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On eve of Hockey East quarterfinals, BC men believe they have met ‘the challenge’

Jerry York's top-seeded team will face New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarterfinals.
Jerry York's top-seeded team will face New Hampshire in the Hockey East quarterfinals.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

The Boston College men’s hockey team finds itself in familiar territory.

For the second year in a row, the Eagles earned the No. 1 seed heading into the Hockey East tournament. But unlike last season, they will have a chance to continue on in the playoffs

At the close of last season, BC was one of the hottest teams in the country, going 8-0-1 down the stretch to finish 24-8-2. But the season was abruptly shut down by the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking away any dreams of postseason titles. Even the end-of-season wrapup dinner was relegated to a Zoom call, with the Eagles having to settle for celebrating their accomplishments and saying their goodbyes virtually.

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Coach Jerry York has never been one to look back once a new season begins, and moving on from last year’s disappointing ending was critical as the team returned to campus. Looking to forge ahead, the upperclassmen — captain Marc McLaughlin, and assistant captains Logan Hutsko, Michael Karow, and Patrick Giles — met with members of the BC marketing department to come up with a slogan that would encapsulate their approach in the middle of a pandemic.

“They all kept saying they knew what needed to be done this season,” said Tory Boyle, assistant director of marketing, licensing, and fan engagement for the school. “They accepted it was going to be a different year, and a challenging year, and they were ready for it.”

Out of those discussions the motto #ChallengeAccepted was born. The phrase can be seen on the team’s social media campaign, on the boards at Conte Forum, and in the locker room, where a giant banner that each player, coach, and staff member signed hangs above the door where the team exits to take the ice.

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“This year is challenging because there’s a lot more sacrifices we have to make compared to other years,” said McLaughlin, who grew up in Billerica. “We were challenged by COVID to be smart, wear a mask all the time, and be socially distanced so that we can keep playing hockey and do what we love to do out there.”

The team has managed to avoid any positive tests, while also overcoming the absences of sophomores Alex Newhook, Matt Boldy, Drew Helleson, and goalie Spencer Knight while they competed in the World Junior Championships. Newhook has played in just nine of the 21 games this season after returning with an injury, but he has been back in action the last few weeks. Hutsko suffered a season-ending injury as well.

“It’s been a great buy-in from all of us — the coaching staff, trainers, the equipment guys, the weight trainers — we all signed it,” said York, who was the first to autograph the banner. “It’s not a normal year. We’re going to go through things, whether it’s schoolwork, or travel, or testing all the time, they all accepted it.”

Marc McLaughlin has played a big role in the success of this year's team.
Marc McLaughlin has played a big role in the success of this year's team.Winslow Townson/Associated Press

McLaughlin has led the way on and off the ice. Known for his defensive play his first two seasons when he tallied 9 goals and 11 assists in 73 games, he has raised his offensive production this year, scoring 7 goals to go with 14 assists in 21 games.

Boldy, a native of Millis, leads the team with 10 goals along with 14 assists, and skates on the first line with Newhook and classmate Mike Hardman, with the sophomore from Walpole collecting eight goals and seven assists. Freshmen Nikita Nesterenko and Colby Ambrosio have each found the back of the next seven times.

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Helleson is joined by classmate Marshall Warren on the top defensive pairing, skating in front of Knight, who has posted a 15-2-1 record with a .937 save percentage. The 2019 first-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers also plays a starring role in the team’s pregame hype video. After game highlights are shown on the videoboard, the camera focuses on Knight, who proclaims, “Challenge accepted,” before leading his teammates on to the ice.

While York has embraced the slogan and loves how it has evolved, he also points out that most schools have slogans of their own.

“The biggest thing is, no matter how many slogans or signs you have, can you get your team to play as one?” he said.

BC has done just that, posting a 16-4-1 record, but now comes another challenge, as the team looks to win its first conference tournament since 2012, as well as become the first No. 1 seed to take home the Lamoriello Trophy since UMass Lowell defeated BC, 4-3, in 2017.

The road will not be an easy one, as the Eagles will open the tournament by hosting a New Hampshire squad that played them tough this year, splitting the home-and-home season series in January, with the road team winning each contest in overtime. The Wildcats punched their ticket to the quarterfinals by traveling to Orono and handing Maine a 7-2 beating in a first-round play-in game.

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Men’s Hockey East playoffs

QUARTERFINALS

(format changed from a best-of-three to a single game for this season)

Sunday

No. 7 UMass Lowell at No. 2 Boston University, 1 p.m. (NESN+)

No. 5 Providence at No. 4 UConn, 3:30 p.m.

No. 6 Northeastern at No. 3 UMass, 4:30 p.m. (NESN+)

No. 9 New Hampshire at No. 1 Boston College, 4:30 p.m. (NESN)

SEMIFINALS

Wednesday, March 17, at higher seeds

FINAL

Saturday, March 20, at higher seed


Follow Andrew Mahoney on Twitter @GlobeMahoney.