March 10, 2011

Hockey East Journal: Belichick's words inspire BC

by Andrew Merritt

BC's Brian Gibbons, left, and Bill Arnold celebrate a goal by Arnold in Friday's game against UNH. (photo: Dave Arnold Photography)

DURHAM, N.H. -- With a Beanpot title in its pocket and the chance to win as many as three more trophies on the horizon, Boston College was already a special team before it played New Hampshire in the final weekend of the Hockey East season, so coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) made a call for some special motivation.

“I’ve developed a relationship with Bill Belichick, and he came by our dressing room Tuesday night (before the series),” York said Saturday, after his Eagles snatched the regular-season title away from UNH with a weekend sweep. “It really was a factor, I thought, in the way we prepared for this championship event.”

York said he just called the New England Patriots head coach, who owns five Super Bowl rings (three with the Pats, two from his days as a New York Giants assistant), and who had visited the BC locker room seven years ago during a similar run – the Eagles won the regular season title in 2003-04, and advanced to the national semifinals.

The almost-definite future Hall of Famer isn’t known for hockey, but Yorksaid his words of wisdom translated perfectly from the gridiron to the ice.

“When he started off, he said, ‘Now guys, I may not know a lot about hockey, but I know a little bit about winning and producing teams that can play for championships,’” York said. “Then he went on to depict some of the characteristics of what he tries to instill in the Patriots. I thought our players talked all week about what Coach had to say, and I think it really helped us prepare for this game. It helped us play to the best of our abilities.”

BC senior Joe Whitney (Reading, Mass.) confirmed that the football guru’s appearance had a big impact on the players.

“Obviously, that guy’s a winner through and through, and he gave us some good advice on what it takes, and it was good to hear it from him because he’s been at the top,” Whitney said. “He’s a good guy.”

Belichick’s championship pedigree certainly rubbed off on the Eagles, who, despite being the No. 2 team in the national polls and the PairWise Rankings that mimic the NCAA tournament selection process, were a step behind No. 8 UNH in the standings when the weekend began.

Friday, BC walked all over the Wildcats in Chestnut Hill, riding a big night from the top line of Whitney (two assists), Greenwich, Conn., native Cam Atkinson (two goals) and Braintree, Mass., native Brian Gibbons (one goal, two assists) to a 4-0 win.

The next night, the Eagles withstood an early UNH onslaught to take a 4-3 come-from-behind win on Pat Mullane’s (Wallingford, Conn.) game-winner with 4:53 remaining, a victory that gave BC its first regular season title since 2004-05.

“That’s one of our major goals, because I think as you go through the year, you have a Christmas trophy, that’s a trophy you’d like, the Beanpot’s a trophy you’d like,” Yorksaid. “It’s something that’s just eluded us, we haven’t been able to gain that trophy. Of course now we’ve got some more steps to climb. The steps get higher, and the focus gets even narrower on championships.”

It wasn’t a perfect weekend for the Eagles. Boxford, Mass., native and New York Rangers prospect Chris Kreider suffered a broken jaw on a freak play Friday, catching a puck in the face off of Gibbons’ clearing attempt in the second period. Kreider has 11 goals and 12 assists for BC this year, and his absence very clearly changes the look of the Eagles’ still-deep offensive attack.

“Yeah, he’s definitely a huge part of our team, in the locker room and on the ice, and he’ll definitely be missed,” Mullane said Saturday. “As a team, we have to move on. He’s going to be out 4-6 weeks, so we have to learn to play without him. I thought we did a great job adapting to him being out of our lineup and coming away with a win.”

For the defending national champion Eagles, the regular season is a nice feather in the cap – especially for the seniors, who were in danger of becoming the second straight class to go all four years without finishing atop the standings – but it’s ultimately not the finish line the Eagles hope to cross. That’s evident in the way Yorkput Kreider’s injury into a pretty specific context.

“We’re hoping four (weeks), which would get him, if we can keep this thing alive, to St. Paul(for the Frozen Four).”

NEHJ Player of the Week

Mike Collins, fr., Merrimack

The Boston native had three assists in Friday’s 6-1 win over Providence, which clinched the Warriors’ second-ever home-ice qualification, and added another goal and assist the next night in a loss to the Friars.

Hockey East quarterfinals

No. 1 BC vs. No. 8 UMass, Friday-Saturday-Sunday*

No. 2 UNH vs. No. 7 Vermont, Friday-Saturday-Sunday*

No. 3 Boston University vs. No. 6 Northeastern, Thursday-Friday-Sunday*

No. 4 Merrimack vs. No. 5 Maine, Friday-Saturday-Sunday*

(* - if necessary)

Around Hockey East

Boston College

It’s basically foolish to suggest anyone but senior John Muse (East Falmouth, Mass.) for the league’s goaltender of the year. Muse finished the regular season with the league’s best goals-against average (1.84), save percentage (.933) and win percentage (80 percent).

Boston University

The Terriers finished the regular season with a weekend split against Northeastern, meaning they could end up playing the Huskies as many as five times in eight days. … Freshman Matt Nieto had a quiet start with one goal and one assist in his first 11 games at BU, but came on like wildfire over the final two thirds of the season, scoring seven goals and 12 assists over the final 25 contests.

Maine

Junior Gustav Nyquist finished the regular season on a tear, scoring at least two points in each of the final five games to end up third in the league with 46 points.

UMass

The Minutemen needed every minute of the regular season to do it, but after salvaging a tie Saturday night against Mainethey’re in the playoffs for the ninth straight year. … The goals scored by Danny Hobbs and Michael Pereira (West Haven, Conn.) weren’t enough to prevent a loss Friday night, but they did match a school record set in 1997, coming seven seconds apart.

UMass-Lowell

At the end of a long, lost year in Lowell, comes this: Lawrence Eagle-Tribune staff writer Mike McMahon tweeted Wednesday that “sources indicate the ‘discussions’ at UMass Lowell re: Blaise MacDonald (Billerica, Mass.) are how to handle the final year of his contract & potential buyout.”

Merrimack

How important was home ice for the Warriors? Of their 22 wins this year, 12 have come at Lawler Arena, where they went 12-2-2 this year.

UNH

Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) ended up the league’s scoring champion, finishing with 26 goals and 23 assists in 34 games played. Only BC’s Atkinson finished with more goals (27).

Northeastern

Huskies coach Greg Cronin (Arlington, Mass.) and assistant Albie O’Connell (Watertown, Mass.) were reinstated this week after being suspended Feb. 18 by the university following an investigation into recruiting violations. Though AD Peter Roby expects more punishment to come from the NCAA, he said in a release, “we are continuing to do what we think is best and appropriate by ending the suspensions.” Assistant Sebastian Leplante, who took over behind the bench in Cronin’s absence, will serve a three-week suspension of his own in the fall.

Providence

The Friars picked up their first win since Dec. 11 when they knocked off MerrimackSaturday, also grabbing their first win over a ranked team all season. It wasn’t enough, as UMass earned a tie at Maineto stay in eighth place, and Providenceended its year at 8-18-8 overall and 4-16-7 in Hockey East play.

Vermont

The Vermont-UNH series is the only rematch of a 2010 quarterfinal matchup. The Catamounts won last year’s series in three games, extending UNH’s streak without advancing to the semifinals to two years.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.