March 26, 2012

BC Eagles cruise past Minnesota-Duluth, reach Frozen Four

By Andrew Merritt

WORCESTER – When you’re riding a 17-game winning streak, the pool of problems you can pick out about a game starts to get awfully shallow. 

Forward Bill Arnold (left) buried a feed from Steven Whitney to give BC a 2-0 lead in the second period over Minnesota-Duluth. (Dave Arnold Photography)

“There was a surge there,” Boston College coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) said Sunday night, “where they really finished three or four checks in a row, and caught us back on our heels.”

One surge. That was about the extent of BC’s worries Sunday night, as the Eagles beat Minnesota-Duluth 4-0 at the DCU Center to win the NCAA Northeast Regional title and advance to the Frozen Four.

It’s the Eagles’ second trip to the national semifinals in three seasons, and the 10th since York began coaching BC in 1994. BC will play Minnesota in the semifinals on Thursday, April 5, in Tampa, Fla.

Pat Mullane (Wallingford, Conn.), Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), Patrick Wey and Johnny Gaudreau took care of the scoring for BC, but it was the man between the pipes at the other end of the ice, junior goaltender Parker Milner, who led the Eagles to their 17th straight victory. Milner made stops on all 33 shots he saw to pick up his second straight shutout, earning Regional MVP honors for that and the 20-save shutout he posted against Air Force in the first round Saturday.

When a reporter asked BC captain Tommy Cross why the Eagles have been so effective defensively of late, with just 19 goals allowed during the 17-game streak, BC captain Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) hooked his thumb and pointed to Milner on his right at the postgame press conference dais, saying, “This guy’s what’s going on.

“Parker’s been unbelievable,” Cross said of Milner, who had just one shutout in his career before Sunday, and had never posted back-to-back clean sheets. “He’s making the routine saves, and he’s making some saves he has no business making.”

One of the stops that fell into the latter category came with about 16 and a half minutes left in the game, when Duluth’s J.T. Brown got a pass at the BC blue line with no one between him and Milner. The Duluth sophomore raced in, made a move to get Milner going to his left, then crossed the puck over, but Milner managed to get his blocker in front of Brown’s flip and deflect it over the crossbar.

That all but punctuated the game for BC, which was up 3-0 after two quick goals early in the second period to turn a tight battle into a bit of a runaway.

Pat Mullane started it 4:01 into the second. Gaudreau fed from behind the net out to Weymouth, Mass., native Paul Carey in front, and Mullane jumped on the rebound off of Carey’s shot to put the Eagles on the board.

One minute and 26 seconds later, Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.) hit Arnold with a perfect pass after a strong drive around the net by Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.), and the Needham native buried his 17th of the year.

“There wasn’t much panic on our bench after that,” Duluth defenseman Brady Lamb said. “We just didn’t get it done tonight.”

The Eagles used strong neutral zone defense to keep Duluth from bouncing back after the two goals, and 1:13 into the third period, picked up some more insurance when Patrick Wey flipped a shot toward the Duluth net, and it caught a piece of forward Travis Oleksuk before fooling goaltender Kenny Reiter for a 3-0 BC lead.

Gaudreau sealed it with 8:13 to go, picking up a Wey pass along the boards in the neutral zone and racing in to beat Reiter for the 4-0 lead, on the 20th goal of his standout freshman season.

The victory helps to exorcise some demons for BC, which went from winning the national title in 2010 to getting embarrassed in the first round last year via an 8-4 loss to Colorado College that clearly stuck with this year’s squad.

“I think this started last year after we lost to Colorado College, and a few weeks later we started our spring workouts, carried on through the summer and into this season,” Arnold said. “New team, we knew we had to work hard, and we battled throughout the whole season. We hit a rough stretch there, but the ending third of the season, we’ve been playing our best hockey, and we just have to keep getting better every day in practice and the weight room, heading into the Frozen Four.”

BC would have been happy to advance from any regional site, but the Worcester win is a little more special. The Eagles are undefeated in their last eight games at the DCU Center, and all three of the national titles they’ve won under York (2001, 2008, 2010) started with regional titles there.

“We’ve been fortunate here in Worcester to come out as the winner more times than not,” York said. “It’s probably my favorite place besides Watertown. It’s not quite Watertown, but it’s a pretty good spot here.”

Andy Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com.