Eagles ready to avenge last year's loss to Sioux

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- If familiarity breeds contempt, what happens when you add an old fashioned beatdown to the mix?

Ask Boston College.

And listen closely when the Eagles try to provide an answer for themselves and everybody else who remembers last year's 6-3 loss to North Dakota in the NCAA Hockey East Regional final in Worcester.

"It was tough last year," BC goalie Cory Schneider said. "They were big and strong, and they just outmuscled us all over the ice. We were a little intimidated, a little afraid to lose. They just came out harder than we did."

Schneider picked up the only loss of his freshman season in that game, but BC was saddled with much more mentally than just a season-ending defeat.

"It was real tough to watch," said BC captain Peter Harrold, who missed the game because of mononucleosis and was forced to watch from the stands. "They were just a lot better than us that night. I had seen our best, and that wasn't it. It was real tough to sit there and watch it, too, because they physically beat us up. They had guys running our guys all over the place."

From the opening puck drop, the Fighting Sioux were flying all over the ice, sending messages -- mostly compliments of 6-foot-3, 224-pound menacing defenseman Matt Greene -- and scoring goals. Center Travis Zajac scored just 42 seconds into the game, and North Dakota led 3-0 after the first period. The Sioux extended it to 4-0 before BC answered, after it was too little, too late.

"Every time we made a mistake early, they capitalized and it was in the net," BC coach Jerry York said after last year's game. "They finished so very quickly on us. And the ability of North Dakota to kill penalties was big. We had a chance to stay in the game, but their penalty kill was exceptional."

BC ended up 0-for-9 on the power play, and about the only positive taken away from the game was the beginning of the breakout of Chris Collins, who scored two goals in the loss. The senior left wing, who never had scored more than 11 goals in a season, has exploded for 31 this year and is a Hobey Baker Hat Trick finalist.

The rest of the Eagles were left with memories of being dominated.

"They came out flying and were on a mission," BC center Brian Boyle said. "We respected them, but they really took us off guard with how good they executed and how well they played. It's a different season when it comes to the playoffs, and we had a rude awakening to that last year. "

After advancing to this year's Frozen Four and with the Sioux clearly in sight again, York told his team that if it wants to win a national title, then it's probably going to have to go through North Dakota.

There's some truth to that.

In six of the last nine NCAA tournaments, either the eventual champion has beaten the Sioux in the regional final round or later, which was the case with Michigan ('98), Boston College ('01) and Denver ('04 and '05), or North Dakota has skated off with the championship ('97, '00).

Thursday's meeting at Milwaukee's Bradley Center (3 p.m. ET, ESPN2) will mark the fifth time in the last eight seasons that BC (25-12-3) and North Dakota (29-15-1) have played each other in the NCAA Tournament.

And each school's last national title came when facing the other, as the Eagles captured a 3-2 overtime win in Albany in 2001, and the Sioux skated home with the title the previous year with a 4-2 win over BC in Providence.

Even though the latest renewal of this budding tournament rivalry is only one year removed from last year's meeting at the DCU Center, the benches for this year's matchup will have many new faces.

BC graduated 10 seniors, and Patrick Eaves departed early for the Ottawa Senators. Of the Eagles' 10 freshmen, centers Benn Ferriero (16 goals, eight assists, 24 points) and Nathan Gerbe (10-7-17) are the offensive leaders -- although Gerbe's size (5-6, 165) won't exactly strike fear into the Sioux defense.

North Dakota's lineup features nine freshmen who see regular time, and four of its top seven scorers are first-year players. The rookie leaders are right wing T.J. Oshie (24-21-45) and center Jonathan Toews (21-17-38), who won't turn 18 until later this month.

Perhaps the best news for the Eagles is that Greene left the Sioux early and now skates with the Edmonton Oilers. But North Dakota is still loaded with big, physical players on its blue line, led by 6-5, 220-pound junior Matt Smaby (109 penalty minutes) and 6-7, 240-pound freshman Joe Finley (94 penalty minutes).

"It's really hard to compare how this year's game will go based on last year," North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol said. "Both teams have an awful lot of different personnel. I think the one thing that will remain constant is that I don't think either one of the programs have changed their approach.

"Obviously, specialty teams at this time of year are critical. If you spend too much time in the box, you will not have an opportunity to win a hockey game. We want to be a team that plays aggressive. Everything we do has to be based off speed. If we're playing the game with speed, we'll be able to use our skill and be a physical hockey team."

Something with which Boston College is all too familiar.

David Albright is the senior coordinator for college sports at ESPN.com. He can be reached at david.albright@espn3.com.