Alongside the sweat-soaked jerseys and beat-up shin pads that
hung in the Albany, N.Y., last Thursday night, a pair of
pristine white gloves were taped to the wall. "Those will go to
our trainer, Bert Lenz, after we win the title," Boston College
senior goalie Scott Clemmensen said with a smile two nights
before the NCAA championship game. "Someone has to escort that
first-place trophy Stanley Cup-style around the country, right?"
The Eagles' eight seniors had been thinking about that since they
came to BC. In the past three years, in fact, Boston College had
lost the Frozen Four title game twice, and the Eagles hadn't won
a national championship in any sport since their hockey team's
1949 victory. BC, which finished the regular season 29-8-2 and
ranked second in the nation, seemed primed to break that drought
after a 4-2 victory in Thursday's semifinal against Michigan, to
whom it had fallen in overtime in the '98 championship game.
After nearly 56 minutes in Saturday's final against speedy,
offensive-minded North Dakota, the Eagles had a 2-0 lead and
seemed to have the title in hand. But with 4:11 to play, the
Fighting Sioux, who defeated BC in last season's championship
match, pulled goaltender Karl Goehring to gain a 6-on-4
advantage that paid off with a quick goal. Then with only 36
seconds left in regulation, North Dakota scored again to send
the game into overtime. Just when Boston College's recent
history of near misses appeared about to repeat itself, a trio
of Eagles underclassmen, sophomore Krys Kolanos and freshmen
Tony Voce and Chuck Kobasew, combined for the winning goal 4:43
While BC's sophomore and freshman standouts shone in Albany,
this season's happy ending belonged to the Eagles' veterans,
especially Clemmensen, whose 356 career saves in tournament play
is an NCAA record, and senior captain Brian Gionta, whose 123
career goals, including a nation-leading 33 this season, made
him Boston College's most prolific goal scorer. Gionta, a 5'7",
170-pound whirling dervish who was drafted by the New Jersey
Devils in the third round in 1998 and is often compared with the
New York Rangers' rambunctious and talented Theo Fleury, spent
most of last weekend being dogged by opposing defensemen, who
limited him to only one assist in the two games.
With opponents focusing on Gionta's line, BC's young forwards
came to the fore, most notably Kobasew, the second-line right
wing and Hockey East Rookie of the Year. With goals in both
Frozen Four games, Kobasew had the inside track as tournament
MVP even before he assisted on Kolanos's title-winner.
"Our heads were hanging as we walked into the locker room after
the third period," said Kolanos after his decisive goal. "But
then Clem stood in the middle of the room and talked about what
this game meant. When we skated out, there was no question that
we were going to win."
Behind Boston College's deep and talented front line was
Clemmensen (he was also drafted by the Devils, in the eighth
round in 1997), whom senior defenseman Bobby Allen calls the
Eagles' glue. While the most-talked-about goalie last weekend was
Michigan State's Hobey Baker Award winner, Ryan Miller, the 6'2",
200-pound Clemmensen made observers wonder why he was so often
overlooked this season. Leaving the acrobatics to smaller, more
agile netminders, he fended off 66 shots in the two-game Frozen
Clemmensen's Urbandale, Iowa, high school team, which had to draw
on seven area schools to scrounge up enough players to field a
squad, is only one of the unlikely recruiting sources tapped by
Boston College coach Jerry York. Whereas York's mentor, John
(Snooks) Kelley, who guided the Eagles from 1932 through '42 and
from '46 through '72, looked for players within a stick's length
of BC's campus, York has a more far-reaching vision. Since taking
over the Eagles in June '94, York has followed a recruiting trail
that passes through places ranging from Niskayuna, N.Y. (hometown
of senior Mike Lephart, who scored the second goal in Saturday's
win), to Osoyoos, B.C. (Kobasew's hometown). Already, Patrick
Eaves of Faribault, Minn., the 16-year-old brother of freshman
center Ben Eaves, has orally committed to BC for fall 2002. Also,
17-year-old Stephen Gionta from Rochester, N.Y., who at 5'7" and
180 pounds is a brawnier version of his brother, has expressed
interest in following Brian to Boston. Patrick and Stephen were
members of the U.S. 2000 under-18 select team.
"We've got some real nice players coming back next year," said
York, who was surrounded by a maroon-clad sea of Boston College
fans for at least an hour after the final game. "It makes saying
goodbye to the great ones a little easier."
During the victory lap Gionta raised the championship trophy
above his head while Clemmensen snapped pictures with a
disposable camera. Kobasew and most of the younger Eagles hung
back and grinned. After having scored twice in the semifinals,
Eaves said on Thursday of Boston College's veterans, "We know
Saturday's game is their last shot at a championship. Then again,
it could be our only shot."
Don't bet on it. With freshmen like Eaves, chances are that BC
hasn't gotten its hands on the trophy for the last time.
COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER Eaves (here getting collared in the final) had two goals in the semis.
"When we skated out," said Kolanos, "there was no question we were
going to win."