MINNEAPOLIS — The top-ranked Boston College hockey team gets back to work Saturday afternoon in the opening game of the Mariucci Classic, which could prove to be where history is made.
With a victory against Alabama-Huntsville, Eagles coach Jerry York would stand alone as the winningest coach in college hockey, a mark he now shares with Ron Mason at 924.
York, whose team also will face No. 4 Minnesota Sunday night, doesn’t talk about the record. His focus is squarely on team goals. But York’s players are well aware of the milestone.
Freshman defenseman Michael Matheson said York is a stellar example of leadership and putting the team first.
“Obviously, we can’t wait to finally get him his win,’’ said Matheson. “The way he has handled that is something I admire a lot because he does not mention it, ever. If you looked at him every day, you’d never know that he was one of the winningest coaches of all time.’’
Although the 67-year-old York has been coaching college hockey for 41 seasons, he shows no signs of slowing down.
“He’s the most excited guy for practice every single day no matter what the circumstances,” said Matheson. “He’s still the most excited guy to get out on the ice and go through practice. A personality like that running our team is really useful.’’
BC (11-2-1) had chances to help York reach the mark earlier. The Eagles played a two-game set against Boston University Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, earning a split that got York to 924. At Providence on Dec. 7, the last game before the holiday break, the Eagles had a 3-1 lead in the third period but surrendered the equalizer with 11 seconds in regulation and had to settle for a 3-3 tie.
“We were disappointed we couldn’t do it against BU,’’ said Eagles captain Pat Mullane. “Then we were even more disappointed that we kind of blew it in the last few seconds against Providence and let it slip away. Obviously, we wanted to win that game, but we wanted [to earn the record for York] while we were on the East Coast. I don’t think it’s in his mind, but our team would really like to get it for him.’’
BC’s record this season is impressive, but everyone around the program believes there is plenty of room for improvement. Defenseman Isaac MacLeod, who was injured against Providence, and forward Destry Straight, who has missed five games because of an ankle injury, are expected to play this weekend. But the Eagles will be without top scorer Johnny Gaudreau, who is playing for the United States in the World Junior tournament in Russia.
“We need to look at other places besides Johnny for scoring,” said Mullane, “and I think a lot of other guys will step up in the second half for us.’’
Senior defenseman Patrick Wey said the first semester was partly about establishing an identity given the number of new faces.
“We definitely had more questions coming into this season than we had a lot of the years I’ve been here, just losing some really important pieces from our national championship team last year,” said Wey. “There were a lot of questions and the way things worked out was pretty awesome. We were especially happy considering the way we played in some of the games that we ended up winning. I think we were fortunate to squeak out a couple of the wins that we had.’’
Wey said the Eagles aren’t confusing their record with the way they have played.
“We’ve had some moments where we’ve played really good periods, but we haven’t totally played a no-doubter game where we just took it over,’’ said Wey. “It’s been some bad periods mixed with some good periods. We were able to squeak out wins when we are [behind in a game]. It’s been a good start but we also have the understanding that there’s a lot of room for improvement. So we’re excited looking forward and trying to get into the form we have the potential for and be able to make a run later in the year.’’
One area in which the Eagles can get better is consistency. At times, there has been too much running around in their zone. They also need to cut down on turnovers in the neutral zone, which was a problem against Providence, and need to be more opportunistic on offense.
“Our record is a lot better than where we are as a team,’’ said Mullane. “Don’t get me wrong, I think we’re an extremely talented team and it’s a great group of guys, but the potential this team has is far beyond where we are right now. We haven’t even scratched the surface.’’
After this weekend, the Eagles face No. 15 Yale at Conte Forum Jan. 4 and then take on No. 2 New Hampshire Jan. 11 and 12. Mullane expects the Eagles to find another gear in the second half.
“We’re very fortunate to be in the position that we’re in and being No. 1 in the nation, and don’t get me wrong, 11 wins before the break is fantastic,’’ said Mullane. “But I don’t think anyone in the room is satisfied with where we are.’’