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Pioneers Will Test No. 1 Eagles

Two-Game Set At No. 6 Denver Stacks BC Against Nation's Best

Sports Editor

Published: Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01


Alex Trautwig / Heights Editor

Head coach Jerry York is still focusing more on how his team looks than how the other team does. But the 39-year coaching veteran knows it would be unwise to ignore what happened in Denver last year: a two-goal surge in the third period that stole Boston College's momentum and doused its chances of flying home with a win.

"There are ebbs and flows to the game, but certainly, when we went out there last time, it was one of our low points of the season," York said. "St. Lawrence beat us and Denver beat us, and we need to make sure that doesn't happen again this year."

What happened last year comprised the worst stretch for the Eagles, who lost three straight to St. Lawrence, Denver, and Boston University in early January. It was the only time BC lost three in a row last season.

Denver pulled the same comeback stint against fellow Hockey East member Vermont over the weekend. After falling into an early 2-0 hole, the No. 6 Pioneers fired off four unanswered goals to build a 4-2 lead halfway through the third period, and held on for a 5-3 win. They held on for a 1-1 tie the following night, putting their strong defense on display.

This year, the Eagles must not only create a lead but also hold on to it, which won't come easy on back-to-back nights at a hostile Magness Arena. It also won't be easy to do against a squad from the rarely-seen WCHA, a conference known for its physicality. York, however, said that Denver is one of the teams that is leading the trend of adding more speed without sacrificing the patented toughness.

"When we play these teams, we see a lot of similarities between Denver's team and our club," York said. "Last year we played them, and I thought they were quick and physical, and they had excellent special teams – and that was last year."

The difference in 2010? The first-round upset at the hands of RIT still looms in the Pioneers' minds. After entering the NCAA tournament as the No. 2 team and the chic pick to win the Frozen Four, Denver was stunned by the upstart Tigers. That is only serving as added motivation to be the best.

"They got upset in the first round of nationals, which stung them a little bit, and from what I read, they are trying to make this a special year," York said. "We watched them on tape against Vermont, and they have a good club. This will be a very good early season test for us."

All of that, of course, was last year, which means little come Friday and Saturday night. What will play a role are the weaknesses BC showed in its 2-0 win at Northeastern last Friday. Breakaways that normally end in lamp-lighting wristers flew over the net, and defensive clears that usually thwart the opponent's scoring chances were botched, handing the Huskies a number of great opportunities.

While the Eagles escaped unscathed in their season-opener, mostly due to goaltender John Muse's clutch performance and 35 saves, York recognized that those mistakes won't go unnoticed against a more talented team like Denver.

"What concerned us about the game was we gave up just as many good chances," York said. "You can point to the fact that we could have had five on [Northeastern goaltender Chris] Rawlings, but they had a lot of good chances, too, and they missed opportunities. Even though it looked like a good defensive battle, we looked too loose defensively. If we do that against Denver, they're going to capitalize, so we need to be tighter on defense."

Improving the back line will be a major focus in practice this week, York said, and will be crucial for BC's success in Denver this weekend. Even though York and his team aren't forgetting what happened against the Pioneers last season, they are focused on returning with a better sense of how they stack up against the upper echelon of the national scene.

"We will find out where our strengths are and where our weaknesses are," York said. "Sunday morning, we will come back on the plane and look at our club and say, ‘Here's where we need improvement, here's where we feel comfortable on defense and on our line combinations.'

"When you schedule strong opponents, you will be pushed and tested. It will all be good for us."

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