Friday, March 25, 2011

That's the End of That

After Jimmy Hayes scored 19 seconds into Friday's game against Colorado College, it looked like Boston College was on its way.

It was - right out of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The BC senior class and goaltender that had never lost an NCAA game made a quick exit from the nationals just one year after winning it all, by losing to Colorado College, 8-4, in the West Regional at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis. The Tigers tallied three power-play goals and two shorthanded markers, and built leads of 4-1 and 7-2 after the first two periods of play, respectively.

BC looked absolutely shell-shocked after falling behind so far, so fast. Their passes were off the mark, they had trouble slowing opposing players down or getting the puck out of the zone, their shots went wide or were blocked, and they skated like someone had taken sandpaper to their skate blades. The Eagles hadn't been routed that badly in an NCAA Tournament game since a 6-3 regional final loss to North Dakota in Worcester in 2005. They hadn't been beaten that soundly in any game since perhaps the 2009 Beanpot opening round when they fell to Northeastern by a 6-1 count - but that BC team pretty much struggled the entire season.

This Eagle squad won 30 games and was coming off a pair of Hockey East titles, not to mention last year's national championship. And in less than one period on Friday night, it all fell apart - thoroughly - and now it's wait until next year.

It was almost as if CC was energized by that first BC goal. The Tigers quickly rebounded to take a 3-1 lead in just over eight minutes as the line of Jaden Schwartz, Rylan Schwartz and Stephen Schultz combined for eight points. They scored on a shot through a partial screen, a rebound, and on a one-timer following a steal behind the BC net.

And they weren't done - when they were, they had finished with four goals and six assists for 10 points in a decidedly one-sided affair. BC hit three posts, but that didn't take away from the 39 saves made by CC netminder Joe Howe, several of the spectacular variety when it looked like BC could possibly claw its way back into the contest.

I don't know if anyone saw this outcome coming - I know I didn't. It turned into a skeet shoot that, despite two BC third-period goals, only ended after William Rapuzzi wristed home a shot with nine seconds remaining in regulation. And BC goaltender John Muse, who earned the Walter Brown Award this season as New England's top college hockey player and was a perfect 8-0 in NCAA Tournament play, finished his college career on the bench after surrendering seven scores over the first two periods.

It was an ignominious ending for Muse and classmates Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney (one assist combined on Friday), who all played major roles in helping BC to two national titles. Unfortunately, there won't be a third, although the ending shouldn't tarnish their accomplishments of the last four seasons.

CC moves on to face Michigan, which ousted Nebraska-Omaha by a 3-2 count in OT, while BC goes home to Chestnut Hill to ponder just what the heck happened after a season that saw them win three tournaments and a regular-season crown. And also to ponder who will be back in Maroon and Gold in the fall.

Besides the departing senior class, there's also a good chance the Eagles may have seen the last of underclassmen Cam Atkinson, Brian Dumoulin, Chris Kreider and Hayes, all of whom have been drafted by NHL clubs, and all of whom may elect to go pro rather than try to pick up the pieces next year. Then again, there could also be a hotshot freshmen or two waiting in the wings, a la Chuck Kobasew in 2000.

The ending, or rather the way it happened, with BC so dominated in its season finale, though, does put a damper on the 2010-11 campaign. Now I know what Miami and Wisconsin backers both felt like last year after BC pasted them by a combined 12-1 count at the Frozen Four in Detroit. It's an empty feeling, no question, to play well all season and then to get to this point and get embarrassed on a national stage.

It's also the first time BC has lost its opening NCAA Tournament game since Jerry York got the Eagles back to the nationals in 1998, although they're still 33-9 overall in that span. Twenty years ago BC was coming off a two-step sweep by Alaska Anchorage, and was 13-29 overall in NCAA Tournament play. The last 14 seasons have indeed been very good for BC Hockey.

More was expected this year, though, because of that standard of success that Boston College has set for itself. You could argue that BC shouldn't have been in the West Regional at all this spring, but that's the way the tourney is set up - no games against conference opponents in the first round. They weren't allowed to play Hockey East rival New Hampshire in the first round; and since UNH was the host school in Manchester and a fourth seed, BC as a first seed had to go west.

Some reward for winning Hockey East, but that's the way it is. An argument could be made to have conferences host the regionals instead of individual schools, like the CCHA is doing in St. Louis this year, but not sure if that would pan out for all four regionals. Besides, schools seem to like hosting ...

Hats off to the Tigers. It was a great run by BC again this year, but it ultimately fell four games short of the ultimate prize that would have made it perfect. Makes one appreciate 2001, 2008 and 2010 all the more.

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