BC poised to make another run at hockey title
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- To the victors go the road trips.
Boston College earned a trip to Denver for last April's Frozen Four, and thanks to a pair of wins over North Dakota (6-1) and Notre Dame (4-1), the Eagles also earned their third national title (1949, 2001) as well as the right to continue the celebration well into the summer months.
That never-ending season, which included celebratory trips to Fenway Park, the Massachusetts State House and the White House, finally came to a close this past weekend when the Eagles took the ice as they begin defense of their 2008 national championship.
"It was a fabulous offseason, very exciting," coach Jerry York said following Sunday morning's practice. "You talk about a season never ending, that's how it works. We're proud of what we did last year but now we're refocused with a brand new year and a brand new team.
"It's been, 'Let's go get another title and focus on what we're going to do as a team this year.' Each year we start and set high goals, so in that respect, this year is like most years that I've been at BC."
It starts with a preseason No. 1 national ranking, which will be tested early against No. 14 Wisconsin on Friday night at Conte Forum. The evening also will include the raising of the latest national-championship banner above the Kelley Rink ice prior to the puck drop.
Defending champ. No. 1 ranking. Under pressure?
"We like to embrace that," York said. "It's something we take pride in and we understand that need to go prove it. We just want to be a player every year on a consistent basis."
Despite the perception that the WCHA has owned college hockey over the past decade -- and it's hard to argue with six national titles over that span -- no single school has been more successful since 1998 than the school often referred to as The Heights.
In that time frame, the Eagles have won two titles, made eight Frozen Four appearances and posted 24 NCAA wins.
A great pedigree for sure, but it doesn't guarantee anything for the upcoming season.
Gone from last year's title team are 39 percent of the goal scoring and 35 percent of the points -- including the nation's most exciting and arguably best player in Nathan Gerbe (35 goals, 33 assists, 68 points).
Also gone is captain Mike Brennan, who led the defensive corps on the ice and kept the entire dressing room together through his strong leadership.
But the Eagles do get a boost with the return of senior forward Brock Bradford. The new captain is coming off a junior season in which he was limited to just five games after suffering a broken left humerus against Michigan on Oct. 12; he re-broke the same bone Jan. 19 against Boston University.
"Thankfully I can't see the scar, so I'm not reminded of it too much," Bradford said. "You obviously know what happened and you try to put it behind you so it doesn't affect how you play."
If Bradford can return to his sophomore-season form, when he registered 19 goals and 45 points, that would be a good first step toward making up for BC's lost offense.
York also will be relying on senior Benn Ferriero (17-25-42), junior Ben Smith (25-25-50) and sophomores Joe Whitney (11-40-51) and Brian Gibbons (13-22-35) to keep scoring at the same or better pace to keep the Eagles' offense flying.
Of the nine freshmen on the roster, look for forwards Barry Almeida (60 points in 56 games with USHL Omaha last year) and Paul Carey (66 points in 60 games with USHL Indiana last year), along with defensemen Tommy Cross (6-foot-3, 210 pounds) and Edwin Shea (three-time Eastern Junior Hockey League All-Star), to have the biggest impact.
"I'm really happy with the way the guys worked over the summertime," Bradford said. "They really upped the level of their work ethic. The guys came in this year in really good shape, and we're pretty poised to have a good run at it.
"It's always nice to be ranked No. 1, but we haven't done anything yet to back that up yet. There are a lot of good teams at the top, but we feel we're right in the mix. We have an opportunity to do some pretty good things this season. We accept that with being No. 1, there's a target already."
The biggest difference for BC heading into 2008-09 is that there is no question about the Eagles' goaltending situation. Last season, freshman John Muse was the great unknown. This season, thanks to a very solid debut (25-11-8, 2.20 goals against, .921 saves) and a national title to his credit, he gives BC a chance to win every night.
"I obviously have a lot more experience," said Muse, who had a setback this summer when he contracted mono and was sent home from summer classes and workouts for eight weeks. "I'm also a lot quicker and stronger than I was last year. I had a lot of confidence last year. I don't really go out and tell everybody how much confidence I have, but I have as much if not more confidence than last year. What happened last season obviously helps, but it's a new season and you can't look back."
What BC would like to avoid is the pair of slumps it endured last season. In one stretch in November, the Eagles went 0-3-3. That was followed by a post-Beanpot slide that reached 1-5-1 until a win in the final regular-season game secured BC the final home-ice slot for the Hockey East playoffs and started a nine-game winning streak that carried through the title-game win over the Fighting Irish on April 12.
"Each year brings a lot of excitement, optimism and some uncertainty," York said. "We return more core players this year. [After the '01 title,] we lost a large senior class and we also lost [to the pros] our best junior in [Brooks] Orpik, our best sophomore in [Krys] Kolanos and our best freshman in [Chuck] Kobasew. So we really started all over trying to build a foundation.
"This year, we're much more focused on getting back and winning a national championship."
Six months from now, York & Co. would be more than happy to make a side trip to the White House to see the new president if the 2009 Frozen Four in the nation's capital produces another BC national title.
Or they could just make it part of another summer road trip.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.