Boston College’s route from preseason No. 1 to Frozen Four participant had its bumps (photo: Melissa Wade).

A casual observer of the world of college hockey would not be particularly shocked when hearing word of the preseason No. 1 Boston College Eagles making the NCAA Frozen Four.

After all, with a solid recruiting class coming in and with a solid class returning, the Eagles’ return to the Frozen Four shouldn’t be surprising.

2016 Frozen Four

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The thing with hockey, however, is that, in a season spanning up to seven months out of the year, the unexpected is not only possible, it can be likely.

The Eagles were hit with players departures, injuries to key players, blown leads and even the occasional slow performance.

Yet, through strong leadership and will of steel, the Eagles persevered.

“I think [returning to the Frozen Four] was one of our objectives, and we measure our team by the number of trophies we win, not necessarily how many games we win,” BC coach Jerry York said following the victory over Minnesota-Duluth in the Northeast Regional final last Saturday.

The road to the Eagles’ two trophies won thus far (the Beanpot and Hockey East regular season co-champion) was an arduous one.

The season started off on a rocky note. After winning the season opener against Army, the Eagles dropped the second game of the year on the road against Rensselaer. The Eagles picked up three wins before, on a dreary, drizzly Wednesday morning in Chestnut Hill, they hit a major bump in the road.

A rumor, as rumors often do, started with a spark. A rumbling, a hushed whisper through the college hockey community. Rumors turned into reports and reports turned into confirmed reality. Jeremy Bracco, BC’s prized recruit, the third link in a strong recruiting class of forwards, was leaving the program. For many programs, it could have been disastrous.

This year’s Eagles program, however, wasn’t deterred.

The quest to keep the ship together was put in motion by senior captain Teddy Doherty, who called a captain’s meeting in the hours following the departure. The message in the meeting, revealed in a news conference following the succeeding game, was clear:

“If you don’t want to be here, you don’t want to be here.”

The players who did want to be at BC put the ship back on track that Friday against Denver. Thanks to a last-minute goal by Matthew Gaudreau, the Eagles’ winning ways continued.

For the Eagles, it was business as usual up until December. There, problems struck once again for the Eagles.

It started innocently against an in-city opponent. Against Northeastern, the Eagles blew two one-goal leads, ceding a tie to the Huskies. The tie was the beginning of a 1-3-1 month for the Eagles, culminating in a last-place finish at the Florida College Hockey Classic. All the while, it was revealed that goaltender Thatcher Demko was injured and would miss two critical games against Providence.

Enter Ian Milosz.

A goaltending prospect from the Junior Boston Bruins, Milosz started two games for the Eagles, the home-and-home series against Providence, helping the Eagles to a win and tie. That began an undefeated streak that ended on the last day of the regular season.

Enter the playoffs.

The Hockey East playoffs did not prove easy for the Eagles. In the quarterfinal round, the Vermont Catamounts took them to three games, setting up a rough semifinal game against the eventual Hockey East champion Northeastern Huskies at the TD Garden. The struggle through the conference tournament presented another opportunity for disaster.

The Eagles, however, like they have all year, persevered.

In the Worcester regional, the Eagles went the distance against a strong Harvard team and survived an onslaught in the final period by Minnesota-Duluth. While York noted following the Eagles’ game against Duluth that the struggles for the Eagles could easily be attributed to the strength of opponent (after all, as York noted, the Eagles weren’t playing Watertown High School), he said the perseverance and resiliency of this year’s incarnation of the Eagles deserves a degree of credit as well.

Going undefeated in any sport is difficult. Any doubters to that should probably consult the Eagles’ women’s team, which was 40-0 before losing to Minnesota in the national championship game. The separation of good teams from remarkable teams is in the way they handle adversity.

The Eagles were able to handle adversity and have completed the march to the Frozen Four.

Their next contest is against arguably their best opponent of the year, the No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats. If the Eagles struggle early, BC fans can take solace in one thing:

The team has been there before this year. It turned out just fine.

  • Shanahan

    BC never needed Bracco

  • HockeyState

    Thinking BC vs. Nodak in the final. So with my results lately that would probably mean QU vs. DU.

  • Doug McDonald

    I think for most BC fans or CH fans, it isn’t that these kids leave, it is that they commit to a school and leave after a 1/2 a year, or in Bracco’s case 4 or 5 games. There are absolutely no rules or morals outside of the sport. Major Juniors and the NHL don’t care about college hockey in any way shape or form. Unless college hockey can find a way to push back, or make commits stay for at least one season we will see more and more of this as “family advisers” and agents see the opportunity to make some money. Believe me I understand, get it while you can I suppose, but Bracco has done very little to improve his profile playing in an easier junior league throwing up big numbers. His one showcase was the World Juniors, and he was invisible as opposed to several college kids. Agents and advisers are not always, if ever, interested in the kids best interest, they are interested in cashing in.

    • movingtarget

      There are clearly players good enough and mature enough to leave early, even after 1 year. Toews is pretty good, I hear. But those are rare. So rare that there is no guarantee there’s even one each year. Much more common is a guy (I always use Andy Hilbert as a classic example) that leaves early and is not ready and then is out of hockey by age 27.
      Shanahan is right. Bracco wouldn’t have had much impact on this team.

  • movingtarget

    This happens to BC a lot. Yet they still find a way to attract more talent than they lose. Sonny Milano last year. Jeremy Roenick 25 years ago.

    • Shanahan

      Roenick was supposed to play golf at BC, too, supposedly

  • Dan

    It would be interesting to see what BC would look like with Sonny Milano, Jeremy Bracco and Noah Hanifin in the lineup.