In which we recap the day's events in the NCAA tournament.
Boston College hasn't lost since January, and playing more or less at home in Worcester, Mass., some 40 minutes from Boston, they weren't about to start.
Each of their three national title runs since 2001 have started in Worcester's DCU Center and that was where they put down the reigning champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs tonight with an easy 4-0 victory. It ran their record in that building to 8-0 since the national dominance began in earnest.
The Frozen Four is set: Boston College faces Minnesota and Union plays Ferris State on April 5 in Tampa.
The game was physical and a bit testy from the outset, which is something Duluth probably would have preferred. In the very first shift, Calgary Flames draft pick Billy Arnold swooped behind the Duluth net and absolutely clocked a defender, putting him on his wallet and knocking off his helmet. The tone was set, and BC made clear that it was more than willing to play a harder style even as it piled up a 2-0 lead in the first period and began to incorporate its favored puck possession game into the rough-and-tumble style favored by the western superpower.
The problem with BC -- if you're an opponent, at least -- is that they can beat you so many different ways. Their legendary coach, Jerry York, constructs his teams thusly: Forwards are either small and lightning quick, or big and superb skaters. All are extremely skilled and seem to quickly foster good understandings between one another. Defensemen are almost universally massive, and all can both join the rush and stamp out scoring chances with equal aplomb. Goaltenders are sound positionally, which is all they ever need to be given the quality of the team's overall defense.
As a consequence of the above, there is no especially good way to fully prepare for the Eagles.
They can beat you 9-7, as they did to Yale in that very building on the way to a title in 2010, or they can beat you 2-0, as they did to Air Force on Saturday. In short, anything you can do, BC can do better.
The scoring began when Pat Mullane was the third forward in on a scramble around the Duluth crease, and chipped the puck past Duluth's Kenny Reiter (20 saves) despite having two defenders on him at 4:01 of the second period. And then, just 1:16 after that, Arnold scored to double the lead, essentially putting the game out of reach with more than 34 minutes remaining.
However, Duluth hung in there with a good amount of spirit, continuing to keep the game close with the consensus No. 1 team in the country; in terms of play if not on the scoreboard, depending on whether you consider a two-goal lead for BC insurmountable -- and you should.
BC has a tendency to pile up goals and has shown it particularly in this run, netting 67 in 17 games, and allowing just 20.
The Eagles are 22-0-1 when leading after two periods this season, and showed why early in the third, as persistent pursuit of the puck in the attacking zone led to a fluke goal for Patrick Wey a little more than a minute in. Not that the goal itself was the result of anything beyond a flip-in from the half boards that no one expected to get on net, let alone beat Kenny Reiter over the left shoulder, but it showed that BC never relents.
That's not to say everything went swimmingly for the top team in the country, as Duluth drew three penalties in the first half of the final period, including two in quick succession that granted them a 5-on-3. But Milner was square to everything on net, but received a fair bit of help from Duluth shooters who let shots roll off their blades with far more frequency than they would have liked.
But after that sequence, Duluth's frustration began to set in, with a dumb roughing penalty after the whistle from JT Smith leading to a power play goal for Johnny Gaudreau that made the game a laugher instead of a case of one very good team having a great day against another.
And just so no one forgot that Milner was fantastic in this game, as well as the one before, he made one final point-blank save on Drew Olson after a puck bounced away from a BC puck carrier between the circles. In all, he made 33 saves to go with his 20 the day before, and allowed zero goals.
For the Eagles, it's their fifth Frozen Four trip in the last seven years, which is obviously fantastic. And after a performance like this against the top offensive team in the country this season, it's tough to see Minnesota, or anyone else, being able to go toe-to-toe with them in two weeks' time.
1. Parker Milner, Boston College goaltender
Again, Milner made a couple of pretty nice saves here and there, and certainly Duluth poured the pressure on in the third period with 18 shots. But the majority of those, as with the previous 15, came as a result of his getting alarmingly square to everything. The number of good scoring chances that hit him right in the chest was actually shocking, and I've seen the kid play more than a dozen times this season. He simply brought his A-plus game tonight, as did the rest of his team.
2. Travis Boyd, Minnesota forward
It's pretty much impossible to choose from the guys on the Minnesota third line, who were positively massive in the Gophers' 5-2 win over hated North Dakota. Each of Boyd, Nate Condon and Taylor Matson had a goal and an assist, but I went with Boyd because his goal, which put the game out of reach for the Gophers at 4-1 late in the second period, was his first of the year. That's showing up when it's needed.
3. Patrick Wey, Boston College defenseman
He scored the fluke goal early in the third to make any comeback attempt fruitless, as well as an assist on Gaudreau's salt-in-the-wounds fourth goal, plus a big-time defensive game that helped to make Milner's second consecutive shutout this weekend possible. What a juggernaut in all parts of the ice this Boston College squad is.