The even years have been good to Boston College recently.
The hockey team has parlayed victories in the NCAA Northeast Regional in Worcester to national championships in 2008, 2010, and 2012.
They are hoping that this season ends the same way. Heading into Thursday’s Frozen Four semifinals against Union in Philadelphia, the Eagles will be counting on a freshman goaltender (Thatcher Demko) and five defensemen among the top six who are either freshmen or sophomores.
In BC’s last game — a 4-3 victory over UMass-Lowell in the regional final March 30 at the DCU Center, freshmen accounted for the tying goal and winning goal.
Rookie left wing Ryan Fitzgerald made a phenomenal move to the net to beat sophomore netminder Connor Hellebuyck at 1:04 of the third period to make it all square at 3.
Defenseman Ian McCoshen, who banged his stick on the ice furiously to let sophomore blue line partner Teddy Doherty know he was open, scored into a virtually open net at 11:16 of the third to put BC ahead for good.
Associate head coach Greg Brown said the impressive development of Demko and the young defensemen over the course of the season has been critical to BC reaching this point.
“I think it definitely works hand in hand,’’ said Brown. “A good defense can really give the goalie confidence and a good goalie can really give young defense confidence so I think they’ve grown together over the months.’’
Junior goaltender Brian Billett said there is a camaraderie among the young players that has helped them work together well.
“We have a really young class,’’ said Billett. “Luckily, we have strong leadership from the senior group [of four] and our juniors as well. To see them all grow together has been really important.
“They’ve stuck together. They’re the best of friends and I think that goes a long way. What goes on off the ice correlates to on the ice.’’
There has been a learning curve for all of them, most notably the defensemen and goaltenders because as the last lines of defense, they get more exposed than the forwards.
Demko, particularly, has stepped up his game after coming into BC as the youngest player (17) in college hockey.
“I think [he had to adjust to] the level of play,’’ said coach Jerry York. “All of a sudden, you’re playing against men, 22 or 23 years old, seniors on other teams. Just ratcheting up the speed of the shots and the accuracy of the shots, and just how strong he has to be in the crease area.
“I think it’s similar to what forwards and defensemen have to do. It’s really a step up, especially for the young kids.’’
York said Demko’s on-ice demeanor is reminiscent of a former BC standout goaltender.
“He reminds me a lot of Scott Clemmensen — he didn’t want to get beat,’’ said York. “In practice or games, he kind of jumps out at me with that competitive spirit.’’
Whether it be John Muse, who won NCAA titles as a freshman and junior, or Parker Milner, who won as a junior, Demko stands to be part of the long legacy of special goalies in the program.
“He’s got a chance to be very, very good,’’ said York. “Any team that’s been successful in a decade, it’s, ‘Hey, did you have a good goaltender?’
“It’s like quarterbacks. If you have a good quarterback, you’re started in the right direction. Not many teams can win trophies unless their goaltender is arguably one of their best players.’’
At the start of the season, because Milner had handled so much of the work, York wasn’t sure how the goaltending situation would shake out, but he was confident it would take care of itself.
“It was certainly a question mark for us but I think it’s been answered,’’ said York. “Brian Billett stepped in and played well and Thatcher has played very well so I think we’re pretty solid there in goal.’’
No discussion of BC would be complete without mentioning the super line of junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau, senior center Bill Arnold, and senior right wing Kevin Hayes.
“They’ve played well defensively and offensively,’’ said York. “They get checked every time they play an opponent. They’re circled in red, that line. So they’ve fought through that a lot and they’ll have to do it again.’’
Hayes, who is second in the nation in scoring with 63 points in 39 games behind Gaudreau’s 77 points, has been a revelation. The line has combined for 192 points this season.
“His [quadriceps] injury affected our chances last year in the national tournament because he was a key guy for us,’’ said York.
The injury, which kept him out for the final eight games of his junior year, motivated him to get even better as a player, said the coach.
“He was a good player but he wasn’t satisfied with being just a good player,” said York. “He’s taken that whole step forward. Other things could have been involved with it, but I think the injury, where he didn’t play for a long time and then came back and had a whole new life, I think that’s helped him. ‘My time is running out.’
“There is nothing wrong with good players, but he wanted to be an outstanding player. He’s well on his way to doing that.”Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.