BOSTON – For the first time in Hockey East history, the league’s tournament champion is a three-peat winner. The No. 1 Boston College Eagles led from start to finish as they captured their 15th straight victory with a 4-1 win over the No. 11 Maine Black Bears on Saturday at the TD Garden.
With the win, the Eagles captured their league-record 11th tournament title and set a new tournament record with 12 straight victories, dating back to a stretch from 1998-2000.
“I’m very excited,” said Eagles head coach Jerry York. “The Lamoriello Cup is something we look towards here and the Garden as a major goal for us…Every time Maine had that surge on a sure-fire goal, [junior goaltender Parker Milner] would make a save on it.”
The Hockey East Tournament’s top seed has now won the tournament on 14 instances, including two in a row with the Eagles in that spot. Top seeds now have a 14-6 record in title game play.
BC also wraps up the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, which begins next week. The Eagles will likely be placed a mere hour from home in the Northeast Regional at Worcester’s DCU Center, but the answer will not be known until Sunday’s noontime Selection Show live on ESPNU.
“I think the four teams that will qualify for the tournament from our league – BU, Lowell, ourselves, and Maine – all have a chance to do some real damage and make a run at the national crown,” York concluded. “I really feel that way because our league is so good this year.”
The first period featured “The Johnny Gaudreau Show” for the Eagles as he scored their first two goals in just over seven and a half minutes. Over the first 20 minutes, the Eagles out-shot Maine by a 20-11 count.
For his efforts, the Carneys Point, N.J. native was honored with the Bill Flynn Most Valuable Player Award. He was the fifth-ever freshman to capture the honor and the fourth from BC. A rookie had not been crowned with the honor since Boston University goaltender Kieran Millan took it home following a 1-0 win over UMass-Lowell in 2009.
“Johnny’s skills are incredible,” said Eagles senior captain Tommy Cross, who will continue his career with the Boston Bruins organization following this season. “Even his own teammates admire what he can do in practice and on the ice…The biggest thing is that he is a team-first guy.”
The combined 31 shots on goal is now the second-highest total between both teams in conference title game history, trailing only the 2007 match between BC and New Hampshire – a 5-2 Eagles victory.
On the first marker, junior Patch Alber stripped the puck off a Maine defender’s stick and found Gaudreau between the circles for the turnaround shot that beat sophomore goaltender Dan Sullivan for his 18th of the season.
His second of the game came on the power play at the 7:31 mark of the opening stanza as he buried the rebound on the backhand from the right-hand circle.
“[The Beanpot and Hockey East MVP awards were nice], but it is more important that we won the big trophy with the team,” Gaudreau said. “We have had a lot of success from every single player on the team. We are so close in the locker room. We’ve been a close team together and that has helped up along the way.”
The pace of play dropped a bit in the second period, but the Black Bears were able to cut their deficit to 2-1 at the 7:37 mark as senior Brian Flynn lifted the backhander over Milner’s blocker for his 18th goal of the year. Junior Joey Diamond was credited with the assist off his nifty pass to the Lynnfield, Mass. native.
BC ensured its lead with an even-strength goal at 18:39 as junior Pat Mullane beat Sullivan with the one-timer from the slot, capping an up-ice rush off Gaudreau’s lead.
Despite solid chances, the teams were scoreless for the majority of the third period until junior Barry Almeida iced the Eagles’ sixth title in seven years, taking the headman feed from junior Steven Whitney and putting the puck into an open net with 1:01 remaining in the contest.
The Eagles held a 43-42 shots advantage in the game overall, despite a 17-9 disadvantage in the third period. A total of 85 shots on goal in regulation time set a new Championship record, which was previously set by the Eagles and rival BU in 1986.
Milner stopped a career-high 41 shots in the win, including 17 in the final period, to improve to 25-5-0 this year. Despite his tenth loss, Sullivan was tremendous with 39 saves to his credit.
In what is by far the most frequent championship pairing in Hockey East history, BC now holds a 5-2 advantage over Maine as well as an 8-5 edge in all tournament rounds.
The Black Bears were hurt by the loss of senior and leading scorer Spencer Abbott, who was injured on an elbow to the head during Friday’s semifinal with BU.
“I thought Maine played well…For [Abbott] not to play tonight, they responded very, very well. It was certainly a blow to their championship aspirations to lose their best player and certainly one of the best in the country.”
Heading into the national tournament, Maine carries a 23-13-3 record overall and could also very well seed third in the Worcester regional where they would join the Eagles.
With that possibility in mind, Maine head coach Tim Whitehead had high praise for York and the team.
“It’s hard to say,” he said when asked about what it would take to beat BC. “They’re a very strong team at all three positions…With Johnny Gaudreau getting the quick ones likes that, it’s a tough team to come back against. I think typically you want to get the first one—that usually helps.”
2012 Hockey East All-Tournament Team
G: Parker Milner, Boston College
D: Will O’Neill, Maine
D: Brian Dumoulin, Boston College
F: Alex Chiasson, Boston University
F: Joey Diamond, Maine
F: Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College (MVP)