Sent from The Heights, and still soaring
TAMPA - Perhaps you haven’t noticed, consumed by the Red Sox’ closer quandary or Patriots mock drafts, but the Boston College men’s hockey team is displaying a brand of dominance we haven’t witnessed in these parts since the 2007 Patriots.
BC has won 18 consecutive games, with the latest being a 6-1 evisceration of the University of Minnesota in the semifinals of the Frozen Four Thursday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. The Eagles will play some school named Ferris State for the national title Saturday.
To put the Eagles’ greatness in perspective, the last time Boston College lost, dropping a 7-4 decision at Maine Jan. 21, was one day before the Patriots defeated the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship game. Since then, the Eagles have outscored their opponents, 73-20.
No team this brilliant should get lost in the Boston sports shuffle. So, if you’re the type that tunes out college sports, it’s time to tune in the hockey heroes from the Heights.
They are a team of destiny and Destry (that’s the first name of second-line right winger Destry Straight, one of 11 players to figure into the scoresheet). They have a goalie, Parker Milner, who is making saves that Tim Thomas would talk about on Facebook. They play a style so aesthetically pleasing that it would make one of Milner’s fellow Pittsburgh natives, Andy Warhol, gush. The garish gold uniforms the Eagles keep donning are Warholian, but they’re working. (They are 9-0 in the gold threads.)
The irrepressible Jerry York, who has BC a win away from its third national title in five seasons, has really outdone himself with this bunch. The Eagles don’t just defeat opponents, they demoralize them. Give Minnesota credit for a moral victory. The Golden Gophers scored the first goal BC has allowed in the NCAA Tournament.
That’s what it’s come to with BC, scoring a goal on them is news. The Eagles have outscored their tournament foes, 12-1.
“We felt we were playing all right, but you give a team like BC with such high offense, two-on-ones and open nets and it’s just eventually going to break you down mentally,” said Minnesota’s Jake Hansen. “We didn’t quit, but when you get down 6-1 like that, it really just wears on you.’’
The sense was that the earlier Ferris State-Union semifinal was the Frozen Four undercard, with the matchup between BC and Minnesota, college hockey royalty, the heavyweight title bout. And it was for the first period.
Boston College jumped to a 1-0 lead at 6:03 of the first on a picturesque give-and-go by Steven Whitney (goal and an assist) and Barry Almeida. Whitney came rushing up the ice and dished the puck to Almeida, who waited for the charging Whitney to make his way to the net and push the puck past goalie Kent Patterson.
The Minnesotans certainly weren’t shy about shooting. They entered the contest leading the nation in goals (154). They took aim at Milner early and often, outshooting BC, 10-5, in the first period and 31-25 for the game.
It didn’t matter. Milner (30 saves) was practically impregnable. His piece de resistance between the pipes was a sprawling glove save that robbed an incredulous Taylor Matson with under a minute left in the first period.
Minnesota’s Nick Bjugstad made a slick cross-ice feed from the left face-off circle to a wide-open Matson, who could already see the red light illuminating in his head. But Milner slid across and denied him. Boston College being a Catholic institution, Milner may have wanted to bless himself after that glorious stop. York even deigned to mention Milner, who has stopped an incredible 481 of the 501 shots he’s faced during BC’s 18-game win streak, in the same breath with past Eagles puck-stopping patron saints.
“I don’t think you can be really a top-end team unless you’ve got a remarkable goaltender,’’ said York. “I think that’s so essential to being the type of club we’d like to be. Parker, he’s really become [Cory] Schneider or [John] Muse or [Scott] Clemmensen. His March and April have been just outstanding. Look at his stats and the save percentage, it’s got to be ranked right up with those players.’’
BC put the game away with three second-period goals. The first was a power-play strike by Kevin Hayes at 6:35 of the second. BC then iced the proceeding in the final minutes of the period, scoring twice in the final 2:15.
Eight seconds after Milner made a point-blank save that had Hansen shaking his head, the Eagles turned a Minnesota miscue by defenseman Jake Parenteau into a hole the Golden Gophers couldn’t escape. Straight made a beautiful backhanded pass to Chris Kreider, who buried it home at 17:45.
Then Paul Carey scored the first of his two goals, a back-breaker with 16.8 seconds left in the second. Minnesota managed to beat Milner at 1:26 of the third, but 22 seconds later Lilliputian left winger Johnny Gaudreau set up Carey for another goal. Gaudreau (two assists) was one of five Eagles who notched 2-point nights.
“Yeah, that’s what fun about this team,’’ said Kreider, who had a goal and an assist. “We were saying that between periods. It’s not ‘that guy.’ It’s ‘those guys.’ We got contributions from various people. I think obviously that’s what makes us good.’’
The 2007 Patriots comparison was mentioned to Kreider. The Boxford native said he didn’t think it was valid. It’s understandable why BC fans wouldn’t want too many parallels drawn to the almost-perfect Patriots. But the key exception here is that BC is peaking. The perfect Patriots were flagging, staggering to the finish line.
Something tells me Boston College will be 19 and won, not 18 and out.