This will be the teams’ fourth meeting of the year, with the Eagles sweeping the season series 3-0. Last time out on Feb. 26, though, the Minutemen came the close to beating the Eagles, falling 2-1 in overtime.
BC, with a league-high 16 wins, enters the tournament on the heels of one of its strongest regular-season finishes. The Eagles were just one point shy of leapfrogging UNH for the Hockey East regular-season title before tying the Wildcats on Friday night. BC finished with a 21-10-3 overall record and a 16-8-3 conference mark.
The Eagles are a triple threat offensively, defensively and between the pipes, giving up the fewest goals in Hockey East and possessing a healthy spread of scoring contributors.
Eagles head coach Jerry York is particularly impressed with the big play of his freshman class and plans to stick with a defensive-minded game plan. After all, consistency on the blue line has generated much of BC’s success.“We have four freshman defensemen who will play this weekend and one sophomore,” York said. “We can hang our hat on defense. Our offense has been good, but our D has been able to carry us down the stretch. We still have a long way to go before we can get to the [TD] Garden, but our strong defensive play is going to carry us.”
Of course, a solid defensive team wouldn’t be complete without reliable goaltending. This is an area in which BC has improved tremendously, straying away from its one-goaltender-deep reputation of previous years and capitalizing on the successes of veteran John Muse and freshman Parker Milner.
Muse picked up his 55th career win in a 3-2 victory over UNH on March 6 to finish with a 12-8-2 overall record, a 2.40 GAA and .910 save percentage. It has been the emerging play of Milner, however, that has provided BC with the depth it has lacked in previous years. Prior to Friday’s tie against UNH, Milner was 4-0-0 in his last four starts with a 0.95 GAA.The dynamic play of the Joe Whitney-Brian Gibbons-Cam Atkinson line is BC’s most dangerous offensive weapon. Not only are they the team’s top three scorers, but they have accounted for over one-third of the team’s total goals (126) with a combined 49 goals, 65 assists and 114 points.
BC enters Friday night’s matchup unbeaten in its last five games (4-0-1) dating back to Feb. 19.
UMass was able to clinch its 13th playoff appearance with a 4-3 win against Maine on March 6. The Minutemen are looking to improve upon last year’s run when they were eliminated by Northeastern in first-round action. Their best tournament finish came in 2004 when they lost to Maine 2-1 (in three overtimes) in the championship game.
The Minutemen finished this season with an overall record of 18-16-0 (13-14-0 in conference play).
Though UMass head coach Don Cahoon acknowledges his team has had a bit of a roller-coaster season, the Minutemen have pulled it together when it counts. The combination of senior leadership — particularly from Justin Braun — and heightened defense has served as a turning point.
“Justin is one of the best defensemen in college hockey,” Cahoon said. “He’s been remarkably consistent, and he’s added the offensive dimension to his game. I truly believe that he is the best defensive defenseman in this league.”
UMass will continue to rely on Braun’s dominant play. In UMass’ final series against Maine, he racked up four of the team’s nine goals, earning him Hockey East and National Player of the Week honors.
Minutemen netminder Paul Dainton will also need to continue to bring his A-game and build on his overall 15-13-0 record, 2.93 GAA and .906 save percentage.
Although BC has had its way with UMass this season, Cahoon remains confident that his squad can go toe-to-toe with the Eagles on Friday night. If his offensive providers can find their game, they’ll be able to give BC a run for its money.
“We’ve got the likes of Will Ortiz — who has had a good year for us — and I’m hoping that Michael Lecomte gets to the top of his game, because he can give us some offensive play,” Cahoon said. “We need to compete, play smart and play with a passion.”