WORCESTER, Mass. -- So much for the Atlantic Hockey Jinx. In the past eight years, the team that has knocked out the Atlantic Hockey representative in the NCAA tournament has lost its next game. But the top-seeded Boston College Eagles, riding a 16-game winning streak, steamrolled any hint of superstition, following up their 2-0 win over Atlantic Hockey champ Air Force by unseating the defending national champs Minnesota-Duluth in convincing fashion, 4-0, at the DCU Center on Sunday.
Employing a sublime mix of speed and tenacity, the Eagles (31-10-1) broke open a pick 'em game with two second-period goals and a pair of insurance markers in the third to ring up their 17th straight win against a rugged UMD squad (25-10-6), and secured BC's spot in the Frozen Four for the 10th time since 1998. They will face the 8th-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers on Thursday, April 5, at the St. Pete Times Forum.
"We've been fortunate in Worcester to come out of here as a winner more times than not," said BC coach Jerry York. "It's probably my favorite place next to Watertown [his hometown]."
The game started at a furious pace, and the end-to-end play rarely abated over the first 20 minutes. Both goaltenders were called on to make big saves, with BC's Parker Milner (33 saves) stoning Mike Seidel's point-blank attempt halfway through the period, and UMD's Kenny Reiter (20 saves) answering with an outrageous right-toe stop on Bill Arnold's breakaway bid at 14:10.
"We knew we were playing the defending national champions, and at this point in the season, if a team loses their sticks are taken away from them," said York. "It's been two years since somebody's taken the sticks away from Duluth. That's how good they've been as a program.
"They didn't go down easy tonight. We had to play very, very well."
The smaller, quicker BC forwards forechecked the Bulldogs relentlessly, giving UMD players little time and space to make plays.
"Coach harps a lot about buying in," said BC's Arnold. "Every one has to finish checks. Everyone has to play gritty and sacrifice your body if you want to be successful as a team, and it's something that all of our guys have done, up and done the line. They've bought into the team play."
Despite getting three first-period power-play opportunities against a porous UMD penalty-kill unit, the Eagles weren't able to cash in. That changed within the first five minutes of the middle stanza.
Pat Mullane got things started for Boston College with a grinder goal. After the Eagles were able to prevent the Bulldogs from breaking out of the zone, they worked the puck down behind the UMD goal. BC's fabulous freshman Johnny Gaudreau saucered a quick pass in front. Reiter was able to blunt Paul Carey's stuff attempt, but Mullane collected the rebound and slipped it underneath the UMD goaltender for a 1-0 Eagle lead 4:01.
"You can't make mistakes like that," said Bulldogs coach Scott Sandelin. "Good teams find ways to put those in."
Arnold doubled BC's lead just 78 second later. BC's Steve Whitney made a great play to block a UMD clearing attempt, and then shoveled a pass from behind the net into the slot, which Arnold deposited past Reiter's glove at 5:27.
"They got a couple of quick goals, got us back on our heels," said Sandelin. "We made a couple of mistakes, which you can't do against this team."
The back-breaker, though, came just 73 seconds into the third period. BC's Patrick Wey, collecting a loose puck by the right half wall, sent a seemingly harmless chip shot that somehow broke between the normally reliable Reiter and the short-side post, giving BC a 3-0 lead.
"They won some physical battles early in the second, but we responded with those two goals," said York. "Sometimes it's hard to respond to good physical play, but our club is very strong, mentally and physically. We were very fortunate in the third period to get that unusual goal that kind of sealed the game for us."
Three straight BC penalties, including consecutive minors to Wey, gave the Bulldogs a glimmer of hope, but UMD's power-play units couldn't get the puck past Milner. When the BC defense wasn't blocking shots, Milner was gobbling them up, rarely giving the Bulldogs even a sniff of a rebound.
"Parker's been playing unbelievable," said BC captain Tommy Cross. "There's so few second chances. He's making the routine saves, and then he's making a couple saves a game that he has no business making."
When the play started to get chippy, the Eagles were willing to mix it up, trading hit for hit with the bigger Bulldogs.
"The WCHA has always been a demanding physical game within their league structure, whether it's North Dakota, whether it's Minnesota, whether it's Duluth," said York. "You have to be ready for it. And I thought our team responded very, very well."
At 11:47, Gaudreau, showcasing the skills that have made him one of the most dangerous freshmen in the country, put the game out of reach. A quick burst put Gaudreau behind the UMD defense, and a quick backhand shift put the puck behind Reiter for his 20th goal of the season and a 4-0 margin.
Putting an exclamation point on his shutout weekend, Milner stoned J.T Brown on a clean breakaway bid with only a minute left to play. Sixty seconds later, the Eagles were celebrating, with maroon and gold streamers falling from the stands.
Milner, recording his second back-to-back shutouts during BC's 17-game streak, was the first goaltender to post back-to-back shutouts in an NCAA Regional since BC's Cory Schneider blanked Miami (5-0) and Boston University (5-0) in 2006. Milner's performance earned him Most Outstanding Player honors.
"He's gotten better since day one," said Cross of his goaltender. "He's had a hot start, and he's had a hot finish."
The Eagles still face another element of the Atlantic Hockey Jinx. No team that has drawn an Atlantic Hockey team during the NCAA tournament has won a national crown. And Boston College will face a Minnesota Golden Gopher team that presents a stern challenge, having soundly beaten the BU Terriers, 7-3, on Saturday.
"(The Gophers) have a lot of offensive power, just like BC does," said UMD's Brady Lamb. "They have a lot of depth as well; they score on all their lines. It should be a good match-up with [Kent] Patterson in net for the Gophers, so it should be a good goaltending battle. They're pretty well matched up."
On the other hand, the 2011-12 Eagles are beginning to look like a team that might never lose.