WORCESTER, Mass. -- Two teams sporting maroon and gold. Only one, though, will be going to Tampa Bay. If the Boston College Eagles want to win 17 straight and punch their ticket to the Frozen Four, they'll have to go through a team that looks like a mirror image, the defending national champion Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs.
The 5th-ranked Bulldogs (25-9-6) won the right to face the nation's unanimous No. 1 team after dispatching the Maine Black Bears on Saturday with a gutsy 5-2 come-from behind victory.
"We were really hoping to get an opportunity to play BC again. The [Eagles are] such a great team, and we have so much respect for them, coming out of our conference," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "I think it'll be a great hockey game. You've got two strong teams that have a lot of confidence, and they've earned that confidence. You never know how it's going turn, but it should be a tremendous battle."
Asked prior to the Minnesota-Duluth game if he had any preference as to which team he'd rather see in Sunday's Northeast Regional finals, BC coach Jerry York said only that he was disappointed in the 8 p.m. start time.
"Whoever shows up, we play," said York. "I have no preference whether it's Maine or Duluth. Absolutely none."
Historically, Boston College (30-10-1) holds a 10-4-1 edge over the Bulldogs, but the two teams haven't met since Oct 10, 2003 (a 2-2 overtime tie at the Icebreaker Invitational in East Lansing, Mich.). However, UMD coach Scott Sandelin discovered a bonus while scouting Maine -- he had video of last week's Hockey East championship game between Boston College and the Black Bears (won by the Eagles, 4-1).
"They were good. They've got great depth. They've got some big-skill players. I think they smother you. They really play the game up and down the rink," said Sandelin. "They've got a solid D corps, and their goalie [Parker Milner] is playing extremely well. So we've got to find a way to solve him.
"Sometimes when you play teams like that, it raises your level of play," said the UMD coach. "There's no question that they've got a lot of depth, and they're rolling right now. They've got a lot of confidence."
The Bulldogs, however, may well take a page out of the game plan that Air Force used to keep within striking distance of the Eagles.
"There was no way we were going to stop Boston College's speed," said Air Force coach Frank Serratore, after his squad was bounced by the Eagles 2-0 in the first semifinal match. "So we just wanted to push it into areas and try to contain it as best we could. We pushed it to the outside, we had numbers back. We didn't give them an outnumbered rush the entire game.
"Our game plan was to get to that third period with the score close, and we were right where we want to be," he said. We put ourselves in a position to (win), but the bottom line is we couldn't score. We didn't find a way to score a goal."
The task is likely to be just as difficult for Minnesota-Duluth. During Boston College's current 16-game win streak, as Sandelin noted, junior goaltender Parker Milner has been absolutely ironclad. Coming into Saturday night's game, his goals-against average in the team's last 15 wins was a minuscule 1.25, and his save percentage was a sparkling .954. On Saturday, those numbers got even better, as Milner shut out an Air Force team that hadn't been whitewashed all season.
"What was really key was we really shut them down defensively," said Milner. "All the shots they had were from outside the dots, and I think it was a great team effort there in the last 5 (minutes)."
Bulldogs goaltender Kenny Reiter also had a big game on Saturday, shutting the door on the Black Bears after allowing a second-period breakaway goal by Matt Mangene as the UMD defenders fell asleep.
"He's had a solid year for us, and you need that type of goaltending at this time of year," said Sandelin of his goaltender. "You need big saves, you need the timely saves. Hopefully, he can provide us with that tomorrow too."
One major concern for the Bulldogs is the resurgence of BC forward Chris Kreider, who has a knack for playing his best games on the big stage. His two goals were the difference in BC's 2-0 win over Air Force.
"He's an outstanding athlete. He rises to the level of competition," said York. "He's had a tough stretch here as far as points in the past 10 games, but his play has been pretty good.
"But he's had a history of having really good tournaments, so we hope it continues."
Another concern for the Bulldogs is their woeful penalty kill (77.7 percent), which is ranked outside the nation's Top 50 (by comparison, BC is ranked third, with a 87.6 percent efficiency). On the plus side, the Bulldogs tightened up defensively against the Black Bears, allowing only three shots on goal in the third period after grabbing the lead.
Two of UMD's stars on Saturday, Jake Hendrickson and Caleb Herbert, acknowledged that they don't want to find themselves in a hole early against the high-flying Eagles.
"We were in this situation last year with Yale, and I think we need to come out hard in the first period," said Hendrickson.
"I think we are going to have to put stress on getting a better start coming out of the gates," said Herbert "I think that'd help us for the full 60 minutes. That'd be a good thing to focus on."
When asked what it would take to beat the Eagles, Air Force captain Paul Weisgarber replied: "A bounce here or there."
"You get into these NCAA games, and every team is so good, and so close in ability, that it come down to that one or two bounces," said Weisgarber.
His teammate, junior forward John Kruse, agreed. "They have a fast team and lots of skill up front," said Kruse. "To get those grinder goals off the bounces up front would really help a team."
Minnesota-Duluth proved Saturday night that it had plenty of grit, coming back against Maine, and was willing to work for those "grinder goals." Whether the Bulldogs get any benevolent "bounces" against the Eagles on Sunday remains to be seen.