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 dunking 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 goal-tender 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 into OT.
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 Four.
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."