BC Set For Hockey East Tournament

March 6, 2012

By Chris Marino, Assoc. Sports Editor

After taking the regular season title this past weekend, the No. 1 Boston College men’s hockey team focuses its attention on its first-round matchup against the UMass Minutemen. While the Eagles have the top seed in the Hockey East Tournament, they are not taking their opponent lightly in the weekend series.

“As we approach a whole new season, it’s not your typical 1-8 matchup, as far as we’re concerned,” said head coach Jerry York. “UMass is one of the few teams that took a season series from us. They played extremely well in the three games. We look at that as two wins for UMass and one win for us, so the Minutemen have our attention, and we’re preparing very, very well for them this week.”

The Minutemen did prove to be a challenge for the Eagles in the regular season. After winning the first matchup 4-2 at Kelley Rink, the Eagles were unable to answer as UMass swept at the Mullins Center.

The first loss was by a score of 4-2, as the Minutemen snapped a six-game BC win streak. The second loss was more devastating, as UMass shutout the Eagles, 4-0, despite a 35-19 shot advantage for the visitors. At the time, York blamed the loss on a careless power-play unit and sloppy errors. These were elements of play that plagued the Eagles throughout the middle portion of the season.

UMass head coach Don Cahoon was quick to recognize that, despite the regular season losses, the Eagles had the chance to take both games, and the tools to make a post season run.

“We played a couple of games here where we played well, but people shouldn’t be fooled and think that BC didn’t have plenty of opportunities to take the game the other way,” he said. “They certainly did.”

These losses came at a time when the Eagles were slumping in league play, and still trying to identify the strengths of their club.

“Our club had a 2-4-1 record after Christmas, and we were just kind of in a funk. Tommy Cross is our leader, and he just really set an example,” York said. “We’ve been on a pretty good tear since then. [We’re] led probably by our seniors, but in particular our junior goaltender Parker Milner, who’s played outstanding for us.”

Milner, who was recently named Co-Defensive Player of the Week for the Hockey East, has been nearly unstoppable in the closing half of the season. He was awarded Hockey East Goaltender of the Month for February. He finishes the regular season with a 21-5-0 record with a .926 save percentage and 1.87 goals against average.

During the final stretch, he led the Eagles to an 11-game win streak, in which he allowed only 13 goals. He stopped 272-of-285 shots in that span, which is good for a .954 save percentage. York believes that Milner’s play has been a game-changer for the Eagles, as they head into the playoffs.

“We were really in a hard situation here, early in the season and through the middle of the year, with stopping pucks,” he said. “We had three goaltenders all get a chance to jump up. We said at the time that we had a lot of “B” goaltenders, but it’s hard to win a championship without an “A” goaltender. It just doesn’t happen. We challenged our goaltenders, and Parker stepped up. His numbers are right off the charts when you look at it. He’s given up one goal in his last four games. Now I pull the goaltenders late. I’m not concerned about getting shutouts. He actually would’ve had three shutouts in the last four games.”

In general, York sees a number of different changes in his club since midseason, which have culminated into the team’s late-season Hockey East success.

“There are good clubs in our league,” he said. “The difference in winning and losing is a fine line every night. We just cut down drastic turnovers. We just managed pucks better. We made smarter plays. We’re much, much better on the defensive end. In the Hockey East, in 27 games, we gave up 60 goals, and I think last year we gave up 58 goals, and the year before that 60 goals. We’ve been pretty solid defensively, and I think we got away from that a little bit during the middle part of our season.”

One player who has remained consistent for the Eagles has been senior Barry Almeida. York applauded his alternate captain’s play, especially on the power-play unit.

“He had a remarkable senior season,” he said. “He’s always been a good player for us, but now he’s certainly a candidate for all-league honors. His play is considerably better offensively, as witnessed by the power play. Over the years we’ve had so many good power-play players that Barry hasn’t had a chance to break in there on a regular basis. This is his opportunity as a senior, and he’s done an amazing job with it. He’s certainly one of the keys to our success this year.”

This senior leadership, along with continued goaltending and defensive attention, will be necessary for postseason success. When asked to compare this year’s squad with those from past championship teams, York emphasized that all of these teams “share that same principle of good defensive play.”

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