East Regional features coaching legends
WORCESTER, Mass. -- The similarities are striking.
Last weekend in this building a lot of talk centered on the lineup of top coaches who brought their teams here for the NCAA men's basketball tournament.
Jim Boeheim. Jim Calhoun. Tom Izzo. It was a veritable who's who of college basketball coaches walking the hallways of the DCU Center.
|ESPNU Hits The Ice|
ESPNU, a multi-media college sports initiative including a new 24-hour television network, will be your home for college hockey all the way to the Frozen Four.
Here's Friday's live regional schedule on ESPNU:
BC vs. Mercyhurst, 4:30 p.m.
Michigan vs. Wisconsin, 8:30 p.m.
Complete ESPNU regional schedule
BU's Parker is at or near the top of many college hockey coaching records, including most NCAA Tournament wins (25) and most Frozen Four appearances (12). His 715 all-time wins is the most by a Division I coach at one institution, and he trails BC's York by just seven wins for the top spot on the active D-I wins list.
But each will have to win first-round games for the two friendly Boston rivals to face each other in Saturday's regional final (8 ET, ESPNU).
Boston College (25-6-7), the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, would appear to have the easier road as the Eagles face the Lakers, the East's No. 4 seed and No. 16 overall. Adding to the mismatch on paper is that Mercyhurst is winless in its two previous NCAA Tournaments at the Division I level, and BC has never lost an NCAA opener under York (6-0).
The BC coach, who considers himself an avid sports fan, is very aware of the upsets that took place here just a week ago. Even so, York saw a trip to Worcester as good news for his Eagles because this building is where BC started its 2001 run to the national championship.
The other good news this week for BC is that the injury list got significantly shorter now that Patrick Eaves (bruised lung) and Stephen Gionta (separated left shoulder) have been cleared to play. Defenseman Peter Harrold is still out with mono, but the return of Eaves and Gionta means York will have to do less line juggling than was necessary during last weekend's Hockey East tournament.
"It's good to get them back in the lineup because it will allow us to play four lines and spread out our talent up front a little more," York said. "But we've established a real good defensive work ethic this season and are comfortable playing in 1-0 and 2-1 games. We expect this weekend to be the same with low-scoring games and our defense will be our catalyst."
In somewhat of surprise, York tabbed freshman goaltender Cory Schneider (12-0-4, 1.51 GAA, .933 save percentage) as the starter in the postseason over senior Matti Kaltiainen, in part because Schneider has yet to lose a college game.
Equally surprising is that the Lakers (18-15-4) even made it to the NCAA Tournament. Early in February, Mercyhurst was sitting at 8-14-4 before winning 10 of its last 11 — including its current eight game win streak.
The Lakers' third NCAA trip in the last five years got off to a bad start when the team bus broke down last night on the New York Thruway near Utica. A second bus arrived an hour later, and then an early spring snowstorm slowed Mercyhurst down the rest of the way and turned an eight-hour trip from Erie, Pa., into a 12-hour ordeal — the Lakers arrived at their hotel just after 2 a.m. Thursday morning.
But Rick Gotkin's club, which won the Atlantic Hockey championship by posting a 3-2 overtime win at Quinnipiac, isn't complaining about the long trip or its underdog role.
"The bottom line is that we're going to have to play pretty close to perfect to have a chance," said Gotkin, who has 316 wins and is the only coach to take a team to the NCAA Tournament at the Division I, II and III levels — all at Mercyhurst. "But the beauty of the postseason and these one-game scenarios, as we've seen from the basketball tournament, is that anything can happen.
"There's no doubt that (BC) will be ready and we'll have our hands full. But I'm not concerned about the size of the crowd, the bands or anything else. Hopefully we'll be able to show we belong at this level."
To that end, Mercyhurst, which doesn't have a pep band, has rented one from a local high school in nearby Shrewsbury, Mass., to play during tomorrow's game. The school brought along some old hockey jerseys for the band to wear, so most of the fans in attendance won't know the difference.
Whether the Lakers hockey team can play like it belongs against the nation's No. 2 ranked team is a completely different matter. But that's exactly what the Lakers did in their first-ever Division I NCAA game when they nearly upset Michigan (a 4-3 loss) in the 2001 West Regional.
Despite the David vs. Goliath nature of the BC-Mercyhurst matchup, York said his team had a good week of preparation and isn't looking past the Lakers to a Saturday night matchup against North Dakota or Boston University.
"Our players may be young in age but they're mature enough to know that if Bucknell can advance over Kansas and Vermont can upset Syracuse ... our kids read the paper, they understand," York said. "If they beat us, they're going to beat a team that's prepared to play Mercyhurst."
Rick Gotkin is hoping his Lakers and his rented high-school band can follow the lead of Vermont basketball and steal the show.
David Albright is a senior editor at ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com.
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