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New 'heights' at BC?

Thursday, 02.21.2008 / 9:00 AM / On Campus

By Bob Snow - NHL.com Correspondent

Nathan Gerbe and the BC Eagles will try to win a championship after 2 season-ending losses to Wisconsin.
If three's a charm at “The Heights," the nickname for the Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, Mass., the Eagles are perched for more NCAA milestones.

Only two other Division I programs have played in three consecutive title games -- the University of Minnesota in 1974-76 and Lake Superior State in 1992-94.

"I didn't know that," said junior Nathan Gerbe, a 2005 draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, and at 5-foot-5, is cut from the Devils' and BC alum Brian Gionta mold. "It would be a great accomplishment to do that."

The Eagles are used to great accomplishments under the tenure of coach Jerry York, who is also methodically moving toward eclipsing the record for most coaching wins in NCAA history.

Approaching the 800-win mark, which he will likely pass within a few weeks with his current 794 career victories, York is the winningest active coach. He is moving into the crosshairs of legendary Michigan State coach Ron Mason's all-time record of 924.

"His positive attitude is the difference," Gerbe said about York's impact.

Gerbe and his teammates' third quest for April hardware comes on the heels of the past two crushing and season-ending losses to Wisconsin, 2-1, in the 2006 title game, and last April's 3-1 loss to Michigan State. The Eagles led 1-0 in both games.

It was a similar scenario in 2000 and 2001, when the Eagles took a lead into the third period of those championship games. Gionta captained BC in a 4-2 loss against North Dakota before rebounding to take the title rematch in OT, 3-2 -- his last game in a BC uniform.

It was BC's second title, and first since 1949.

"Brian was here when we played Harvard (in December)," said Gerbe. "He came down after and we met for the first time. It feels great to follow in the footsteps of a kid you idolize since you were very young. I hope I can accomplish half of what he accomplished."

Gerbe has done just that so far.

In the hunt for the nation's scoring title, Gerber is in second place with 44 points, behind Michigan's Kevin Porter (48 points). He has been touted as a Hobey Baker finalist, having scored his 100th point in his 100th game last month.

Gionta was a 200-point player at BC over his four years.

"You need a solid mental attitude coming into each game," said Gerbe about the key to playing big in a small frame like Gionta. "You can't lose the battles in the big game. Work hard for the puck with most of the other players being bigger and stronger."

About the Hobey Baker quest, Gerbe commented: "I can't let the Hobey factor get to you. Sometimes when you think about it, you might start playing for yourself instead of the team."

"Nathan brings unbelievable excitement to the college game," said York. "He puts you right on the edge of your seat when he has the puck. He's just an electric, electric player, and his enthusiasm and excitement rubs off on all of us."

Especially on BC's small but stellar freshman class -- with a trio at each key position in forward Joe Whitney (39 points), defenseman Nick Petrecki, and goaltender John Muse, who stepped in cold when senior Cory Schneider took a Vancouver Canucks offer in August.

"They've been great from the beginning," said Gerbe about the frosh factor. "They ask a lot of questions and get a lot done on the ice."

"We're a lot better now than October and November," said York about his 16-7-7 Eagles who are 13-3-2 since Nov. 30. "The key is to keep going up the ladder."

At the Heights, the "ladder" metaphor has a simple definition.

"Beanpot's in February," said York, whose team copped the 56th Beanpot tournament a few weeks back, 6-5, in OT over Harvard with Petrecki scoring his first two career goals, including the winner. "Hockey East championship in March. Then the biggest goal of all is the NCAA championship in April.

"It's going to be a good pennant race," he predicted in that customary Boston-based and hashed-metaphor delivery.

BC's veteran core is led by captain Mike Brennan.

"Muse has had a remarkable season for a young guy," said York about his iron-man goaltender and key to late-season play; he has played all 30 games with a 2.33 goals-against average and .913 save percentage. "He held us in."

BC's veteran core is hitting its stride at the right time, led by upper classmen Brock Bradford, Anthony Aiello, Tim Filangieri, Tim Kunes, Pat Gannon, Kyle Kucharski, Benn Ferriero, Andrew Orpik, and standout leadership by assistant captains Matt Greene and Dan Bertram, and captain Mike Brennan.

"We have a team of leaders," said Greene, "but Mike's the key guy."

"Mike's father is a policeman in New York City and they have great values," said York about his senior leader. "We haven't taught him those values. He's a hard-nosed kid and a real team-oriented player."

"I think this is the most offense we've had the past few years," assessed Gerbe about this year's roster. "When one or two scorers get shut out, others put the puck in the net."

York has reiterated his focus of need all season.

"We need to clean up our own zone with good defense and special teams have to be really special as we go through the stretch, especially our penalty kill."

This weekend brings the Eagles' biggest test of the season thus far. Preseason Hockey East co-favorites New Hampshire and BC square off in a home-and-home affair with the Wildcats holding a commanding six-point lead with six games remaining in the regular season.

UNH is No. 3 in the nation; BC is No. 7. The road to the Frozen Four - and even a national title - may bring yet another encounter.

"Everything gets to a bigger stage as you get to late winter," quipped York. "The lights get brighter and more excitement among all of us. There are a lot of pluses in front of us that we're trying to reach for."

On Campus Clips -- The Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation recently announced the 2008 Legends of Hockey recipient will be Eddie Jeremiah. Coaching Dartmouth College for 29 seasons from 1937 to 1967, "Jerry" guided the Big Green to NCAA finals in 1948 and 1949 and captured Ivy League titles in 1959 and 1960. … The Bowling Green Falcons clinched home-ice advantage for the first round of the CCHA playoffs for just the third time in the last 14 years with Saturday's 3-1 win at Nebraska-Omaha. … Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson needs just two more wins to give him 250 for his nine-year collegiate coaching career. His .716 winning percentage is tops among active Division I coaches. Two of those wins were national championships in 1992 and 1994 at Lake Superior State. … Red-hot North Dakota has the nation's longest unbeaten streak at 11.

NHL.com's Top 10

1.   Michigan (25-3-4)
2.   North Dakota (19-8-2)
3.   New Hampshire (19-7-2)
4.   Colorado College (21-8-3)
5.   Miami (25-6-1)
6.   Michigan State (20-8-5)
7.   Boston College (16-7-7)
8.   Denver (19-10-1)
9.   Notre Dame (21-10-3)
10.  Wisconsin (14-12-6)

 

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