Boston College Hockey: 10 Reasons No. 1 Eagles Can Stay on Top in 2011-12
Perhaps the preeminent NCAA Division I men's ice hockey program in the last decade with 287 total victories, nine seasons of at least 20 wins, and three national titles, Boston College currently holds the No. 1 ranking in the nation in two major polls.
Barring injuries and other such setbacks, the Eagles are a good bet to maintain that slot up until the NCAA Tournament gets underway in March, with the 2012 NCAA Frozen Four slated for Tampa in April.
Rick Stewart/Getty Images
A first-round draft choice of the New York Rangers in 2009, Chris Kreider returned to BC this fall rather than sign an NHL contract. After two years of being overshadowed by names like Cam Atkinson and Ben Smith up front, it's No. 19's time to shine in what will likely be his final collegiate campaign.
Kreider had eight points and 18 PIM in his first six outings this season, as BC won five of those contests, and has also played against pro players in the last two World Championships.
His primary offensive support this season should come from senior Barry Almeida, junior Pat Mullane, sophomore Bill Arnold and freshman Johnny Gaudreau. Both Arnold and Gaudreau are draft choices of the Calgary Flames.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Another high-level NHL draft choice (second round, Carolina, 2009), Brian Dumoulin also came back to the Heights for his junior season. The Maine native, a First Team All-America selection a year ago, also played for the U.S. in the World Junior Championships last winter.
He will be counted on to anchor the BC blueline while also chipping in offensively before he, too, probably turns pro in 2012.
Aiding him on the backline will be senior captain Tommy Cross and senior Edwin Shea, along with juniors Patch Alber and Patrick Wey, although Wey will be sidelined until January following recent foot surgery.
Experience in Goal
Despite the now-graduated John Muse having seeing the lion's share of the work in the Eagles' cage the past four seasons, junior netminder Parker Milner isn't coming in cold.
The Pittsburgh native played in 22 games over his first two years, registering 13 wins and a shutout. He has been in net every minute so far this fall, going 5-1-0 with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .911 save percentage.
They've Been There Before
BC has made the NCAA Tournament every season since 1998, except for 2002 and 2009, when the Eagles experienced some roster exodus following national championships in both of the preceding years.
The Eagles are also a threat to win the Hockey East Tournament title every spring, which they've done eight times in the past 14 years, and have played in seven NCAA Championship games in that span, winning three of those contests.
This year's BC roster features eight juniors and six seniors who've been through the wars.
Head Coach Jerry York
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
BC Hockey was in a rut after 1991, and suffered through six straight losing seasons before making it back to the NCAAs in 1998. York, a 1967 Boston College alumnus who took his place behind his alma mater's bench in 1994, slowly built the program back up into a national contender.
Prior to York's arrival, the Eagles had claimed just one national championship, and were 13-29 all-time in the NCAA Tournament.
Since then they have gone 28-9 in the Big Dance and hoisted college hockey's ultimate prize three times (2001, 2008, 2010).
BC came up short to rival BU in the 2010 Frozen Fenway contest, but still won the Hockey East and NCAA titles that year
The Eagles have been one of the strongest programs in the tough Hockey East Association since it started play in 1984-85.
Despite graduations and some early defections to the pros, that dominance has continued in York's tenure, with the Eagles winning five of the last eight Hockey East title games, while also collecting three regular-season crowns in the last eight years.
They won both the regular-season and playoff titles in 2010-11.
Brian Gionta scored 30 goals as a BC freshman in 1997-98
Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images
BC always seems to come up with some prized recruits. Fabulous Eagle frosh from the past include such current NHL mainstays as Montreal's Brian Gionta (at left), and this year has been no exception.
The real catch was New Jersey native Johnny Gaudreau, who decommitted from Northeastern in the summer after the Huskies underwent a coaching change, and chose instead to skate at the Heights.
Though far from the biggest player on the BC roster at 5-7 and 150 pounds, he has shown speed and skill so far, and tallied three goals and four assists in his first six games, including a four-point night at perennial powerhouse North Dakota in just his second college game ever.
The Eagles and York know that championships aren't won in October, they're earned in March and April.
He's not afraid to play four lines and let his newcomers get their feet wet in the first half of the season. It makes them better in the second half, and it's shown in the results over the last decade.
Strong Non-Conference Schedule
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
BC also doesn't shy away from strong competition outside Hockey East. The Eagles have already played Michigan State, North Dakota and Denver, and in December will face off with Michigan at the Great Lakes Invitational in Detroit, with a rematch with Michigan State possibly looming the next day.
They're also slated to play at Catholic rival Notre Dame in November, followed by a game at ECAC front-runner Yale, two schools the Eagles have faced in recent NCAA Tournament play.
Erase the Memories of Last Year's NCAA Tournament
Last season ended ignominiously for the Eagles, who suffered an 8-4 setback to a speedy and opportunistic Colorado College squad in the first round of the 2011 NCAA West Regional in St. Louis.
The loss ended the four-year careers of Muse, Brian Gibbons and Joe Whitney, and marked the first time that BC had not won at least one game while appearing in the NCAA Tournament since 1991.
You can bet the returning lettermen are not looking to repeat that feat this spring.