Boston College has a long tradition of stellar goaltenders. The list includes such standouts as Scott Clemmensen, Cory Schneider, Matti Kaltiainen, Scott Gordon, and Greg Taylor.
The latest four-year stalwart was John Muse from 2007-08 through 2010-11, who backstopped the Eagles to two NCAA championships.
So, when BC’s coaches got together last summer to discuss the 2011-12 campaign, there were more questions than answers between the pipes.
“It was clear that we had to replace Johnny Muse in goal,’’ said coach Jerry York, whose team will take on Northeastern in the second game of tonight’s opening round of the Beanpot Tournament at TD Garden. “That was a strength of our team and all of a sudden we were looking at who was going to play goal and how it was going to [play out].’’
The Eagles’ choices were Chris Venti, a senior who never had started a collegiate game; Parker Milner, a junior who had played in 22 career games but only eight during Muse’s senior season; and a pair of freshmen - Brian Billett and Brad Barone.
Milner played the first 13 games of the season - and will be in net tonight for the Eagles - and then York switched to Billett, who suited up for five of the next six.
On Dec. 30, in the championship of the Great Lakes Invitational against Michigan Tech, York went to Milner and he earned a 2-1 victory.
Billett started the next two games and was pulled in favor of Venti halfway through the Jan. 13 contest at UMass, in which the Eagles were shut down, 4-0.
York elected to give Venti his first start Jan. 14 in the game at Fenway Park, and he earned a 2-1 win over Northeastern. In his next start, at Maine, Venti suffered an overtime defeat.
Billett played the second night at Maine, and Milner was in net for the Eagles’ two wins over New Hampshire Jan. 27 and 28.
If Milner appears to be the go-to guy for the stretch run, York said it’s not cut and dried.
“Right now, we have actually four ‘B’ goaltenders,’’ said York, who has yet to play Barone. “They’re all capable of playing for us. Chris Venti jumping in that like [at Fenway Park] and really having a good performance. We have a young freshman [Barone], who is right in the mix with Parker and Brian Billett. What we do need is someone to step up and become an ‘A’ goaltender for us.
“We’ve gotten so spoiled over the years with Clemmensen and Cory Schneider and Muse playing 95 percent of our games. But it’s not unexpected. In July, we thought that was going to be an area [of concern]. I feel good that one of these young guys is going to step up or maybe two of the guys will step up. That’s been an issue for us from July 1 on. I think it’s a process.’’
For the netminders, it’s a matter of staying ready and rallying around each other no matter who gets the call.
“It’s been up and down like any season is going to have but we haven’t changed our work ethic, we haven’t changed our goals,’’ said Venti. “I think that’s a key part of helping us down the stretch here. I think we’ve done a good job between the four of us of managing that and bouncing ideas off each other, being there for each other and being good teammates.’’
Venti said the competition at the position has been much more of a positive than a negative.
“At the end of the week, the best kid is going to play and I kind of like that attitude,’’ said Venti. “During practice, you can kind of lose focus and you’re not going to have it, so it gives you a little motivation to bring it every single day. It’s different obviously because the last [four] years, John was the guy. It’s a different mind-set, but I think it makes it a little bit more competitive. It definitely drives us all and it has helped get the best out of each guy and it’s going to help our team ultimately.’’
Milner, who is making his first Beanpot start, said the Eagles are starting to find themselves again and he’s getting back to playing the way he was in the beginning of the season.
“I’ve never started a Beanpot game and I’m not from Boston, so I wouldn’t say it’s been a lifelong dream, but it’s been a dream ever since I’ve come here,’’ said Milner. “I feel like I have kind of found it again, I guess you could say. I don’t think I ever really lost it, but there were definitely a few instances where I could’ve come up stronger for us but didn’t. But I’ve always been confident in myself and it’s good to get back in there and help get some wins for the guys.’’
Milner said it’s more difficult to get into a rhythm when he’s in and out of the lineup, but it’s a matter of working hard in practice to stay sharp.
“For any goalie really, it’s a lot easier when you’re in there every night or three out of four nights,’’ he said. “But college is different, it’s usually not like that. It’s usually the hot goalie will play and it’s tough to stay hot for an entire year.’’
Billett said he has just been soaking up the experience and learning from the older players on the team and the coaching staff.
“It’s been a great experience so far,’’ said Billett. “We started out the season really well and Parker was playing really well. I was fortunate enough to get a few games from coach York and I took advantage of the opportunity that I had, being a freshman. I didn’t expect to get many games right from the start. Once I got in there, I felt more comfortable with my play and I think I earned the respect from my teammates and [vice versa]. It was just great to get in there and get some games. I think with the three of us playing right now, it provides a lot of good competition in practice.’’
Milner plans to make a case for himself tonight against the Huskies, against whom he is 2-0 this season.
“That first year [losing in the first round to Northeastern] and the past two, just winning [the Beanpot] both times, it really makes you appreciate it that much more and makes you want to win it that much more,’’ said Milner.
The Eagles are hoping to parlay another Beanpot title into a strong stretch run.
“With the talent and skill we have, I really don’t think we’ve even touched how good we can be,’’ said Milner. “I say that completely honestly. I think we can be an incredible team.
“We’ve done good so far, but we’re definitely not OK with just being a good team.’’