WORCESTER - Top-seeded Boston College puts a 15-game winning streak on the line Saturday against Air Force in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal at the DCU Center.
One reason the Eagles (29-10-1) have been so successful is the play of freshman forward Johnny Gaudreau. The 18-year-old is second on the team in scoring with 39 points. During the Eagles’ streak, he has racked up 22 points, 11 of them goals.
Gaudreau is just enjoying the ride.
“It’s an awesome experience just to get a chance to play in the NCAAs,’’ said Gaudreau. “Our team is doing really well and we’re in a really good state [of mind] right now.’’
Gaudreau has proven to be a big-game player. He was named most valuable player in the Beanpot Tournament in February and also earned MVP honors at the Hockey East tournament last weekend.
“It was a ton of fun getting to play in front of all those fans at the Garden,’’ said Gaudreau. “Winning it of course is always good to top it off. It was a good experience.’’
He scored the winning goal against Providence on March 16 in the Hockey East semifinals and scored a pair of goals, including the winner, in the title game against Maine.
“We just got pucks to the net and I happened to be in the right place at the right time on a couple of goals,’’ said Gaudreau. “We had some good play from the rest of our guys. It was a great team effort.’’
The turning point of BC’s season was two losses at Maine Jan. 20-21. The Eagles haven’t lost since.
“We needed to get out of that slump and we’ve been playing really well, not [committing] too many turnovers on the other team’s blue line. And Maine, [there was incentive] to get back at them for beating us up in Maine twice,’’ he said.
The talented Gaudreau also has an enormous amount of poise. He said he doesn’t get nervous because a hockey rink - any rink - is where he comes alive.
“I just live in the moment,’’ said Gaudreau, breaking into a grin. “I’m just thankful to play in some of these big games and big opportunities. I just keep it in the moment. I’m just playing hockey, doing what I love to do and playing with guys I love to play with. I’m excited to get started.’’
Not under radar
BC hasn’t played Air Force (21-10-7) this season, but did get a look at the Falcons during the first weekend of the regular season, when both teams played in the Ice Breaker Tournament in Grand Forks, N.D., which BC won. Air Force lost to North Dakota and Michigan State, but went on to win the Atlantic Hockey Conference championship last weekend. “I just remember being impressed with how hard they worked,’’ said BC captain Tommy Cross. “They play with pace and any time you play a team with pace, you’re going to have to have your feet moving, too. They have a kid up for the Hobey [Baker Award, defenseman Tim Kirby]. If he’s anything like our Hobey candidate [Brian Dumoulin], he’s going to be a good player so we’re going to key on him and we’ll definitely have to respect him. We know Air Force is a heck of a team.’’ . . . BC goaltender Parker Milner enters the game 25-5-0, with a .931 save percentage and 1.82 goals-against average.
Connolly a concern
Though Maine and Minnesota-Duluth have faced each other eight times since 1984, this will be their first postseason meeting. While the Bulldogs lead the series, 5-3, the Black Bears have won three of the last four.
If Maine wants to advance to Sunday’s regional final, the man it has to stop is UMD gunner Jack Connolly, whose 58 points rank him second nationally to Black Bear counterpart (and fellow Hobey Baker Award candidate) Spencer Abbott.
“I watched film on him,’’ said Maine defenseman Will O’Neill. “It looks like he is hard to contain. I think we need to play solid defense, definitely share the load back there.’’
Connolly, whose older brother, Chris, captains Boston University, is a Duluth native who always wanted to be a Bulldog.
“It’s always been a great hockey program,’’ he said. “It’s a beautiful city to be in and it was pretty much a no-brainer for me to stay home.’’
Atlantic Hockey may only get one NCAA bid a year but its representative usually causes havoc. RIT made it to the Frozen Four two years ago after dispatching Denver and New Hampshire. Holy Cross upset Minnesota in overtime in 2006. And Air Force, which shut out Michigan in 2009 before losing in double overtime to Vermont, never has lost its opener by more than a goal and three times went out in overtime. “They’re going to push us to the limit,’’ predicted BC coach Jerry York, whose varsity has never faced the Falcons in the postseason . . . Even though Air Force is making its fifth tournament appearance in six years, coach Frank Serratore’s own relatives are picking the Eagles. “My three nephews and nieces filled out their brackets,’’ he said, “and none of them picked Air Force.’’ . . . York was reminded Friday about how he was nearly beaned by an errant shot while watching Air Force practice at the Icebreaker Classic. “A puck went off the glass and just missed my head,’’ he recalled. “I have a manager with me that’s supposed to catch those pucks. I thought he was [Dustin] Pedroia and he turned out to be a Single A second baseman.’’