It’s a good thing that the Hockey East people don’t give their tournament champion a replica of the Lamoriello Trophy every year. Boston College would have to open a consignment shop at McElroy Commons by now, having collected an unprecedented 11 of them. This one, though, was unique. Nobody ever had won three in a row until the Eagles did it Saturday night at TD Garden.
“We’re very excited,’’ said coach Jerry York after his top-ranked varsity had KO’d Maine by a 4-1 count to claim the crown for the sixth time in eight years. “The Lamoriello Cup is something we point toward. To be successful here in the Garden is a major, major goal for us.’’
Beating the Black Bears was particularly significant since they were the last sextet to defeat the Eagles, hanging seven goals on them in Orono on Jan. 21 after beating them in overtime the previous night.
Maine sensed that those might eventually be Pyrrhic victories. “The positive of it was we won two games,’’ coach Tim Whitehead mused. “But the negative of it was we woke up a sleeping giant.’’
The snowy five-hour bus ride back to The Heights felt like 10. “We got beat up pretty bad by the Black Bears,’’ York recalled. “We thought, hey, we can be a lot better club than this. We weren’t firing on all cylinders. [Captain] Tommy Cross said in a team meeting that week that just because we wear the BC sweater doesn’t mean we’re going to be successful.’’
Since then, BC has run off 15 victories in a row, the most during York’s tenure, and Saturday’s was its record 12th straight in the league tournament. That’s exactly how the Eagles wanted to go into next weekend’s NCAA Regionals, where they’re virtually assured of a bus ride to Worcester as a No. 1 seed and a date with Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force. That’s a dramatic and deserved improvement over last year when the Eagles had to wing 1,000 miles to St. Louis because the tournament rules regarding host teams and first-round conference matchups kept them from playing in Manchester, N.H., or Bridgeport, Conn.
“I hope we’re on a bus,’’ said Cross, who may not believe it until he sees the brackets come up on TV on Sunday. “Wherever we go we know we’re going to face good teams.’’
The Eagles earned the privilege of a short trip the old-fashioned way, by soaring at the time of year when other teams start sagging. They’d been so-so during November and December (that 5-0 home loss to Boston University seems a misprint now) but once February arrived BC was on its usual flight path. The Beanpot title triumph in overtime against Boston University lit the afterburners and their ensuing sweep of Merrimack got the Eagles up, up, and away.
York had talked then about winning the pennant and his players did that, taking the regular-season title. But what they’re made to understand annually is that the only trophy that the entire country remembers is the one awarded in April. “Win and advance,’’ York continually reminds them. As it was, BC could have lost here and still advanced, just as Maine and BU did.
All of them already had locked up places in the 16-team NCAA field. But while the Black Bears and Terriers were playing for seeding (each could have claimed a No. 1), the Eagles were already guaranteed the top overall place. So the only thing at stake Saturday night was the trophy, and BC went after it fiercely with Johnny Gaudreau popping in two goals in the first eight minutes.
“It’s disappointing to get that close and not win,’’ said Whitehead, whose team lost the title match to BC, 7-6, in overtime two years ago. “But I’m very impressed with BC, as always. They know how to win.’’
Gaudreau, BC’s latest Little Big Man, was supposed to be at Northeastern now but he decommitted after coach Greg Cronin, who’d recruited him, departed. So he took a different trolley line and has contributed 19 goals. As a token of their appreciation the Jesuits should give Northeastern a chunk of land down by the reservoir so that the Huntington Hounds can have a suburban campus.
Not that York was light on firepower without Gaudreau. Nobody comes at you with as many people who can punish you quickly as BC does. “They have a ton of guys who can put the puck in the net,’’ observed Maine captain Brian Flynn, whose mates were playing without top gun Spencer Abbott, who was hurt in Friday’s victory over BU.
And Parker Milner, who made 41 saves and was rock-solid as his colleagues killed off all five Maine power plays, has been adept at keeping the puck out of the net. The best way to subdue a Black Bear is to starve it.
“This is our house,’’ BC’s fans chanted as the clock ran down. It’s their trophy, too. Now the Eagles go to another house in the hometown of their idle Holy Cross cousins in pursuit of the big prize that eluded them last year when Colorado College mauled them in the regional opener.
They may cherish the Lamoriello Trophy, even though it doesn’t look anything like him and you can’t drink out of it. But once you’ve had your hands around the one that goes to the last man standing, as BC has three times in the last 11 years, everything else is a consolation prize.