Former Bruins president Harry Sinden used to say that the only people who understand goaltenders are other goaltenders.
The stereotype is that they’re strange, they’re excessively superstitious, and/or are antisocial.
Boston College goalie Parker Milner is none of those. Milner, a junior from Pittsburgh, is more class clown than anything else. He loves a good practical joke and it is nearly always at the expense of one of the Eagles’ forwards.
‘‘During our freshman year, [forward] Brooks Dyroff did something to him, so Parker went to the dining hall and bought shrimp and raw fish and hid it around Brooks Dyroff’s room,’’ recounted junior center Pat Mullane. ‘‘He hid it in shoes and cabinets and closets, so for a good two or three weeks, Brooks Dyroff’s room smelled like old fish.’’
Mullane said he can relate; Milner has set him up a few times.
‘‘I would agree that I am a frequent target, Parker Milner does come after me quite a bit,’’ Mullane said with a laugh. ‘‘Why? I’mnot sure, but I think I deal with it pretty well.’’
Mullane agreed it is unusual that the goaltender is the biggest jokester in the locker room.
‘‘Goalies are a different breed, without a doubt,’’ said Mullane. ‘‘It is odd that Parker and [senior goalie] Chris Venti are two of the loudest guys and they kind of get everything rolling in the locker room.’’
But there were times when Milner’s season wasn’t a laughing matter.
After a strong start, the Eagles began to stumble as a whole and Milner, in particular, struggled. After a four-year run by starter John Muse, which included two national championships, Milner put so much pressure on himself to fill Muse’s shoes he lost his job to Venti and freshman Brian Billett.
BC lost to archrival Boston University, 5-0, on Nov. 13 during which Milner made just 15 saves. It was the first time the Terriers shut out the Eagles in more than 28 years.
On Nov. 18 at Notre Dame, BC fell to the Fighting Irish with Milner between the pipes and coach Jerry York decided to go with Billett, then Venti. Over the next 12 games, Milner suited up in just two of them. Instead of sulking, he started working harder in practice and spent 40 minutes two mornings a week with goalie coach Jim Logue, associate head coach Mike Cavanaugh, and assistant coach Greg Brown in addition to the practices. He replaced his catching glove with one that was more pliable.
‘‘I was trying to continue to get better,’’ said Milner. ‘‘I did lose my job for a little while. You have to accept that for what it is. It is tough sometimes, but whenever you’re really good friends with the other guys who are playing, it makes it easier.’’
He said he wasn’t conscious of any additional motivation to get the No. 1 job back, although he’s sure it was inside him somewhere.
‘‘There’s something that just happens without you even thinking about it once you lose something,’’ said Milner. ‘‘I wanted it really bad. I think I just kept plugging away. I was just lucky to get it back.’’
He said his play needed tweaking and he worked on the areas in which he was struggling.
‘‘Things that weren’t going well at the beginning of the year, my glove, rebounds, long shots,’’ said Milner. ‘‘A lot of it was really simple stuff. At times, it’s frustrating to work on when you’re taking slap shots from the blue line. But I needed that and I think I needed people to push me through it and do things I didn’t want to do.
‘‘I don’t want to sit there and take shots from the blue line. You don’t want to have to dumb the game down to yourself. Sometimes you need people to tell you that you need to do it because you’re not good at that. I think I’ve gotten better, but I haven’t mastered them. You never want to say you’ve mastered them. So much about goaltending is out of your control.’’
York said the way Milner practiced made the coach go back to him. Since Milner regained the job Jan. 27, the Eagles have not lost. They have won 17 in a row heading into Thursday night’s Frozen Four matchup against Minnesota.
‘‘His work ethic raised in practice and his play raised in practice,’’ York said. ‘‘He sought out Jim Logue for extra work. All of a sudden, he got on a roll. He’s surpassed all of our expectations as to where he’d be and I think the whole confidence of the team is raised. The ebb and flow of your club is tied directly to the goaltender’s play. It’s hard to hide a goaltender who isn’t playing well.’’
Last summer, York wasn’t sure what to expect in the net. Milner had the most experience, but he wasn’t a sure thing. Not long before the Beanpot, York said he felt he had three ‘‘B’’ goaltenders (freshman Brad Barone has yet to see action) and was hoping one would raise their game. Although it took a while, Milner’s numbers are hard to overlook — 27-5-0 record, 1.70 goals-against average, and a .935 save percentage. He had back-toback shutouts over Air Force and defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA Northeast Regionals, which propelled the Eagles to the Frozen Four.
Defenseman Patrick Wey, who grew up with Milner, said he’s not surprised.
‘‘I’ve always had faith in him because I’ve played with him for so long,’’ said Wey. ‘‘I think it was a matter of getting hot at the right time. He started to build confidence with every game in this streak.
‘‘With that, I think the coaches’ confidence started to build. I don’t think his work ethic ever changed, he was always working. He’s always been the same person I’ve known growing up. I think he trusted the process. Now he’s seeing the fruits of how consistent his attitude and work ethic have been.’’
Wey said when they were kids, Milner’s work ethic was a little too intense at times.
‘‘He was really committed, probably too committed in the summers,’’ said Wey. ‘‘We’d always make fun of him because he’d be gone the whole summer going from [goalie] camp to [goalie] camp. He’s not the type of goalie I would describe as a head case.
‘‘He’s a level-headed kid. He has a few screws loose but relatively speaking, he’s normal. We’re really goofy guys, self-deprecating. He’s serious when he needs to be. He recognizes the challenges of being a starting goaltender.’’
Before the season started, Milner was prepared to fight for the job.
‘‘It’s kind of like the [Tim] Tebow thing with [Mark] Sanchez,’’ said Milner. ‘‘Everyone is seeing that as a negative but having good goalies behind you, or competing with good goalies or having good goalies in front of you, it makes everyone better. It’s definitely in your head, who you are competing with. You know everyone around you is good but you have to attack the job and say you want it to be mine. It’s the competitive nature in all of us.’’
Venti said once Milner realized he didn’t have to be Muse, the pressure all but disappeared.
‘‘Those are hard shoes to fill,’’ said Venti. ‘‘John will go down as one of the best goaltenders to ever come through [BC], if not the best, and it’s hard not to compare yourself to that. Once he relaxed and got that confidence back, you’re seeing how good he can be.’’