Fifteen years have passed, but the impact that Boston College’s 2001 national championship hockey season had on a 6-year-old Teddy Doherty remains, as do the memories.
Doherty’s uncle, Marty Hughes, was a senior defenseman for the Eagles that season. Doherty remembers being at TD Garden watching BC win the Beanpot. He remembers getting out of school to drive with his family to Albany, N.Y., for the Frozen Four. He remembers what came next.
He remembers everything about that team, really.
“That was such a cool experience,” Doherty said last week, sitting in the first row along the glass at Conte Forum before practice. “We have a bunch of pictures that I’ve been looking at.
“I remember the championship game, they were playing North Dakota, I remember seeing Krys Kolanos score the game-winning goal in overtime. That was probably what made me want to come to BC more than anything, seeing them win that championship.”
The Eagles have added three national titles since then, most recently in 2012, a few months before Doherty enrolled as a freshman. He’s a senior now, and before the season was voted the team’s captain.
With BC preparing for its record 25th trip to the Frozen Four, two wins separate the Eagles (28-7-5) from a sixth national title. They’ll face top-ranked Quinnipiac (31-3-7) Thursday at 5 p.m. in Tampa, Fla., with North Dakota (32-6-4) and Denver (25-9-6) meeting in the second semifinal.
The winners will play Saturday night for the national championship.
Doherty wants nothing more than two more victories, which might inspire the current group of 6-year-olds to dream about someday playing hockey at BC. He’s a big reason why the Eagles are still playing in early April.
Doherty scored two goals in the 3-2 regional final win over Minnesota-Duluth. It marked just the third time in Doherty’s 143 games that he scored twice, because most of his college career has been spent as a defenseman.
Until this year, that is, when Doherty made the move to forward. Well, mostly made the move. He’ll still spend some time as a defenseman — especially when the Eagles are on the power play. He’s a true two-way player whose versatility and position flexibility are rare in college hockey.
“It’s something you do when you’re young, as a kid,” said junior Steve Santini, one of BC’s three assistant captains. “It’s not very common.
“Playing juniors, I never had anyone that did it. Not many guys make that transition. Being a defenseman my whole life, I could never imagine going up and playing forward, so I give Teddy a lot of credit.”
Doherty is still listed as a defenseman in the BC media guide, even though his size (5 feet 10 inches, 173 pounds) and statistics this season (13 goals, 12 assists) are those of a forward.
How has he been able to switch back and forth so easily?
“My hockey IQ and my smarts within the game are above average, I think,” Doherty said. “I understand the game very quickly, and that’s what you’ve got to do if you don’t want to get hurt.
“You’ve got to put yourself in the right situation all the time positionally, making the best play possible, dodging hits. I’m better at stuff like that than my size would say.”
Doherty began logging practice and game time at forward early in the season, when Chris Calnan, also an assistant captain, was out with an injury. But Doherty was back on defense as recently as March 12, when Ian McCoshen sat out the second game of the Hockey East quarterfinals against Vermont.
“I can definitely play both,” said Doherty. “If we ever had an injury situation, I can step back and play D. I’ve been playing forward the last few months, so right now I’d say I’m more comfortable playing forward, but if anything were to happen, I can easily step back and the transition would be seamless.
“I played D my whole life. I didn’t forget how to play it just because I’m a forward now. Either one is completely fine with me.”
Doherty was named captain days after last season ended for BC with a first-round loss in the NCAA Tournament. It was a 21-win campaign, acceptable for most programs, but it was the Eagles’ fewest victories since 2009. The team entrusted Doherty with making sure there wasn’t a repeat.
It could have been viewed as a leap of faith. Over his first three seasons, Doherty was mostly a role player, totaling just nine goals in 104 games.
Maybe it’s the “C” stitched onto his jersey, maybe it’s the move to forward. Whatever the Eagles have needed this season, wherever they’ve needed it, Doherty has been able to provide.
“Probably the biggest surprise on our club,” said coach Jerry York. “He was elected captain, and just kind of really bought in that, ‘Hey, I’m going to be the best player I can.’ He worked on his strength, he worked on his endurance.
“He started out as a defenseman, we lost a couple players due to injuries, asked him to move to forward, he gladly accepted that.
“His leadership is even more impressive than his fine play down the stretch here. Two good goals [in the regional final], but his leadership has been outstanding. My hat’s off to him, he’s had an exceptional year.”
A goal within reach
Doherty, an English major, is on pace to graduate, and said he’d certainly explore extending his playing career beyond college. But he has his sights set on becoming a coach, and is already setting a lofty goal.
“I’d like to work my way up, eventually try to break Coach York’s record, maybe,” Doherty said, referring to the 1,012 victories York has earned over 44 seasons guiding Clarkson, Bowling Green, and now his alma mater. “Just kidding. That’ll be intact for a while.”
So will the college memories Doherty has made in his four years at BC. He’s been on teams that won three Beanpots, and also went to the Frozen Four two years ago, when the Eagles lost to Union in the semifinals.
Now the end is near, coming either Thursday night or Saturday night. There is work left to do, a Quinnipiac team to focus on. But it’s hard not to look back, too.
“You show up on the first day of school and you think about how many trophies can you win, what will your legacy be like when you leave this place,” Doherty said. “Now going into senior year, it’s like, ‘How can we win the Beanpot? How can we win Hockey East?’
“To be able to win the Beanpot, win the regular-season trophy, and now make it to the Frozen Four, those were all goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year, and it’s kind of surreal that we were able to accomplish those things.
“Being my last go-round, hopefully we can get a national championship. I believe we can win.”
Doherty could come full circle this week. In 2001, he was a 6-year-old tagging along to watch Uncle Marty’s games, an unforgettable championship season that began to steer the lad toward BC. He was in the stands, around the team, and even in the locker room after the Eagles beat North Dakota for the national championship, posing with and holding the trophy.
Hughes lives in Woburn now, and serves as a college hockey referee. He has four children, including a 6-year-old son, Owen. Same age Doherty was in 2001.
Owen and his family will be at Amalie Arena on Thursday night, watching Doherty and the Eagles try to take the next step toward another title. They could even face North Dakota in the final, assuming they get past Quinnipiac.
“It’s pretty ironic,” said Hughes. “Obviously, we’re hoping for BC to win two hockey games and come home with a national title.
“For my son, I want him to go down there and enjoy it, just like Teddy did 15 years ago. We’ll see.”Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeWhitmer.