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 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.