EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

February 15, 2013

Top spot showdown: Defending national champions Boston College play at Merrimack tonight with first place at stake

Defending national champions Boston College play at Merrimack tonight with first place at stake

By Mike McMahon

---- — When you own enough national championship rings to fill up one hand and also have the most wins of any coach in the history of NCAA Div. 1 hockey, it’s almost your right to be able to walk into any hockey rink in the country with a just dash of ego and maybe an over-inflated swagger.

But you won’t find that with Boston College head coach Jerry York.

Despite all the trophies — the most recent of which being BC’s fourth straight Beanpot title on Monday — York remains regarded as one of the nicest in a game full of nice guys.

“It’s hard for people to believe this, because he’s been around so long and he’s been so successful and he’s won so many games, but I still don’t think that he gets the credit he deserves,” said York’s biggest rival, Boston University head coach Jack Parker. “(Boston College) is a place where they’ve had two other coaches that have won 500 games, so this place has had a lot of good hockey for a long time, and he’s the best they’ve ever had. I don’t think Jerry’s ever gotten the credit he deserves.”

His resume is so glowing, if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was fake. Five national titles. Nine Hockey East championships, including five of the last six. 930 wins. Seven Beanpot titles and 12 NCAA tournament appearances.

In the last 13 years, York’s BC teams have appeared in 10 Frozen Fours and have played for eight national titles, winning four. Since 1998, his Eagle teams are a jaw-dropping 65-16 in the postseason, winning 80 percent of their games.

Tonight, York brings his defending national champs into Merrimack College’s Lawler Arena at 7:30. With the Warriors’ recent surge up the Hockey East standings, the winner will be alone in first place on Saturday morning.

But Lawler Arena hasn’t been the friendliest of confines for the Eagles. In the last three seasons, BC has just one win in North Andover, and that took some late-game heroics from Paul Carey in a 2-1 win last season. The year before that, Merrimack beat the Eagles twice at home, while ironically enough, BC was the defending national champions, as they are now. In 2009, BC lost 5-3 to the Warriors in North Andover.

Not that the Eagles has been the only team to have their share of struggles at Lawler — Merrimack is 42-14-8 there in the last four seasons.

“They obviously play very well at home,” York said. “I think you’ll find that throughout the country too, that most teams play better at home. But, they have a style that’s very tough to play against. We know that from earlier this year (Merrimack lead the Eagles 3-0 before falling 4-3 at Conte Forum in November). You really need to be ready to play a tough game when you play Merrimack. You know that they’re going to come after you and really battle hard. Lately, they have been getting some great play from their goaltender, (Sam) Marotta, and Mike Collins has been one of the best players there is, so we need to be ready.”

This seems to be the time of year York’s teams catch fire. Around the Chestnut Hill campus, it’s affectionately referred to as “trophy season.”

Already 3-0 this month after a dismal January (the Eagles went 2-4-1), BC has gone 48-4-3 since February 1 over the last four seasons. Last year, the Eagles didn’t lose a game after Jan. 21, winning 19 straight games to close out another banner year.

“We’re in a team sport and our goal, as a team, is always to win trophies,” York said. “Boston College has given us all the resources we need to really go after and chase a lot of trophies. We’ve been able to bring our game to a new level and have been fortunate enough to do so at times that have allowed us to win some of those. I think our experience has helped, too. You look back at those teams and everything really started with the Beanpot. If we’re able to win that trophy, that’s really set us in motion.”

Tonight will be a battle of the old guard against what many around Merrimack’s campus hope is a rising star. The Warriors are just two years removed from their first NCAA tournament appearance since joining Hockey East. That same season, 2010-11, they lost to the Eagles in the Hockey East championship game at TD Garden.

“That was the year I think you really could tell that they were on the rise,” York said. “Mark’s (Dennehy) has done a great job with that program. They’ve been able to get players like Joe Cannata, who was a great player for them, and this year the way Marotta has played, he’s stepped right into those shoes.”

Merrimack may be on the rise, but Boston College is the model.

Collins, Heywood among Hobey Baker nominees

Merrimack juniors Mike Collins and Jordan Heywood have been named nominees for the 2013 Hobey Baker Memorial Award. The Hobey Baker is the most prestigious award for College hockey players.

Collins has been the Warriors best offensive threat all season long, helping Merrimack be ranked No. 19 in the country and placing second in the Hockey East. The Hockey East Player of the Month for January currently ranks first in Hockey East in scoring in Conference games as he has 29 points, 10 goals and 19 assists, in 19 Conference games. Collins also ranks second in the Hockey East in total points with 34 points through 28 games for the Warriors while leading the team in goals, assists and total points.

Heywood, who is also a Humanitarian Award nominee, has led the Warriors defense to a second ranking in the Hockey east for scoring defense, allowing 2.39 goals per game. Heywood ranks second on the team in multiple categories including points (15), assists (10), goals (5), plus/minus rating (+8) game-winning goals (2) and shots on goal (73). He leads all Merrimack defenseman in each category as well..

Debunking a Lawler Arena myth Ask just about anyone in Hockey East, and they'll tell you that Merrimack's rink -- the actual ice surface -- is one of the smallest they have ever played on. According to Merrimack's resident rink doctor, Adam Busalacchi, that's simply not true. He says that Lawler's ice is NHL regulation size at 200 feet x 85 feet and the corners, which I'll admit have always looked tighter to me, are set on a standard 28-degree radius. The neutral zone does appear to be a tad tighter, but that's because Merrimack uses 64-foot attacking zones (teams have the option to use 60-foot zones), meaning Lawler's neutral zone could be as much as eight feet shorter than other rinks. It's smaller in comparison to some other rinks around the league. Boston College (200 x 87), Boston University (200 x 97), New Hampshire (200 x 100), Northeastern (200 x 90) and Vermont (200 x 90) all have wider-than-normal surfaces. Maine, Lowell and Providence all have standard NHL sheets, along with Merrimack.