From demoted to dominant: Milner’s turnaround mirrors that of Boston College

After Boston College defeated Minnesota-Duluth to advance to the Frozen Four, BC coach Jerry York referred to the GAGG rule: If you want to be a successful team, Get A Good Goaltender.

At midseason, though, the gagging on Chestnut Hill was of another variety. The Eagles, national championship material at the other five positions, were struggling in the net and those struggles were dooming the team to mediocrity.

From Nov. 5 through Jan. 21, the Eagles posted a 6-9-1 record. They no longer seemed likely to three-peat as Hockey East tournament champions, and a trip to Tampa and the Frozen Four appeared out of the question.

In the middle of that stretch, York finally sat starter Parker Milner for five games to give freshman Brian Billett and even little-used senior Chris Venti a try. The experiment failed abysmally. BC went 1-3-1 in those games, giving up a total of 15 goals in the losses.

The demotion had to hurt Milner, who’d waited for his shot during his freshman and sophomore years while John Muse starred between the BC pipes. Especially painful had to be Venti’s start at Fenway Park, a game on the big stage that had slipped through Milner’s fingers.

“Coming into your junior year, you want to be the guy,” Milner said. “I’d love to say that I had a perfect attitude about it. Probably I didn’t but I tried to do the best I could and support those guys.”

More importantly, Milner worked his tail off, spending extra time in the mornings with goaltender coach Jim Logue and assistant coaches Mike Cavanaugh and Greg Brown.

York went back to Milner not because of what he saw lacking in the alternatives but rather because of what he saw in Milner.

“He elevated his practice game and his work habits,” York said. “He deserved a better chance.”

BC hasn’t lost since. The Eagles take a 17-game winning streak into the Frozen Four.

In his first game back from the demotion, Milner allowed three goals to New Hampshire. Since then, he hasn’t given up more than two in any contest. In those 16 games, he’s allowed only 16 goals. In his last 10 games, he’s been even better, giving up only seven.

And in this Northeast Regional, he posted back-to-back shutouts. The first came against Air Force and might have come with an asterisk since the Falcons played a very defensive-oriented game. In the regional final, however, BC and Milner were taking on Minnesota-Duluth, the No. 1 offensive team in the country with a host of elite scorers led by Jack Connolly. Once again, Milner stopped every shot, 33 of them in all, including 10 on Bulldogs power plays.

“I’d rank him right up there with the other goalies we saw this year,” Jack Connolly said. “He made some huge saves.”

Without question, BC’s exceptional team defense factors in Milner’s success in a major way, a point Milner makes in seemingly every news conference. But it takes more than just any old duffel bag to take back-to-back shutouts into the Frozen Four.

“Parker has been playing unbelievable,” BC captain Tommy Cross said. “There are so few second chances. He’s making the routine saves and making a couple saves a game that he has no business making.”

As a result, there’s no more gagging on Chestnut Hill. Jerry York has gotten his good goaltender. In fact, for BC, GAGG now stands for Got A Great Goaltender.