Tuesday, April 10, 2012
BC hockey knows how to celebrate
By Jack McCluskey
NEWTON, Mass. -- Practice makes perfect. And with three national championships in the past five years, the Boston College men’s hockey team is getting pretty good at celebrating.
More than an hour before the team was due to parade around the Chestnut Hill campus, five sightseeing buses were parked in front of Conte Forum. Workers busied themselves around them, hanging maroon and gold ribbon from the windows and taping banners listing the school’s five titles over the ads on the sides.
The two Zambonis in the convoy, one at either end, were draped with BC banners.
On O’Neill Plaza, the buses’ end destination, a jumbo screen had been set up and the Frozen Four finale was played on it. A small stage had been built, flanked on one side by neat rows of folding chairs and the other by the screen.
Nearby, the BC bookstore had set up a stand to sell championship merchandise -- which, of course, would be necessary for the autograph session after the rally.
As the crowd grew along the route and by the buses, other Eagles athletes came and went from the athletic offices seemingly unnoticed.
A basketball player emerged, adjusted his backpack and threaded his way through the crowd. A football player, a hulk of a man hard to miss even in a crowd, stood toward the back of the growing mass. He clapped and smiled along with everyone else as the hockey players, in their gold sweaters, emerged and made their way to the buses.
Led by the BC cheerleaders and marching band, the team set off on its victory lap, players smiling and pointing to the modest crowd as they passed.
Once the procession arrived at its destination, the ceremony began. Dignitaries in attendance were recognized (among them, Sen. John Kerry and Newton mayor Setti Warren). Every member of the hockey team was introduced (even the bus driver). Then the school’s first four national championship trophies were carried out and placed on a table, three of the four brought by a member of the team that won it.
Even the 1949 championship team was represented, with coach Len Ceglarski there to bask in the applause.
BC coach Jerry York then took the stage and, before promising many more championships to come, thanked the fans for their support. The Eagles will have more opportunities to bask in the glow of the title, with trips to TD Garden (for the Bruins' playoff opener against the Capitals on Thursday night) and Fenway Park (next Wednesday), along with a visit to the White House, in the offing.
“It’s going to be a magical tour for us,” York said. “I want to tell you how pleased I was and how proud I was of these young players to my left. They’ve done some remarkable things, these seniors in their four years. But this particular year was something that we’re extremely proud of.”
The Eagles were supposed to be rebuilding this season after losing several key pieces from last year's team. But after a rough midseason patch, the team ripped off 19 straight wins to bring a fifth national title back to Conte Forum.
BC captain Tommy Cross took the podium after his coach. The senior thanked the former players in attendance, saying they were the ones who taught him and his teammates the tradition that’s led to so much success at the Heights.
Then Cross showed he knows how to work a crowd.
“It’s been unbelievable to see the support that our team’s gotten this year,” Cross said. “My first three years here, there was great support from the student body and the BC community but this year it got taken to a new level.
“Thank you to all the fans. This trophy is for you guys.”
Cross had himself quite a day. Earlier Tuesday, the 6-foot-3, 215-pound defenseman signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins. Then he rushed back to campus for the celebration, toting the 2012 championship trophy, making a speech and signing autograph after autograph following the ceremony.
The Simsbury, Conn., native was in such demand from fans that long after his teammates had finished signing and posing for pictures, after the chairs had been folded up and carted off and the big screen carefully taken down, Cross still was surrounded.
He uncomplainingly crouched to take photos with young fans, signed banner after banner and photo after photo.
And after the fans had all come and gone, he talked about what it all meant.
“It’s incredible,” he said. “Just the number of people here, the enthusiasm. It’s just so much fun to bring a trophy back here.”
Cross said that in 2010, he thought winning couldn’t get any sweeter. But now he knows that perspective is everything.
“As a senior, you cherish it a little more, it means a little more,” he said. “Today was unbelievable.”
As for signing with the Bruins, Cross was excited.
“It’s special,” he said. “It’s a great organization. It’s an honor to sign [with them]. I think right now it hasn’t really settled in -- my mind is still here at BC. I’ve had four unbelievable years here. It’s sad to see it come to an end, but when one door closes another one opens.”
And while the day didn’t go off without a hitch or two -- BC president William P. Leahy said the sun was shining on a great football team before catching himself; and the 2012 championship banner that will hang in Conte Forum didn’t want to unfurl at first and it unwound very slowly when athletic director Gene DeFilippo gave the signal to let it loose -- one thing was abundantly clear.
All the practice has made the BC men’s hockey team pretty good at both winning and celebrating championships.
Jack McCluskey is an editor for ESPN.com and a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter @jack_mccluskey.