Commentary

Last-minute adjustments pay off big for Muse, BC

Originally Published: April 7, 2008
By David Albright | ESPN.com

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Adjustments.

[+] EnlargeJohn Muse
Icon SMIJohn Muse couldn't have planned his freshman year at BC any better.

Sometimes, it's all about the little ones -- like the kind you make when things aren't going well.

And sometimes it's all about the big ones -- like the life-altering kind you make when you have to move nearly a thousand miles on a moment's notice.

John Muse has experienced both kinds of adjustments this year.

And the way the freshman goaltender has dealt with everything thrown at him this season is a big reason why Boston College (23-11-8) has advanced to its third consecutive Frozen Four. The Eagles will face North Dakota (28-10-4) in the national semifinals Thursday (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET) in Denver.

After graduating from Noble and Greenough School in suburban Boston, Muse planned on spending the 2007-08 season in junior hockey with the Indiana Ice of the USHL. But when Cory Schneider signed with the Vancouver Canucks organization in early July, BC coach Jerry York told Muse he had a scholarship and a spot on the Eagles' roster.

Goodbye six-hour bus rides through corn country and hello Hockey East.

Muse got a quick introduction to the college game when he started BC's opener against Michigan in the IceBreaker tournament on Oct. 12. The Eagles lost to the Wolverines 4-3 in overtime, but followed it up with a 4-1 win over RPI the next night.

"It was kind of ironic because growing up, I was always a Michigan fan," Muse said. "As much as [the first game] wasn't the outcome we were looking for, it was still huge for giving me experience, and I guess it was a dream come true.

BC's freshman factor

LW Joe Whitney
10 goals, 40 assists, 50 points
Leads nation with 40 assists

C Brian Gibbons
13-18-31
Leads team with +27 rating

D Nick Petrecki
5-7-12
Leads team with 94 PIM

G John Muse
23-11-8, 2.26 GAA, .920 save pct.
Leads nation in minutes played with 2605:05

"I didn't think I had my best game, but I think the next night really showed I could play at that level. I think I gave my team confidence, as well as giving myself confidence."

And he hasn't looked back. Neither has York.

Not only did York have to replace Schneider and all-everything senior Brian Boyle, he's also had to constantly shuffle a lineup disrupted by unforeseen issues.

It started in the Ice Breaker opener at the Xcel Energy Center. Top-six forward Brock Bradford broke his left humerus bone against Michigan and missed 17 games. He returned for four games before re-breaking the same bone in a different location on Jan. 19 against Boston University.

Defensemen Brett Motherwell and Brian O'Hanley were suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules after playing in the opening game. And on Jan. 9, freshman Ryan Hayes left the program to go play major junior with the OHL's Plymouth Whalers.

All of which means one of the only constants from Day 1 has been Muse in the crease.

"Though we lost the [Michigan] game in overtime, I thought he played very well," York said. "He showed that night that he could certainly play at this level. The most impressive thing is that he's continued that kind of development. His durability has been a big factor for us. He's fresh and he's played very well down the stretch for us and he's responded to the extra workload.

"He's really developed as a goaltender over the course of the year. I've always thought if your goalkeeper is your best player, you've got a good chance to advance in tournaments."

Since that opening weekend in St. Paul, the Eagles have played in four tournaments, winning the first three, with one outcome still pending. The Eagles won the Dodge Holiday Classic (8-2 vs. Air Force, 6-0 vs. RIT), the Beanpot (4-3 in OT vs. BU, 6-5 in OT vs. Harvard), the Hockey East championship (5-4 in 3 OT vs. UNH, 4-0 vs. UVM) and are now 2-0 in NCAA play with wins over Minnesota (5-2) and Miami (4-3 in OT).

[+] EnlargeJerry York
Icon SMIJerry York's team is playing its best hockey at the right time.

That's 6-0 with four overtime wins for Muse.

What's even more remarkable is that Muse has played every minute this season. OK, there's 8:34 of empty net time that doesn't get credited to Muse, but he leads the nation in minutes played with 2605:05.

He's ranked 19th nationally both in goals against average (2.26) and save percentage (.920). He's eighth in win percentage (.643), but more important than the numbers, he's found a way to keep his team in games and come up big when it counts most.

"Muse played extremely well in both [NCAA] games, our specialty teams were outstanding and we got great leadership from a number of different players," York said of last weekend's Northeast Regional title. "It's probably not my best team that I've had to coach as far as talent, but it clearly is my best team in how well they play together as a unit.

"And sometimes it's not the best collection of players that win the national title, it's the team that plays the best at a certain time -- and hopefully we're riding that here."

BC (No. 3 nationally in scoring at 3.57 goals per game) clearly has a talented team, which includes the likes of Hobey Baker finalist Nathan Gerbe (30 goals, 30 assists) and freshman Joe Whitney (nation-best 40 assists), who scored the OT winner against Miami to advance the Eagles to the Frozen Four.

But if Muse hadn't risen to the challenge of being the No. 1 goaltender during an unexpected freshman year, then all the offensive firepower would probably have finished playing already.

Regardless of the various forces driving the team right now, it should come as no surprise that the Eagles will cross paths with the Fighting Sioux again. Thursday will mark the seventh time in the last 10 seasons that the two schools have faced each other in NCAA play.

BC holds a 4-2 edge in those games, with each school claiming a national title against the other along the way: North Dakota won 4-2 in 2000 and the Eagles won 3-2 in overtime in 2001. And the Eagles have beaten the Sioux in each of the past two years in the national semifinals.

The two national powers also battled to a scoreless draw for 40 minutes back on Oct. 19 at Conte Forum. Poor ice conditions forced the cancellation of the game after two periods, with each team being credited with a tie. Muse made 28 saves in what was his third collegiate game.

Playing Michigan and North Dakota at the very beginning of the campaign turned out to be good training for Muse on this end-of-season run.

"We all knew he had potential and great skill, but he's worked hard the whole year and his stock is on the rise," freshman defenseman Nick Petrecki said. "I think his confidence is good right now and he's been the rock back there for us. We definitely know he's back there and he's going to come up with not only the first but the second and third opportunities.

"You could say he's compensating for us at times."

And that's not a big surprise because when you're a goaltender, sometimes it's all about the adjustments.

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