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COLUMN: Different Feeling, Same Goal

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The feeling this year was different. The goal, though, remains the same.

As the Boston College men’s hockey team sat in its locker room to await the announcement of the 2013 NCAA Tournament brackets, the television in front of them showed ESPN’s replay of last year’s national championship game. Every player sat there as the final seconds ticked away and head coach Jerry York received the ultimate trophy minutes later. Their eyes stayed glued to the television, and there wasn’t much conversation between them.

Nothing needed to be said. The focus was clear—they all want to get their hands on that trophy again.

But the table below the television—the one which last year was stacked with four trophies from the season—featured the Beanpot trophy by itself, the only one the Eagles won this year.

Less than 48 hours removed from a semifinal loss to Boston University in the Hockey East Tournament, BC was forced to wait around all Saturday and Sunday before they found out their fate for this year’s NCAA tournament. Last year, the team all but knew it would be the No. 1 overall seed, having won the Hockey East Tournament and clearly being the most dominant team in the country with a 15-game winning streak.

This year, there was more uncertainty. The Eagles knew they had secured a spot in the 16-team field, but there were questions about where BC would play and what seed they would get.

“It was difficult sitting around all weekend wondering, ‘Are we in Toledo? Are we in Grand Rapids? Or Providence?’” said captain Pat Mullane.

BC didn’t have to wait long into the selection show to find out where it would be going, as the East regional in Providence was announced first. When the Eagles showed up on the screen as the No. 2 seed in that portion of the bracket, there was a collective sigh of relief, followed by applause.

Personally, York was happy being placed in Providence. Since he had eye surgery last Monday for another detached retina, York cannot fly. Had the Eagles been placed in Toledo or Grand Rapids, he would have been in for a long drive. Now, he’ll get to ride the team bus down to the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, a mere hour away from Chestnut Hill.
The players were relieved to be staying local as well, instead of having to travel west for the regional.

“For us, it’s comforting knowing that our friends and families will be able to support us, and the Superfans will be there for us,” Mullane said. “I think everyone’s excited we’re staying east.”

BC will face off against Union College for the first time ever on Saturday at 9:00 p.m., and if it wins, would play the winner of No. 1 Quinnipiac and No. 4 Canisius on Sunday.

Following the announcement of the rest of the regionals, York quickly turned his eyes towards Union, the only game he’ll have his team think about all week.

“We’re just focused on Union,” York said. “It’ll be a short tournament and so the assistant coaches will break down the other two teams, but we won’t talk about them to our players. Sunday morning, if we happen to be successful, we’ll wake up Easter morning and prepare for the next game. But all our practices all week will be based on Union.

“As we have in the past, we’ll approach this as a mini-tournament. You go to Providence, and there are four teams there. There are two mini-tournaments to win the national title.”

While BC will look at how Union plays and the strengths and weaknesses of the Dutchmen, York said he’ll be more focused on how his team can improve each day this week.

“We played BU and lost, but we’ll learn from it, coach them up this week, and get ready for Union,” York said. “We’ll look at tape, but we’ll do more work on ourselves.”

One clear adjustment that York has already decided on is moving sophomore Danny Linell back up to forward, after playing on the third defensive line for the last few weeks. Linell will join the second line with Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold, while Destry Straight will move to center the fourth line, joining Brendan Silk and Cam Spiro.

The Eagles will likely play with just five defensemen, a move that York feels more confident about given the strong return of senior Patch Alber.

Just a year ago, BC didn’t have very many question marks heading into the postseason, but its game against BU on Friday night exposed some areas that the team will need to work on in order to make a run in the tournament. One of the biggest areas of work the Eagles will focus on this week is solidifying the penalty kill, but more importantly staying out of the penalty box in the first place.

Despite the question marks and the difference between the 2012 and 2013 teams, York knows that mentally, the two teams are after the same thing.

“Our objectives are the same and we go about it the exact same, but there are a lot of different faces,” York said. “This is a team that has shown some good improvement as the year has gone on. We feel very confident going [to Providence], but we understand Union has won the ECAC, they were a Frozen Four team last year. We understand how good [Union] is.”

Mullane said he wants to put everything from the Hockey East Tournament and the regular season behind him, and begin the NCAA Tournament as a completely new season.

“We break it down as a small tournament: you take one game at a time, but it’s a two-game tournament,” Mullane said. “You win two games and you’re in the Frozen Four, and then you have another two-game tournament. Everything that happened over the season, whether it’s goals, assists, or losses, whatever happened, you put that behind you and start fresh, which is nice. That’s pretty positive for a lot of our guys, knowing we lost on Friday, but hey, we have a new season ahead of us and that’s how we’ll approach practice this week.”

While the table in the locker room was more barren this time around, there is only one trophy left to win, and it’s the one that means the most.

“Obviously we would have liked to have the Hockey East [championship], but if you have your choice between the Hockey East trophy and the national championship trophy, you’re going to take the NCAA any day,” Mullane said. “I think guys realize that, and guys are excited that even though we lost, we’re still alive and have a chance to win the national championship.”

That same sentiment was echoed by York, who has been through enough NCAA Tournaments as a coach (14 with BC) to know that there is still the ultimate prize waiting for whatever team wants it and works for it the hardest.

“We had our chances in the game with BU to score early, and we didn’t capitalize,” York said. “We learn from it, we move on. It’s one trophy we don’t get, but [the national championship trophy] is the shiniest of all the trophies. This has all our attention. It’s the 16 best teams, for the most part, in college hockey.”

Four more wins, and the table in the locker room won’t looks so empty anymore. The Eagles would come home from Pittsburgh with the only trophy that means anything at the end of the year.

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