Hockey Notebook

It is do or die time for the Boston College men's hockey team. They enter the Hockey East tournament as a decided underdog and in need of victories in order to get to the NCAA's. This week's hockey notebook takes a look at the upcoming tournament and the Eagle's chances of advancing.

•For years, the Hockey East tournament has been defined by the league's four titans: Boston College, New Hampshire, Boston University, and Maine. Most seasons, at least three - if not all four – would be competing at the Boston Garden for the league crown. But in this, the league's 25th season, at least two of those big four will be going home early.

#1 seed and regular season champion Boston University will host #8 Maine, while the 6th-seeded Eagles travel on the road to play UNH at the Whittemore Center. Head coach Jerry York attributes this to the continued growth of the other programs in the league.

"Vermont has been a great addition to our league, obviously, and the other teams have gotten stronger as well," he said. "It's always been about UNH, Maine, BU and BC, but Vermont came in right away looking to change that. They were right there in the top four last year and made the final game, and they have a good chance to be there again this year."

"We've always viewed getting to the Garden [for the Hockey East semifinals] as a difficult task and a real accomplishment," he continued. "We've been fortunate enough to have real success getting there, but it gets tougher each year… A lot of people talk about the WCHA, and how it's so strong top-to-bottom. I would put our league right there with the WCHA as far as quality and depth."

But before Hockey East's elite get a chance to measure up against the best of the west, they need to navigate through the conference tournament. While BU [#1 in Pairwise rankings], Northeastern [#5], Vermont [#6] and New Hampshire [#7] all can be confident about their spot in the NCAA tournament, BC finds itself in the rare role of being on the outside looking in, and being one of four teams needing to win four games in the conference tournament if they are to advance to NCAAs.

"Our tournament starts here," said senior captain Brock Bradford. "It's win or go home, and we think that we can thrive in a situation like this."

The four series, including the BC-UNH series, all begin on Friday night at 7 and are best 2-of-3. Games 2 and 3 (if necessary) will be on Saturday and Sunday nights, also at 7, with one exception - the Northeastern vs. UMass game on Saturday, which will be aired on NESN at 7:30.

•BC has a lot of history with its first round opponent, New Hampshire. In each of the past two seasons, the Eagles knocked out the Wildcats, beating them in the championship game in 2007 and clipping them 5-4 in a memorable triple-overtime semifinal in 2008.

But this year, the games won't be at BC's familiar spot at the Garden – they'll be at UNH's Whittemore Center, where a passionate home crowd and an Olympic-sized ice surface combine for a fearsome home ice advantage.

"It adds more fuel to the fire [to be playing New Hampshire], no question about it," said York. "There's going to be a big crowd and they're going to be really excited for this one. Our goal is going to be to quiet the crowd… it really is a tremendous venue to play in."

UNH's home ice advantage manifests itself in their record. The Wildcats are 19-10-5 on the season, but 12-3-2 at home, while posting a 6-7-3 mark on the road; conversely, BC is just 3-7-5 on the road.

The Eagles have been taking extra practice on Olympic-sized ice surfaces to prepare for the weekend, practicing off-site at the Dexter School in Brookline.

"They've got an Olympic-sized sheet there, so we're getting some more work in," said York. "But of course we always say before games on the big ice that a rink is a rink is a rink. In this case there's just more of it to work with… It's wider, so there are some differences in how you approach it, so it's good to get some reps in [at the Dexter School]."

"If we're using our speed and skating hard, the bigger ice can be an advantage for us," said Bradford. "But if you're gliding and not hustling, your mistakes will end up in the back of the net even faster than usual on that sheet… Fatigue can be a factor if you're not used to playing on that surface, but we are – we just played there a few weeks ago and are doing extra work on a big sheet now. We'll be ready."

Beyond the challenge of playing at the Whittemore Center is the challenge of facing a very talented UNH team, which swept the Eagles in a home-and-home series on February 20 and 21.

"UNH is a good team, and there's going to be a lot of intensity, so I expect a tight-checking game where both teams will really be looking to capitalize on mistakes," Bradford said. "That's playoff hockey."

The Wildcats come in as winners of 6 of their last 7 games, including a wild 6-5 overtime win over Vermont which secured them the 3 seed last week. Junior goalie Brian Foster has filled in admirably between the pipes for the UNH after the departure of the great Kevin Regan, posting an 18-8-4 record with a 2.60 GAA and a .912 save percentage.

Despite their strength, however, the Wildcats are carrying the burden of history. Their lack of success in the postseason – particularly against Boston College - is the stuff of college hockey legend, and the players, coaches and fans are all fully aware of the burden they carry. If the Eagles jump out to an early lead in game one, the fans and the players may well begin to feel that pressure even more intensely, giving BC a much-needed edge against an excellent team.

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