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BC Enters Tournament As One Of The Favorites

For The Heights

Published: Thursday, March 11, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

Boston-area schools in the Hockey East have dominated the ranks of college hockey for the past two years, as each year the winner of the Beanpot and Hockey East championships has also been crowned national champion. In 2008, Boston College raised all three trophies, and last year, Boston University captured the same three. BC head coach Jerry York has not overlooked the strength of Hockey East in recent years as he prepares his team for the league tournament.

"The last two years, with the national champions [BC and BU] coming from our league, we've certainly made a statement," York said.

The less-heralded Massachusetts Minutemen, who took the Eagles into overtime before falling 2-1 in their last match-up, are bent on breaking Boston's stronghold on the league title. This weekend, UMass will return to Conte Forum as the seventh seed in the eight-team Hockey East tournament to face the second seeded Eagles in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.

Currently ranked No. 4 nationally, BC (21-10-3, 16-8-3 Hockey East) finished with a Hockey East-leading 16 wins in the regular season, but narrowly missed out on the Hockey East regular season championship by one point to New Hampshire.

For BC and York, though, this disappointment was merely a minor bump in what they hope to be a long season ahead of them.

"Hats off to New Hampshire, they rallied back and won the league title, and that was our goal," he said. "We've been strong down the stretch, but we still have a long way to go to get to the Garden, and that's what we're aiming for."

York's team faced the Minutemen three times this season, with the Eagles skating away with the win each time. Twice the two teams met in Amherst, with both teams nationally ranked, and twice, BC emerged victorious – 3-1 on Dec. 4, and a dominant 7-1 thrashing on Feb. 5.

"We feel really good going into the playoffs, but we're playing one of the hottest teams coming down the stretch of the season," York said. "We have momentum, but once the playoffs start, momentum is shift by shift."

Since losing at Conte Forum two weeks ago, UMass (18-16-0, 13-14-0 Hockey East) defeated No. 17 Maine twice by a combined score of 9-5 to earn the seventh seed in the Hockey East tournament. Captain Justin Braun found the net four times in the series and leads the Minutemen defensemen with 28 points. UMass head coach Don Cahoon had the highest praise for his captain.

"Justin Braun is as good a defenseman as there is in college hockey," he said. "He's added the offensive dimension to his game. I really, truly believe he is the best offensive defenseman in the league."

Offensively, UMass is paced by the third-leading scorer in the Hockey East this season, James Marcou, and fellow forward Casey Wellman. Marcou finished the regular season with 46 points on 10 goals and 36 assists, and Wellman was close behind with 20 goals and 21 assists for 41 points on the year. Marcou also recorded two of the three goals posted by the Minutemen against the Eagles this season.

"They certainly are special players," York said of Marcou and Wellman. "When they're on the ice, they can certainly make things happen. We have to be aware of them and really battle defensively to make sure they don't have a big impact on the game."

The Eagle offense, however, is just as potent as the tandem of Marcou and Wellman.

Much has been said of York's decision to put juniors Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney with sophomore Cam Atkinson on the same line after the loss to BU at Fenway. The Eagles dropped only four of their next 16 games thanks, in large part, to the offense generated by this line. The three are the points leaders for the Eagles.

Atkinson and Gibbons finished the season in the top 10 in the Hockey East with 42 and 41 points, respectively. All three linemates also surpassed 30 points for the year.

"Most of the accolades this season have gone to our dynamic forwards, Joe Whitney, Atkinson, and Brian Gibbons," York said. "They're fun to coach, and they make a lot of great offensive plays."

The trio has enjoyed quite particular success against the Minutemen goaltenders, Paul Dainton and Dan Meyers.

Whitney has found the net three times against UMass this season, Gibbons registered a goal to go along with a four-assist performance in the 7-1 victory in Amherst, and Atkinson has recorded five points on three goals and two assists.

BC's young blue-liners and solid goaltending, however, deserve just as much credit for its second seed in the tournament. Led by lone senior defenseman Carl Sneep (22 points), the Eagle defense has provided exceptional cover for its goalies, Parker Milner and John Muse.

"We have our own Vezina Trophy [the NHL award for best regular-season goaltender] concept at BC, and we let in the least amount of goals in the Hockey East this year," York said. "The two goaltenders, Milner and Muse, have really good numbers and deserve a lot of credit for that. We're really excited about the emergence of Parker Milner to pair with John Muse. They're both capable of bringing us a long way in the tournament. At this stage, we're deep on defense and goaltenders."

Milner appeared in all three contests against UMass this season, starting two and relieving Muse in the other. The two goalies finished in the top five in the Hockey East in goals against average, save percentage, and winning percentage, with Milner going 9-2-1 and Muse boasting a record of 12-8-2. Similar to the third regular season game, Cahoon is anticipating a tough weekend ahead for both teams and is prepared for BC to be in its usual best form.

"They've had our number for awhile now," he said. "Clearly, they've had their way with us, and we're expecting BC to be at their very best, which they usually are."

York has stated that his team's goal from very early on in this season has been to win the Beanpot and the Hockey East. While the Eagles may not have captured the regular season title, UMass is the first team standing between BC and potentially something better: the title of Hockey East champion.
 

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