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Time at BC paved the way for Guerin's NHL success

by Bob Snow

"Everybody says you go away to college to grow up and be on your own. That's exactly what it did for me. It got me on my own; grow up a little bit. Kind of prepares you a little more for real life. Hockey-wise it was just fantastic. A great steppingstone." -- Bill Guerin

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Bill Guerin turned a youthful 39 on Nov. 9. Two weeks later, one of Boston's most memorable sports events celebrated a 25th anniversary, a time directly tied to then 14-year-old Guerin's decision about his future NCAA landing spot.

"I grew up in the Flutie era," said Guerin about November 23, 1984 -- "The Miracle in Miami."

Quarterback Doug Flutie's last-second 48-yard "Hail Mary" touchdown pass to Gerard Phelan gave Boston College's football team a thrilling 47-45 victory against the University of Miami, and secured its own enduring place in both Boston sports and college football lore.

The storybook win was more than a major sports accomplishment for BC. It came as the school was emerging as a major national university.

"So ever since I was a kid," said Guerin, who hails from Wilbraham in central Massachusetts, "I wanted to go to BC. I played junior hockey nearby for the Springfield Olympics, now the Junior Falcons. That's where it all started.

"Then a lot of schools came recruiting; I took my five visits -- BC, Boston University, Maine, Providence and Michigan State. BC became available and it turned out great. I loved it."

The veteran of 17 NHL seasons was labeled a prospective big-time scorer ever since those teenage years. Before Guerin landed at the "Heights" -- the nickname of the Boston College campus -- he was taken with a lofty position in the 1989 NHL Entry Draft, No. 5 by the New Jersey Devils.

"By the time the draft comes around," Guerin said, "you kind of have an idea. Some guys slip and fall, or go earlier than expected, but that's where I was projected to go."

There was no slipping or falling for Guerin during his two seasons as an Eagle from 1989-91. He lit the lamp 40 times, helping to lead BC to two NCAA tournament appearances.

"Those two years were really good," reflected Guerin. "We had some great upperclassmen like David Emma ('91 Hobey Baker winner), Marty McInnis, and Stevie Heinze. And a real strong freshman class with seven or eight new guys that all played. It was a real solid team both years.

"The first-year run in the tournament was awesome," said Guerin about the Eagles' No. 1 seed in 1990. "That [Frozen Four] appearance was so much fun. We lost to Wisconsin, 2-1, [in the semifinal], but the experience was fun.

"1991 was a shame because we were really strong and we just maybe took it all too lightly. Alaska-Anchorage came in and beat us in our building [3-2 and 3-1]. We were pretty upset about that."

But there would be little time for remorse.

"I was getting to the point," said Guerin, "where I was ready mentally and physically. Ready to make the next step. It was kind of funny. The day after my last college game, (GM at the time) Lou Lamoriello called. That was the only time since I'd been drafted that I had talked to him. He left me alone for a couple years. [New Jersey] knew it was time, and so did I.

"Everybody says you go away to college to grow up and be on your own. That's exactly what it did for me. It got me on my own; grow up a little bit. Kind of prepares you a little more for real life. Hockey-wise it was just fantastic. A great steppingstone."

Especially to two Stanley Cups -- one with the Devils in 1995, and last season's scintillating seven-game Final against the Red Wings.

"I'm proud of the fact I've been around the League for a long time," he said. "Accomplished some things; the two Stanley Cups being the best."

Between the Lord Stanley celebrations, Guerin donned jerseys for the Oilers, Bruins, Stars, Blues, Sharks and Islanders. He also won a silver medal at the 2002 Olympics.

Guerin's most productive season point-wise was the year before the lockout in 2003-04 with Dallas when he put up 34 goals and 69 points.  He has played 1,219 career NHL games to date with a remarkable and perfect balance of 416 goals and 416 assist for 832 points.

Sitting next to Sidney Crosby after a recent Pens' practice, Guerin said about the present run: "One side of my role that grows or goes with age and experience is when times are tough to lead guys through those tough times. Show your experience. The other role is they expect me to produce offensively and on the power play.

"Honestly, these guys have done so much for me and my career; it's rejuvenated me. I was kind of caught in a rut for a little while. This has been the best time in I don't know how many years."

What's the short- and long-range plan as the calendar begins to confine Guerin's playing options?

"It's been quite a few years now," Guerin said with Chris Chelios-like expectations. "But I never thought about retiring. I feel too good. You know that feeling in your heart and gut with a special group of guys. If you talk to former players, that's all they ever say: ‘Play as long as you can because you can't get back the games. You can work for a team, be involved, but you can't get your game days back.'"

Two weeks hence, two of the most historic hockey events in Boston history are scheduled: The 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, and the Boston University-Boston College first-ever in New England NCAA game at Fenway Park on successive Fridays to begin the New Year.

"I follow BC hockey and have great memories of playing for BC and the Bruins," Guerin said. "Boston worked for me. It's great to see that lineup of events in Boston for the hockey world to see."

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