Holy War heavyweights
Eagles sweep Frozen Four, take championship title over Notre Dame in Denver
Published: Monday, April 14, 2008
Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01
DENVER, Colo.-To call it easy would be a disservice to an extraordinary group of players and coaches. Really, to categorize it as anything but difficult would be unfair to a program that has come so excruciatingly close in each of the past two seasons.
But it sure looked effortless on the surface. Using the skill of one of the best teams to ever grace the ice in Chestnut Hill, Boston College captured its third-ever title on Saturday night in Denver, defeating rival Notre Dame 4-1 in the national championship game.
Led by tournament Most Outstanding Player Nathan Gerbe, the Eagles were relentless in their pursuit of the championship. The star forward scored two goals and set up two more to help guide a staunch BC attack against the Fighting Irish. Although the two teams skated to a scoreless draw in the first period, it did not take long for Gerbe and company to get on track.
Less than three minutes into the second period, the junior scored his NCAA-leading 34th goal of the season. Line mates Ben Smith and Brian Gibbons, two players whom Gerbe credits for his postseason heroics, helped set up the tally.Smith, who was named to the All-Tournament team alongside three other Eagles, carried the puck into the offensive zone before passing it to defenseman Tim Kunes. Kunes slid the puck behind the net to Gibbons, who sent a backhanded pass to Gerbe just inside of the left faceoff circle. The junior then lifted a wrist shot over Notre Dame goaltender Jordan Pearce for a 1-0 lead.
Just as they had two days before in the national semifinal against North Dakota, the Eagles scored in another insurmountable wave. At 5:37 of the same period, Gerbe netted his second goal of the game to give BC a 2-0 advantage. His 35th goal came on the power play off of a funky bounce off the boards. Following a near-miss from Smith that went over the net, the rebound skirted off the glass in front of the goal. As he fell, Gerbe swung his stick at the puck, knocking it past Pearce.
Despite leading 2-0, the Eagles were not about to stop their attack. "I thought last year, we had a 1-0 lead, but we laid back a bit," said Gerbe, referencing last year's 3-1 loss to Michigan State. "This year, the coaches did a great job of stressing that we're just going to go for it and have no regrets at the end of the game," he said.
Freshman Joe Whitney gave BC a 3-0 lead at 8:11 of the second. Skating with a four-on-three advantage, Gerbe faked a shot, turned around and sent a strong pass to Whitney in the deep slot. The forward then threw a low shot in front of the net, and it deflected off a Notre Dame skate into the goal.
Despite trailing 3-0, Notre Dame was not about to let its championship dreams fade. Less than a minute later, the Irish scored on a rush in transition. Defenseman Kyle Lawson set up center Kevin Deeth in the slot to draw the score to 3-1. Deeth beat BC goaltender John Muse glove side for the goal.
While the Eagles finished the second period holding a two-goal advantage, the Fighting Irish came out of the locker room in the third period with a purpose. Notre Dame had several good opportunities early in the frame, but Muse held firm in the crease. "John has been unbelievable," said Gerbe about the goaltender. "He's been great all year, and he is one of the most poised kids I've ever met," he added.
At 4:56 of the period, though, Notre Dame appeared to beat Muse on another goal from Deeth. The sophomore redirected defenseman Ian Cole's errant shot into the net with his skates. The tally, however, was called back when officials ruled that Deeth kicked it past Muse.
With a new lease on life and a two-goal lead, the Eagles felt momentum swing in their favor. "That was a huge turning point in the game," Muse said afterwards. "If they got that goal, they would have cut the lead to one."
The Eagles put the game away on the ensuing shift when Smith scored at 5:31. Naturally, the highlight came from Gerbe's stick, when the Hobey Baker finalist sent a backhanded pass through his legs to set Smith up for the goal. "I have no idea how it went in," Smith said. "It was a huge shift in the game to get that goal." During the replay timeout, "Coach just told us to be ready either way, to come out hard the next shift," he said.
Playing hard must have been BC's mantra in the third period. Ahead 4-1, the Eagles did not give their opponents any opportunity to rally. Without sophomore defenseman Carl Sneep, who was forced to leave the game in the first period with a leg injury, the defense buckled down. "The 'D' corps decided we had to keep things simple," said team captain Mike Brennan. "This team is never fazed; whatever the score is, whatever happens in the game, we always stick to our objectives," he said.
Sticking to its objectives was the key for BC. And the team's greatest intent was to capture the national title, something that the players will never forget. As coach Jerry York said following the game, "Right after the regional, one of our players said, 'In nine days, our season is over,' but we stress the fact that when you win a national championship, your season never ends because you refer back to your teams."
For the next six months, fans will still be talking about the season that never ended. Five years, ten years, and even twenty years from now, York's words will still ring true. People associated with the program will always refer to the team of '08 with the highest reverence. And that will all stem from the historic win Saturday night.