and it proved no empty goal, as Yale never quit. The Eagles eventually prevailed, 9-7.
Afterward, BC coach Jerry York had some fun with the hat trick.
“It was nice to see all those hats on the ice,” York said with a big grin. “Cam has a big family. They were all throwing things.”
The big guns had come through at the most important time and as a result, the Eagles will be making their third Frozen Four appearance in the last four years, and the ninth in the last 13.
“We were just gripping the stick a little too tight the last four games,” Atkinson said. “We were just trying to do it all by ourselves. We sat down today before the game and talked about what we needed to do and what we needed to work on.
“We just played our game today. Everyone executed. Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney made everything happen. They generated all the offense. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Well…maybe. Setting aside all modesty, Atkinson was a lot more than simply in the right place at the right time. When you score your 25th, 26th, and 27th goals of the season, cracking the 50-point barrier as a sophomore, you’re doing a lot more than right place, right time.
It’s no sudden overnight success.
“We sat down in the spring and talked,” York said. “He had seven goals as a freshman and I thought he was a much better player than that. He’s adjusted to the quickness and is a little more competitive this year.
“He’s progressed very, very well, to the point where he’s now got to be considered one of the top players in the country.”
And a very big part of a team headed to the Frozen Four again, loaded with weapons.