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BC hopes to ride blue-line switch to St. Louis

3/22/2007

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- It's hard to argue with the postseason success of the Boston College hockey program.

Since 1998, the Eagles have won five Hockey East Tournament titles, have made nine NCAA Tournament appearances and have advanced to six Frozen Fours.

Still, the Eagles have been left wanting.

"It's time to make a statement," Boston College coach Jerry York said. "Once you get in [the NCAAs] you have to perform, you have to advance. [Hockey East has] been getting teams to the Frozen Four but we haven't won for a while. We want to bring that banner back to our league."

That hasn't happened since 2001 when BC beat North Dakota 3-2 in overtime to capture the school's second national championship.

Since then it's been all WCHA as Denver (2), Minnesota (2) and Wisconsin have accounted for the last five national titles. Hockey East has had its chances with seven teams in the Frozen Four and four second-place finishes.

BC came into this season as the No. 1 team in the nation but fell out of favor before the first month of play ended. The Eagles currently sit fourth in the national polls and come into the NCAA Tournament following a decisive 5-2 win over New Hampshire in last Saturday's Hockey East championship.

"We'd like this run to go right through to Easter," York said. "We all understand that in national tournaments that it's not the best team that wins it; it's the team that's playing the best at that time."

The good news for BC (26-11-1) is that no one in the nation is playing better right now.

The Eagles, the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Region, haven't lost since Feb. 12 and take a nation's best 10-game winning streak into their first-round game against St. Lawrence (23-13-2).

"I think at the beginning of the year our team might have been reading our press clippings a little too much," Hockey East Tournament MVP Brock Bradford said. "We were picked to win it all at the beginning of the year but we didn't play like one of the best teams.

"I think we've stopped worrying about the other opponent and started worrying about ourselves and preparing our own game. It's been a lot of fun to be on a 10-game winning streak but we're only guaranteed one game."

That one game on Saturday in Manchester, N.H., will be Brian Boyle's 156th in a BC uniform, but only his fifth as a defenseman.

When Anthony Aiello (hip) and Carl Sneep (ankle) went down with late-season injuries, York was forced to make a drastic move.

He called Boyle into the office and told him, for the good of the team, that the coaching staff had decided to move the senior captain back to the blue line -- a place he hadn't regularly roamed since skating for the South Shore Kings in metro Boston when he was 12 years old.

Boyle spent some time playing defense on BC's penalty kill, but a regular shift was something completely different.

"It's worked out so far," Boyle said. "The first couple of games I was a little bit nervous and I'm a little bit nervous for all the games. It's a different mindset. I was more tentative in the first game and tried to keep things simple. The second game maybe I jumped into the play a little bit more and tried to create some offense.

"I'm pretty offensive-minded but I've come to love playing defense."

In the four games since making the move, all in the postseason, Boyle has registered 2 goals and 6 assists.

And he has increased his ice time from an average of 23 minutes as a forward to a season-high 34 minutes in the Hockey East title game.

"It's worked really well for us because Brian has shored up our defense to the point that even if both guys are healthy, he clearly makes us a better team on defense," York said. "We're a better team now than we would have been without the injuries. We feel very fortunate as we go into the national tournament that this all happened."

"Brian is one of those rare guys that I've had a chance to coach. He could be an All-American at both positions. He's an elite, impact, dominant player at either position. Wherever he's played he's been a dominant player."
-- BC coach Jerry York

Not only is BC better but York is convinced that Boyle is playing better.

"Brian is one of those rare guys that I've had a chance to coach. He could be an All-American at both positions," York said. "He's an elite, impact, dominant player at either position. Wherever he's played he's been a dominant player."

The 2003 first-round draft pick (26th overall) of the Los Angeles Kings has played center, left wing and now defense for BC this season. Along the way he won the Hockey East scoring title, was a Hockey East first-team selection and was named to the league's all-tournament team.

Boyle doesn't know which position he'll end up playing when he turns pro next season, but he's painfully aware that his career in a BC uniform has no more than four games left. So he's spending all of his time and effort trying to keep this season going.

During the current 10-game streak, BC is getting scoring from its sophomore trio of Bradford, Nathan Gerbe and Benn Ferriero, who have scored 27 of the Eagles' 47 goals; great goaltending from Cory Schneider (1.82 goals against, .938 save percentage); great special teams (.390 on the power play and .898 on the penalty kill); and a killer instinct as seven of the 10 wins have been by three goals or more.

"We really figured out how we have to play to win in those big games and to be a consistent team," Boyle said. "And I think we found that out the night we lost to BU in the Beanpot. We realized that we played a good game and we still lost.

"If you want to bring home banners you have to play exceptionally well for 60 minutes."

Last year that realization came much later as the Eagles struggled with a 1-5-1 finish to the regular season before making the run to the national championship game, which ended with a 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in front of 17,000-plus Badgers fans in Milwaukee.

"Last year we were really struggling and were trying to find ourselves and we just kind of caught fire," York said. "The teams are similar in some respects. The goaltending is very strong. I think our work ethic is right off the charts. And our structure is pretty solid as a team.

"The one difference is that Boyle is back on defense."

And that just might be the difference between another good year for BC and a banner year.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.