March 15, 2012

Hockey East Journal: BC's Milner in championship form

By Andrew Merritt

The parade of elite goaltenders at Boston College stretches uninterrupted back to before the turn of the century. The program’s top four netminders by goals against average, save percentage and wins – Scott Clemmensen, Matti Kaltiainen, Cory Schneider and John Muse, in varying orders – represent the last 15 years in the BC nets. 

Boston College goaltender Parker Milner (Dave Arnold Photography)

But when Muse graduated after last season, the surest thing in a program that’s had a lot of sure things was suddenly a question mark. While Parker Milner entered his junior year as the de facto No. 1 for the Eagles, it was clear early on that the job wasn’t simply his to lose, as it had been Muse’s, Schneider’s, Kaltiainen’s and Clemmensen’s before him.

Milner started the first 13 games of the year for the Eagles, amassing a 2.36 goals GAA and .909 save percentage, but played just two of their 12 games between Thanksgiving and mid-January. Freshman Brian Billett (Brunswick, Maine) got the nod most of those nights – with the notable exception of Needham, Mass., native Chris Venti’s start in the Frozen Fenway game against Northeastern on Jan. 14 – and started like a house afire, posting a 1.76 GAA through his first four starts.

Milner acknowledged that his first half wasn’t exactly what his team needed, especially after years of rock-solid goaltending from Muse, et al.

“Maybe I was trying to do too much,” Milner said, looking back to his early-season setback. “There’s been some incredible goalies here, so maybe I was trying to live up to that too much. But I’m not John Muse, I’m not Cory Schneider, I’m Parker Milner, and I’m going to try to do the best I can to be a part of this story that we’re writing for the 2012 team.”

That lesson clearly started to have an impact around late-January. Milner made the start in the Eagles’ 4-3 win over UNH on Jan. 27 – his first in 2012 – and has made every start for BC since, including both games in the Eagles’ quarterfinal series sweep of UMass last weekend.

Since retaking the title of No. 1 in January, Milner has gone undefeated in 13 games, posting a 1.21 GAA and .952 save percentage during that stretch. Both of those numbers would have him miles ahead of the rest of the goaltenders in Hockey East, and even with his less stellar start, his overall GAA (1.84) tops the league and his save percentage (.928) is second only to UMass-Lowell’s Doug Carr. That 1.84 GAA is also the fifth-best number in the nation.

“He’s our backbone,” BC defenseman Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) said after the Eagles’ beat UMass 3-2 Saturday night to earn a semifinal berth. “That gives us tons of confidence, knowing that if we make a mistake, it’s not over. He’s going to make a big save like he has in these last couple games, and he has the last couple months.

“That’s just huge going on these runs in the playoffs, sometimes it’s going to be a goaltending battle, sometimes it’s just going to be a scoring battle, and knowing we have a good goaltender behind us is awesome to have.”

The Eagles head to the Garden this weekend as the No. 1 seed, eyeing their third straight Hockey East title. They’re a lock for the national tournament, also as a No. 1, and are probably the safest bet in the nation for the national crown, which would be their second in four years and fourth since 2000.

It took a little while, but they’ve rounded into championship form, just like their No. 1 goaltender.

Games of the Week

Hockey East Championship weekend (All games on NESN and NBC Sports Network)

Semifinals, Friday

Game 1: Providence vs. Boston College, 5 p.m.

Game 2: Maine vs. Boston University, 8 p.m.

Final, Saturday

Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 winner, 8 p.m.

Hockey East power rankings

  1. Boston College (27-10-1, 19-7-1 HEA) – Though it was a sweep, the Eagles hardly walked all over UMass in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and benefited from some breaks, including a UMass goal disallowed by video review Friday and a controversial game-winner on Saturday.
  2. UMass-Lowell (23-12-1, 17-9-1 HEA) – The River Hawks surprising run came to a crashing end, as they became the first No. 2 seed to lose a Hockey East quarterfinal series since the league moved to the current playoff format in 1990.
  3. Boston University (23-13-1, 17-9-1 HEA) – The Terriers seemed like the most vulnerable high seed in the Hockey East tournament, going up against a UNH team on the rise, but they outlasted the Wildcats, winning a thrilling Game 3 in double overtime on Alex Chiasson’s game-winner.
  4. Maine (22-12-3, 15-10-2 HEA) – Maine was one of three high seeds that had to survive a third game in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and two early goals helped the Black Bears do it against Merrimack.
  5. Merrimack (18-12-7, 13-9-5 HEA) – Despite entering the playoffs without much momentum, the Warriors gave Maine all it could handle, running away with Game 2 Saturday night to force a third and deciding clash. Merrimack now has to wait out this weekend’s games to see if it finishes inside the national tournament bubble.
  6. New Hampshire (15-19-3, 11-14-2 HEA) Grayson Downing’s goal in the second overtime gave UNH a surprising Game 1 victory against BU, but the Wildcats were bitten by the 2OT bug in Game 3, and ended their season at Agganis Arena after an impressive finish.
  7. Providence (14-19-4, 10-14-3 HEA) – The Friars made Hockey East history Sunday, beating UMass-Lowell to become the first 7 seed to advance to the Hockey East semifinals under the current format. No. 7s were 0-for-22 in quarterfinal series until Ross Mauermann’s first-period game winner punched Providence’s ticket to the Garden.
  8. UMass (13-18-5, 9-14-4 HEA) – The Minutemen had a tough task against the nation’s best team, BC, in the Hockey East quarterfinals, and coach Toot Cahoon (Lynn, Mass.) was unsparing in his criticism of officials after BC scored the game-winner – and semifinal-berth-clincher – on a controversial non-call in the second period of Game 2 that ended UMass’ season.
  9. Northeastern (13-16-5, 9-14-4 HEA) – Freshman forward Ludwig Karlsson was one of three unanimous choices for the Hockey East All-Rookie team, joined by UMass-Lowell’s Scott Wilson and BC’s Johnny Gaudreau. Karlsson led NU with 26 points and 10 goals in his debut season at Northeastern, playing the bulk of his time on the top line.
  10. Vermont (6-27-1, 3-23-1 HEA) – Sebastian Stalberg became the first Hockey East player to take off early for the pros this offseason, opting to sign with the San Jose Sharks rather than return for his senior season at Vermont. He’ll join fellow UVM product Torrey Mitchell in San Jose, two leading Catamount scorers who opted out of their final years at the school.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com.