BC and Quinnipiac set sights on national title in first ever meeting
From left to right: Steven Santini, Teddy Doherty and Jerry York meet with the college hockey media after Wednesday’s practice. Photo by Bob Snow, Bruins Daily
TAMPA – No college hockey program into the new millennium has played as deep into April as the Eagles of Boston College. Simple summary of that was head coach Jerry York on last week’s conference call with fellow Frozen Four coaches Rand Pecknold from Quinnipiac, North Dakota’s Brad Berry and Denver’s Jim Montgomery.
“It’s always good to be on a conference call this time of the year,” York, the NCAA’s all-time wins leader, said, “because it means we’re in the Frozen Four.”
Thursday marks BC’s eleventh trip to the frozen sheet’s version of the last four teams standing since 1998. Eight of those semifinal games resulted in victories to put the Eagles in the title game (1998, 2000, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, 2012). They won it all in ’01, ’08, ’10 and ’12.
Ironically, their last title was won in Tampa, a 4-1 win over Ferris State.
Thursday night at 5:00 p.m. on ESPN2, York and his band of high-flying Eagles from Hockey East (28-7-5) will take on Pecknold’s ECAC Bobcats (31-3-7) for a shot at one of the two western National Collegiate Hockey Conference powers in Saturday’s final before a national audience on ESPN at 8:00 pm.
To get to the final skate, BC will need to get by a team they have never faced in program history. In a tale of semifinal opposites, Denver and North Dakota in the second semi have met some 275 times in their storied histories; five times this season.
Relative newcomers to April play, Quinnipiac lost its only Frozen Four appearance — the 2013 title game to Yale, 4-0, in Pittsburgh. In a hot-off-the-presses release Wednesday morning, Pecknold was named Coach of the Year; rightly so. He has quietly assembled a program that does two things best: he keeps his boys for all four years and has assembled a BC-like program in Hamden, Conn. that just keeps on winning. The Bobcats swapped top-dog ranking most of this season with North Dakota, entering Tampa as the No. 1 overall seed — and the perk of using the Lightning’s locker room.
For BC to advance, York needs two things: continue to infuse his roster with staying in the moment and get production across the bench that includes 12 NHL draft picks, beginning in goal with Vancouver draftee Thatcher Demko. The San Diego native has but three losses since the New Year, all in his last seven starts. The Hobey Hat Trick and Mike Richer Award finalist for best player and goaltender, respectively, is likely playing his last college game(s) this week.
Nine Eagles have at least 10 goals. Junior and Bruins’ pick Ryan Fitzgerald leads the team with 23 goals and 46 points. BC, however, has a knack for winning big games with its defense that gave up three goals in their two Northeast Regional wins over Harvard and Minnesota-Duluth.
Senior captain Teddy Doherty heads that cast with juniors Ian McCoshen, Steve Santini and Scott Savage. Add freshman Casey Fitzgerald (Ryan’s brother), and BC likely boasts the best D-corps in the tournament. Fitzgerald and Doherty lead all Eagles blue-liners in scoring with 26 and 25 points, respectively.
Pecknold’s team possesses three NHL picks and the best power play in the country with 45 goals. Leading scorer Sam Anas and Travis St. Denis have 10 each. To put that in perspective, 29 is the NCAA max this season. They have also pumped home 96 total points.
And, yes, the Bobcats also play a little defense, giving up but one goal in their two East Regional victories over RIT and UMass Lowell. Senior Michael Garteig was the backup pipe dweller in that first Quinnipiac Frozen Four in 2013. These last three seasons seasoned him for an unprecedented fourth consecutive first-time champion (Yale, Union, Providence). He’s a sparkling 31-3-7 with a 1.83 GAA in this ironman season of playing the entire Bobcats’ schedule.
The four coaches also reflect a pair of opposites. Veterans Pecknold and York have been behind their respective pines for 22 years, while the second semifinal features rookie coach Berry, a long-time assistant to Dave Hakstol who was named the Flyers’ head coach last spring, and Denver’s Montgomery, now into his third year.
“I don’t think we need to change much,” Pecknold said after Wednesday’s practice session. “One of the things I try to do as a coach with my players, and I believe in it, is we stay in the moment and we focus at the task at hand. When you walk in our locker room, you see on the door it says: ‘Attack the day.’ We’re going to attack the day.”
“You’re going to [have] early leads,” York said after BC’s practice. “You’re going to [[have] early deficits. You’re going to have swings in momentum. I think just [you] gotta be able to handle it mentally. I think mental strength is so important in all sports.
“I think it’s more, ‘hey, let’s play through the 60 and give it our best honest shot.’”
A sentiment surely shared by Pecknold, Berry and Montgomery.