Eagles, Bulldogs ready for finale
TAMPA, Fla. -- They insist there still is work to be done. That their level of performance isn't complete. That they can actually play better.
To hear Boston College hockey players and coaches tell it, you would think the Eagles were heading into a middle-of-the-season Hockey East series and not the 2012 Frozen Four finale.
There's no such thing as a perfect hockey game, but the way BC is rolling right now -- winners of 18 consecutive games -- it's hard to imagine the Eagles actually playing much better.
The reality feels more like the (mind) game they are playing is really against themselves.
"A lot of our attention is geared toward our own performance, the way we're playing and the way we're handling certain situations," BC captain Tommy Cross said. "When you focus on your own game you dictate how the game's going to be played rather than letting it get dictated by someone else."
When the puck drops Saturday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, the "someone else" the No. 1 Eagles (32-10-1) will be facing is Ferris State (26-11-5) for the NCAA hockey championship (ESPN2/ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET).
BC will be playing in its fifth NCAA title game in the past seven seasons. The Eagles are 2-2 in those games, with the wins coming in 2008 and 2010.
The CCHA regular-season champion Bulldogs will be making their first title-game appearance Ferris State is trying to become the first school since Lake Superior State in 1988 to win a national championship in its first Frozen Four trip.
Speaking of firsts, Thursday night was the first time Ferris coach Bob Daniels had a chance to see this BC team in person.
"Seeing them live -- seeing their speed and tenacity -- reminded me a bit of some of the Michigan teams we've faced in the '90s when they were really rolling," Daniels said. "The fact is that BC is a very good team and we will not be able to play very loose, nor should we.
"We are going to have to be hitting at 100 percent and be right on top of our game. If we start freelancing, we're going to be in trouble."
BC may be the top-ranked team in the nation right now, but Ferris State enjoyed that position for two weeks in February. It was a first for the school from Big Rapids, Mich., but it shows that the Bulldogs aren't a fluke and can play with the best teams in the country.
Ferris State is led by senior left wing Jordie Johnston with 20 goals, 16 assists and 36 points, junior center Matthew Kirzinger (10-24-34) and junior left wing Kyle Bonis (19-12-31).
The question is whether Ferris' best can play with this version of BC ... and whether they can solve Parker Milner. The BC goaltender turned from a big question mark to a definitive answer.
"He's improved an awful lot," BC coach Jerry York said. "And I don't think you can be a top-end team unless you've got a remarkable goaltender. I think that's so essential to being the type of club we'd like to be.
"And Parker, he's become [Cory] Schneider, [John] Muse, [Scott] Clemmensen. His March and April have just been outstanding."
Milner has been otherworldly during the current winning streak. He has recorded five shutouts since the victory binge began on Jan. 27. Milner has allowed two or fewer goals in each of his past 17 starts for a 1.10 goals against average to go along with a .960 save percentage during the run.
For the season, he stands at: 28-5-0, 1.68, .936.
"This season for me personally and for our team has been a work in progress," Milner said. "We started out well, but we weren't playing our best hockey and that showed when we hit a rut there.
"I think what I do mirrors what the team does. Everyone wants to get better every day, and I don't want to be something that's holding back a really good team."
The Eagles' lineup is loaded with seven players who have scored at least 10 goals -- and three who are over the 20-goal mark.
Junior left wing Chris Kreider leads the way with 23 goals, 22 assists and 45 points, followed closely by freshman left wing Johnny Gaudreau (20-23-43) and senior left wing Barry Almeida (22-17-39).
In many ways, the BC lineup is so deep that the contributions come from different players and different lines on different nights.
"Our players, they move pucks," York said. "They see openings, and just like a good basketball team would hit the open man for a shot, I think we have the capability of doing that.
"But not just one or two players. We've got a whole bunch of players that can make plays. That's why we're going to the national championship game -- a lot of good players. It's no secret there."
The difference is that many of BC's best players were NHL draft picks before they arrived on campus. That isn't the case at Ferris State. In fact, one of the Bulldogs' best players is a former walk-on who was given nothing but an opportunity.
And Bonis has more than made the most of it, including on Thursday when he scored the game-winner in Ferris' 3-1 semifinal victory over Union.
"Dream big," Bonis said about his experience. "I'm from a small town and live on a dirt road. I spend my summers sitting on a tractor, but if you love the game, work hard at it and never give up, who knows what can happen -- you might be at a Frozen Four sometime."
That dream is a reality. So is facing BC on Saturday night.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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