WORCESTER - During the summer when Boston College coach Jerry York looked at his roster on paper, he thought there were more questions than answers.
The team lost a tremendous amount of goal-scoring talent and four-year starter in net John Muse, who won two NCAA titles, to graduation.
But York’s squad surprised the coaching staff, their fans, and probably themselves this season and the Eagles’ reward is a trip to the NCAA Frozen Four in Tampa.
BC beat defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth (25-10-6) Sunday night in the NCAA Northeast Regional final, 4-0, at the DCU Center and will face Minnesota April 5 in the national semifinals at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
It marks BC’s return to the big dance for the third time in the last five years.
“It’s always a terrific feeling to go to the Frozen Four, it’s something that’s very, very special,’’ York said.
“I thought we had great defensive play from a lot of different people. It’s one of my most proudest moments. Frankly, I didn’t expect this from our club. We lost a lot of really good players but we’ve meshed together and we’ve had terrific improvement from a number of different people that make us a very formidable team now. We’re so excited but now we want to win the thing.’’
The Eagles (31-10-1) have won 17 games in a row. In those contests, they have surrendered a total of 20 goals, an average of 1.18 per game.
Junior goaltender Parker Milner, who has been stellar, hasn’t given up a goal since the Hockey East championship against Maine. His shutout streak heading into the matchup with the Golden Gophers is 152 minutes 23 seconds. The shutout against UMD, which boasted the highest-scoring offense in the country entering the game, was his second in a row as he ran his record to 27-5-0 on the strength of 33 saves.
The first period was an intense, ferocious, physical battle. Both teams fought hard for real estate but neither would give an inch.
BC won the majority of the battles along the boards and outshot UMD, 8-7, in the opening frame. Every time the Bulldogs had the puck, it seemed there were two Eagles right on the puck carrier, forcing turnovers.
The game completely turned in the second period with the Eagles scoring a pair of goals 1 minute 26 seconds apart. BC made a few adjustments at the start of the period and, as a result, Eagles skaters was able to create more space for themselves.
On BC’s first goal, freshman left wing Johnny Gaudreau started the play behind the net when he got the puck out to senior right wing Paul Carey. Carey put the puck on net and junior center Pat Mullane punched in the rebound from the edge of the crease to make it 1-0 at 4:01.
At 5:27, BC’s most noticeable player - sophomore center Bill Arnold - converted on his 16th tally of the season.
Senior left wing Barry Almeida did the gritty work, disrupting the Bulldogs defense behind the net on the forecheck. Junior right wing Steven Whitney collected the puck and centered it to Arnold, who fired a shot past senior goalie Kenny Reiter (20 saves).
Arnold had another great opportunity at 7:41 when he chopped the puck out of midair in the slot and it was blocked by Reiter’s chest.
Junior defenseman Patrick Wey just about sealed the team’s trip to Tampa at 1:13 of the third period when he gave BC a 3-0 lead. He had the puck along the right wing boards and floated a high knuckleball toward the net. Reiter lost sight of the puck and it beat him high.
BC got into penalty trouble in the period, giving UMD a five-on-three advantage at one point, but the Eagles, and particularly Milner, staved off the threats.
Gaudreau added the final touch at 11:47 during a power play, beating Reiter on a backhander between the pads for his 20th goal of the season.
As strong as they are offensively, it’s team defense that has gotten BC to this point. Captain Tommy Cross said it starts with Milner but it involves everyone.
“Our team defense starts with the forwards and then trickles down to the defense,’’ Cross said. “[We’re] just keeping teams to the outside and just trying to minimize their chances.’’
Or, in the case of Minnesota-Duluth, giving it no chance at all.