March 18, 2012

Gaudreau unstoppable, Milner magical for champion Eagles

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – Boston College coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) took an errant puck to his right hand while behind the bench during the first period of Saturday night’s Hockey East final at TD Garden. 

Freshman forward Johnny Gaudreau's second goal during the first period of Saturday's Hockey East championship proved to be the game-winner. (Dave Arnold Photography)

That’s about the only thing that went wrong for the Eagles all night.

Sparked by freshman Johnny Gaudreau’s two goals in the first period, the Eagles skated to a 4-1 victory over Maine, earning their third straight Hockey East title, and their fifth in six years.

Gaudreau earned the tournament MVP award to punctuate his outstanding freshman season – though perhaps with a comma, not a full stop, since the Eagles will move on to the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed, most likely in the Worcester Regional, next weekend. Gaudreau had three goals and four assists in BC’s four Hockey East playoff games, and his two goals and one helper Saturday night made him No. 2 among the Eagles’ scoring leaders this year.

“Johnny’s skills are incredible,” BC captain and Bruin prospect Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) said. “His own teammates will marvel at the stuff that he does in practice. He is a team-first guy, and that is a good recipe.”

Gaudreau did nothing to tarnish that image either, even when asked about winning the MVP award.

“It’s more important that we won the big trophy with the team,” he said. “We have had a lot of success from every single player on the team. We are so close in the locker room. We’ve been a close team together and that has helped up along the way.”

The game was also a goaltending showcase, as BC’s Parker Milner (41 saves) and Maine’s Dan Sullivan (39) combined to see the most shots ever taken in regulation during a Hockey East final, breaking a 26-year-old record set by BC and Boston University.

“Parker was like a vacuum,” Cross said. “There were not a lot of second chances, it seemed that he kept everything in his stomach and that’s huge when you play teams like Maine.”

The Eagles didn’t need much time to get things started. Five minutes and 24 seconds in, Patch Alber fired a shot toward net that went wide. Maine defenseman Nick Pryor got a stick on the wayward shot, but deflected it to Gaudreau, who snapped it home for a 1-0 lead.

After Maine’s Joey Diamond took an interference call for a little extra bodywork on a BC player, Gaudreau struck again on the power play just 11 seconds later. It was another opportunistic moment for the freshman, who caught the end of a sequence of rebounds and banged it in to make it 2-0.

The Black Bears didn’t have much of an answer the rest of the way in the first, though Brian Flynn (Lynnfield, Mass.) had a grade-A chance on the short side, but Milner knocked it away with his stick. But it was all Eagles early, as the No. 1 team in the nation pumped 20 shots on the Maine net.

Maine did get on the board in the second, but the Eagles still skated out of it with a two-goal lead. Flynn finally hit paydirt for the Black Bears, on their 14th shot of the game, with 12:23 to go in the middle frame. Joey Diamond set up the play with a pass out to Flynn, who backhanded a shot over Milner’s right shoulder.

But BC re-established the two-goal lead with 1:21 to go. Paul Carey (Weymouth, Mass.) gave the puck to Gaudreau behind the net, and the freshman picked up his third point of the night with a backhanded assist to Pat Mullane (Wallingford, Conn.) in the slot, making it 3-1. Other than the one goal, Milner held up his end of the bargain in the second, turning aside 13 Maine shots – matching the performance of his counterpart, Sullivan.

“I think that there were a couple of real surges by Maine, especially in the second period, when Parker made some incredible saves to keep it where it was, because they were really starting to come a little bit,” York said. “Every time they had a surge, Parker had what looked like a surefire goal from the bench, he’d make a save on it.”

Mark Anthoine (Lewiston, Maine) had an open look with 2:16 to go in the game, but skied it over Milner’s net. Forty-six seconds later, Milner stood up against a short-side try by Flynn, and the Black Bears got no closer. Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.) sealed it with an empty net goal, and 61 seconds later, the Eagles had their 11th league title, the most of any Hockey East team.

It’s not the end of the season for either team, as Maine will find out where it goes for the NCAA Tournament’s opening rounds on Sunday. The Black Bears swept the Eagles over two games in Orono, Maine, on Jan. 26 and 27. That was the last time BC lost, and Maine didn’t have the magic to end the Eagles’ best-in-the-nation winning streak, which now stands at 15 games.

“That’s a big hockey game we just played in,” Flynn said. “We know that. Going into next weekend, into a Regional for the first time since I’ve been here, there’s going to be some of the same pressures. We didn’t have the first period we wanted so hopefully we can learn from that and have a better game to the start next game.”