Jack Parker, the second-winningest active coach in college hockey, has proven over the years that he knows quite a bit about hockey.
What you might not know is that he’s pretty good at chess as well.
Actually, let’s rephrase that. Before you go thinking that Parker is the next Bobby Fischer, realize that I’m talking about another kind of chess.
It’s the chess match that Parker can play during a hockey game that makes him successful.
The chess board was set and Parker had the first move on Monday night as his Terriers knocked off arch-rival Boston College to capture the 54th annual Beanpot championship, 3-2, in front of a packed house at the TD Banknorth Garden.
With Boston College ranked number four in the country and BU a slot behind at number five, any advantage you can get means a lot. So Parker used his one advantage — the ability to make the final line change before each faceoff as the home team — to gain an edge over the Eagles.
Parker had one desire and one desire only: to match his top line of Brad Zancanaro, David van der Gulik and John Laliberte against BC’s scoring machine of Brian Boyle, Chris Collins and Stephen Gionta.
“We wanted to match lines for sure in certain situations,” said Parker. “We wanted to get Zancanaro’s line against Boyle line.
“It doesn’t look like a good matchup, but from a faceoff point of view it’s a great matchup.”
The Terriers’ Zancanaro, standing at all of 5-foot-5, gives up a massive 14 inches to the 6-foot-7 Boyle. But that wasn’t the issue. The fact of the matter was that with BC playing a man-to-man forecheck for much of the game, so that in the offensive zone, Zancanaro could stay away from the slot and keep the Eagles’ biggest physical presence from clearing the front of the net.
At the same time, Parker called his first line a defensive presence.
“[The Boyle line] is their best offensive line,” said Parker of BC’s first line which had scored 50 points in eight games entering Monday’s final. “Our best offensive line is also our best defensive line. [The trio] plays great together defensively, particularly Vandy and Zank, so it’s nice to be able to match up our best line against theirs.”
On Monday, you might not think that the Terriers’ top line did its job. BC’s only even strength goal came from Gionta, set up when Boyle crashed the net and the BU defender deflected a pass through BU netminder John Curry’s legs.
On the play, Boyle and Gionta broke out of their zone, gaining a step on the BU defense only because Boyle leveled Zancanaro in the BC zone to start the rush.
But when you’re talking about limiting BC’s toptrio, a line that has averaged 3.5 goals a game for the last month to just one goal, in essence you’ve gained. And on Monday night, in a one-goal game, the 2.5 goals against that you didn’t allow that line can be looked at as the force that pushed BU over the top.
“It just gives you some comfort that you’re matching up the right way [against BC’s top scoring line],” said BU assistant coach Mike Bavis, who is on the bench controlling the Terrier forwards and the offensive matchups. “If we’ve got our freshman line out against that line, it’s a factor. We could really struggle. So [matching lines] was an important part of the game.”
Not to be overlooked in all of this is the fact that the Zancanaro-van der Gulik-Laliberte trio played together for just the seventh time all season on Monday and for just the first time since January 20. Van der Gulik missed the first 15 games of the season with an inflamed pelvic bone. After playing just six games together, Laliberte suffered a knee injury.
So Monday’s reunion of the Terriers top line meant a lot to the team and Parker.
“As of yesterday, I was sure that [Laliberte] wasn’t going to play,” said Parker. “Now we’ve got our ‘big line’ back together again and Vandy gets hurt in the third period.
“But he came back and played with a knee [injury]. He gutted it out in the third period and we got our first line in tact again, which was huge for us.”
We all know the end result. BU skated around the Garden ice yet again with the coveted Pot ‘O Beans. It was the 10th time in 12 years, the 17th time in Parker’s 33-year coaching career and the 27th time in the 54-year history of the tournament. Do the math: half the Beanpot’s belong to the Terriers, a mark that is hard to match in any sport.
Throughout those 27 championships there are many reasons for which the Terriers have been successful.
This year, though, Parker’s ability to manipulate the game, to be the chess master that he is, played an important role.
To that, I say checkmate.