DENVER - When Carl Sneep was drilled in the ankle by a high-speed frozen puck, his ankle collapsed under his weight, knocking him out of the national championship game last night in the first period.
Minus Sneep, the Boston College defense had to play with five defensemen, pairing up in new rotations to hold Notre Dame to one goal in a 4-1 victory.
Sneep's right ankle was X-rayed between the first and second periods and he was diagnosed with a high ankle sprain and fitted with a protective boot.
As the game clock ticked down late in the third period, he removed the boot in the locker room and put his skates back on to join his teammates on ice for the postgame celebration.
"I can't feel a thing right now," he said in the Eagles' jubilant locker room. "It's so awesome."
His joy was made possible, in part, by a blue line corps that didn't focus on adversity.
"It was a huge effort for us to step up with Sneep out," said Anthony Aiello, a junior defenseman from Braintree, Mass. "We had to make do."
Despite the thin air of the Mile High City, Aiello did not labor amid extra shifts on the ice.
"My adrenaline was running so high, I didn't notice," he said.
Junior defenseman Tim Kunes, who also helped kill penalties, did feel some fatigue in his legs.
"It was tiring, but each one of these guys put everything into it," he said. "You can't prepare for someone to get hurt you and you have to stick together."
Kunes, who usually partners with Tim Filangieri, also paired with freshman Nick Petrecki, Sneep's usual partner. The lack of familiarity with Petrecki did not cause miscommunications, according to Kunes.
"We all play the same system," he said. "Everyone's a good player." The effort of the defensemen, goaltender John Muse, and the penalty killers limited North Dakota and Notre Dame to two goals combined against the Eagles in the Frozen Four.
That kind of defense helped clinch a title that eluded BC the past two seasons, a 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in 2006 and a 3-1 loss to Michigan State last year.
"The difference this time is that guys are really, really close," Aiello said. "We're one big family. Everybody loves each other. We play for each other. It was hard work and we got bounces toward the end."
Kunes pointed out that the desire to win somehow surpassed the past two efforts.
"We wanted to win so badly the last two years, and this time we wanted to win even more, if you can imagine wanting to win even more," he said. "We stuck together and trusted each other."
Except for Petrecki, all the defensemen are upperclassmen who helped break in Muse, a freshman goalie.
"He made a huge improvement for our team from the beginning to the end of the season," Aiello said. "To give up only two goals in the Frozen Four is amazing. He matured a lot over the year and became a great goaltender. I'm glad to have him and I look forward to playing with him next season."
Senior captain Mike Brennan is the only member of the defense who will not return next season. His leadership in the locker room, on the blue line, in penalty killing was crucial to the Eagles' national crown.
With Brennan, an all-tournament selection, leading the way, Notre Dame went 0 for 8 on its power play and managed only five shots in 13 minutes 16 seconds with the man advantage.
BC was just as effective in the semifinal, shutting out North Dakota (0 for 8) on the power play as well.
"Maybe we took a little too many that we didn't want to take," said Brennan. "But we knew when we took them that we were going to kill them."
Kunes said: "Penalty killing is all about effort. Every single guy really sold out and sacrificed his body, blocking shots. We got it done."
While getting hit with the puck can hurt, as Sneep can attest, BC players know the greater pain is losing on college hockey's largest stage.
Even as the Eagles celebrated long and loud in their locker room, Aiello's thoughts turned to the Fighting Irish.
"Credit Notre Dame," he said. "They are a great team and they played hard. We know what the heartbreak feels like from the last two years."