Next item on list is going national
It's not as if these people needed another gleaming forget-me-not. Boston University's hockey team has enough trophies, cups, and bowls to keep the shelves at Shreve, Crump & Low stocked for a decade. Every Terrier for the past quarter-century has paraded around the Garden ice with one or more of them. So as satisfying as last night's 1-0 victory over UMass-Lowell for the Hockey East championship might have been, what BU really wants won't be up for grabs until next month in Washington.
"We've accomplished a lot so far," said coach Jack Parker, whose varsity will go into next weekend's NCAA Regionals as the top seed among the 16 teams and likely will face Ohio State. "But if we don't get to the Frozen Four, it'll be a disappointment."
Even before they came to Causeway Street Friday, the Terriers already were assured of one of the four No. 1 seeds, based on their extraordinary body of work since October. What they want now is what they haven't had since 1995 - the national championship. They're well on track. They've won 31 games for the first time in 14 years and have lost only twice since Nov. 22. And they've won five regular-season or tournament trophies, each bigger than the last.
"Our job tonight was to win the Hockey East title," said Brandon Yip, who scored the winner late in the opening period. "That's what was in front of us. We got the job done."
What had concerned Parker since the Beanpot was that his squad had been on cruise control, winning without having to push itself. So the three-goal loss to Maine in the second game of the quarterfinals served as an effective yank of the leash to get the Terriers' attention.
"It was a wake-up call for us," said goalie Kieran Millan.
The fact was, BU could have lost that series and still been a No. 1 seed. Both New Hampshire and Vermont were swept at home without suffering much ranking damage. But nobody wants two weeks off in March, when your NCAA rivals are getting tournament tough.
What you want is the momentum gained by winning when you have to bring your "A" game. Both of BU's opponents this weekend had to win twice or they were finished, which is why Friday's 3-2 victory over Boston College was so satisfying.
"It wasn't unnoticed that we would end their season if we won," Parker said wryly. "It was mentioned. But it's more important that we're going on, not that they're not."
The Terriers were going on no matter what happened in the Garden, but they didn't want to be coming off a loss, as Northeastern is. The Huntington Hounds performed brilliantly all season and led the Hockey East standings until the final day. Then they lost to UMass-Lowell, which they'd beaten in all three regular-season meetings.
"I don't know what happened," said coach Greg Cronin with a shrug. "It's the biggest mystery in sports."
The Terriers had it happen to them three years ago, when they were on another wondrous run (19-1-2). They'd knocked off BC twice during the regular season, beaten the Eagles for the Beanpot, and again for the Hockey East crown. When they met in the NCAA Regionals in Worcester, BC blew out the Terriers, 5-0, and went on to play in the final.
"That was a very, very difficult pill for us to swallow," said Parker.
Thus continued the string of foreshortened tournaments, which number seven in a row. Since BU made the 1997 final, it hasn't made the Frozen Four. This team, though, certainly is good enough. It's explosive (three goals in 44 seconds against BC), it's solid on defense, and in Millan, the tournament MVP, it has a freshman goalie who performs beyond his years. And although the Terriers were pushed to the limit both nights in the Garden, they managed to prevail.
"Championship teams like BU can win those types of games," observed UMass-Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald, who was an assistant there when BU won its last national crown.
Winning the Hockey East title was a big bone (BU has managed it only twice since 1997) and it puts this Terrier squad in semi-select company at its end of Commonwealth Avenue.
"But it doesn't make us the greatest team at BU," said Parker.
The greatest was 1971 or 1972 or 1978 or 1995 - you can get an argument about that any night at The Dugout, the campus watering hole. Those were the teams that won national titles. That's the company that the current crop of canines wants to keep.
John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.