March 11, 2013

From NEHJ: Senior sweep

By Andrew Merritt

BC’s senior class joined rare Beanpot company. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

BOSTON — It wasn’t the most original chant, but for accuracy, you couldn’t get much better.

With less than two minutes to go in the 61st Beanpot championship game, and their classmates leading Northeastern by two goals, the large contingent of Boston College students made their declaration from the maroon-and-gold-covered balcony section in one end of TD Garden: “This is our house!”

The Bruins and Celtics might take issue with that, but on a night for the BC record books, it certainly felt appropriate — especially for the six players winding down the final year of their Eagles careers.

It’s a big part of the legacy to be left behind by Pat Mullane (Wallingford, Conn.), Patrick Wey, Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.), Parker Milner, Patch Alber and Brooks Dyroff: Four Beanpot tournaments played, four Beanpot tournaments won.

They capped that four-peat with a 6-3 win over the Huskies on Feb. 9, marking the first time in the tournament’s history that BC has won four straight titles. The historic victory was clinched by a two-goal night from sophomore Johnny Gaudreau and a game-winner from Whitney, plus goals from Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.), Patrick Brown and Mullane, whose empty-netter with 1:28 to go started the students’ Garden party in the balcony.

The four-peat itself is a rarity. Boston University won four straight from 1970-73, and six straight from 1995-2000, but otherwise none of the four Beanpot programs had won more than three in a row until this year. BU’s dominance in the annual tournament is, of course, well-documented, with the Terriers owning 29 of the 61 titles handed out since the Beanpot’s beginnings as a post-Christmas filler for the old Boston Garden in 1952.

Now, not only does BC now get to enjoy its fourth straight title (and its fifth of the last six), but it also handed rival BU an unwelcome bit of history, as the Terriers have gone four years without winning at least once. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1965.

While BU’s senior class is the first to play four years without winning a title (freshmen didn’t play with the varsity until the 70s), BC’s senior class is once again the toast of the town. They’ve played eight Beanpot games at TD Garden and won all eight — a streak that gets even more impressive when you factor in the six Hockey East tournament games they’ve played on Causeway Street — also all victories, including the past three league championships.

“I’m so incredibly proud of our club, but specifically … our captains that are in the senior class for what they’ve done over their careers,” said BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.), referring to Mullane, Wey and Whitney. “They really are model citizens for Boston College hockey.”

York notched his 930th career victory with the Beanpot clincher and picked up his seventh tournament title as a coach — he won as an Eagles player in 1965. He’s overseen some pretty talented players since taking over at BC in 1994, but none could say, “I won all four of my Beanpots.” Until now.

“I thought with Brian Gionta, the crew we had there — we ran into some unbelievable goaltenders in that stretch — that was as close as I envisioned to ‘Let’s win ’em all.’ ” said York, thinking back to Gionta’s BC years, 1997-2001. “We made MVPs out of about three straight goaltenders.

“We’ve had some very, very good teams, and luck plays a certain amount in winning this many Beanpots in a row, and I think our players understand that.”

Luck is one of the many ingredients in the Eagles’ recipe for success. In this year’s tournament, they also got plenty of scoring. Gaudreau’s two-fer in the final matched Whitney, who scored in the opening round against Harvard as well, and the sophomore added an assist in his second spin at the tournament.

BC also got at least a point from all four of the healthy senior skaters — Alber has been out since Dec. 29 with a knee injury and isn’t expected to return until the national tournament, should the Eagles make it that far. They also got good goaltending from Milner, who earned his second Beanpot title as a starter.

Milner waited two years to become the Eagles’ go-to guy in net, and while his 20-save performance in the final wasn’t the best of his career, it was good enough to win, and good enough to earn him the Eberly Award as the goaltender with the best two-game save percentage in the tournament. That doesn’t mean he was satisfied.

“We reflect back on the game in our locker room after each game, and when it was Parker’s turn, he said, ‘Hey, I gave up two goals that I never should have given up,’ ” York said. “He’s very inward-looking, saying, ‘I love to win the trophy, I let you down a little bit. Two goals that were soft, that I should have had.’ But he made some incredible saves.”

Milner’s dissatisfaction came from the Huskies’ second and third goals, scored quickly in the third period by Kevin Roy and Vinny Saponari. Roy’s was his second of the game and fifth of the tournament, and Saponari’s was the first Northeastern goal not scored by Kevin Roy. But the “soft” goals Milner gave up were overshadowed by some stellar saves, including one on a Roy breakaway late in the second period.

“I think he’s been a backbone to our team,” York said. “You can’t win trophies without outstanding goaltenders. Two national championships, and he’s the glue to our team, I think, when I look at our whole club.”

Like Milner, seniors Wey, Alber and Dyroff didn’t grow up in New England, so the Beanpot wasn’t a part of their vocabulary until they came to Chestnut Hill. As a freshman four years ago, Wey found out what the tournament was all about.

“It didn’t take me long, once I got in the rink and looked up and saw … the fans in the bowl, I knew it was serious,” Wey said.

Whitney and Mullane, on the other hand, didn’t need a primer on the Beanpot when they started their BC careers.

“I guess it’s just the biggest college hockey tournament that there is; it brings together four of the best, most elite programs in college hockey,” Mullane said. “Just having the close proximity and the rivalries, I think that’s how I describe it: The biggest, most exciting and historic college hockey tournament that there is.”

The only thing the seniors weren’t able to do this year was make it a four-year sweep of the tournament MVP award. That honor went to Roy, Northeastern’s lightning-quick freshman forward who had a hat trick in the opening round and added his two goals in the final. Yet even when celebrating Roy, it was hard for coach Jim Madigan (Milton, Mass.) not to tip his cap to one of the Eagles.

“When he’s got the puck on his stick, good things are going to happen,” Madigan said of Roy, who jumpstarted the Huskies with an early third-period goal after the Eagles hit the second intermission with a 4-1 lead. “In the third period, he knew we needed a jump. That’s him, that’s the type of player he is, he’s similar to Johnny Gaudreau on Boston College.”

Gaudreau, the 2012 MVP, didn’t quite match Roy’s explosiveness in the tournament, but like the seniors, he’s known nothing but winning when it comes to games at the Garden. As time wound down, the BC students added another chant: “Four more years! Four more years!”

Gaudreau and his fellow underclassmen might not think that’s such a crazy idea.

This article originally appeared in the March 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.

Twitter: @A_Merritt