Boston College vs. North Dakota
Thursday, 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2)
How They Got Here
Boston College: Northeast Regional second seed
Boston College 4, St. Lawrence 1
Boston College 4, Miami 0
North Dakota: West Regional third seed
North Dakota 8, Michigan 5
North Dakota 3, Minnesota 2 (OT)
Brian Boyle has moved from center to defense, but Boston College hasn't missed a beat thanks in part to the terrific play of Ben Smith. In six games since replacing Boyle between sophomores Brock Bradford and Nathan Gerbe, Smith has three goals and five assists and a plus/minus of plus-4. Gerbe, a 5-foot-6, 160-pound Theo Fleury clone, sets the tone for the team with his gnatlike peskiness, work ethic, toughness and big-play ability. The line of Joe Rooney, Dan Bertram and Benn Ferriero is equally dangerous. Ferriero is a sniper who's scored 10 goals in his last 10 games, while Rooney has 41 points this season and isn't afraid to wage one-on-one battles along the wall or in front of the net.
North Dakota will also roll four lines, the best of which is the top unit of Ryan Duncan, Jonathan Toews and T.J. Oshie. Duncan has been outstanding all season long with 31 goals and 57 points, but Toews has been arguably the best player in the country during the season's second half -- since Jan. 12, he's tallied 13 goals and 19 assists in 20 contests. The second line of Matt Watkins, Chris VandeVelde and Chris Porter isn't as dynamic as BC's No. 2 unit, but the trio has good size and, as evidenced by its performance against Minnesota in the West Regional final, can fluster opponents with a tenacious forecheck and sound defensive positioning.
Since making the switch to defense for the Eagles' first-round Hockey East playoff series, Boyle has three goals and nine points in six games. Paired with junior Mike Brennan, BC's best defensive defenseman, Boyle has the freedom to take chances offensively. He's more than just a de facto forward, though, as evidenced by his plus/minus of plus-9 during that span. He uses his size and long stick to his advantage and he's got a nasty streak. Boyle and sophomore Brett Motherwell give the Eagles two excellent offensive defensemen. Freshman Carl Sneep, who has been in an out of the lineup recently because of an injury, is a big, mobile defenseman with great vision.
That said, North Dakota's defensive corps is deeper than Boston College's. In fact, the Fighting Sioux may have the best collection of blueliners in the nation. Sophomores Taylor Chorney and Brian Lee are talented two-way players who form a formidable top pair. Robbie Bina likes to jump into the play; paired with stay-at-home behemoth Joe Finley, who played extremely well in the West Regional, he can try to make things happen. UND's third pair, Zach Jones and Chay Genoway, are similar to Bina and Finley -- Genoway, who has played some forward this season, brings an offensive dimension, while Jones is a banger.
Has there been a better goalie over the last two months than Boston College's Cory Schneider? During that span, he's won 14 of his 15 starts -- the lone defeat being a 2-1 overtime loss to Boston University in the Beanpot Tournament championship game -- with a 1.54 goals-against average and a .948 save percentage while averaging a little more than 28 saves per outing. Like most big goaltenders, Schneider relies heavily on positioning and gives shooters little with which to work, but he's also surprisingly quick.
North Dakota's Philippe Lamoureux likes to play with a chip on his shoulder. He'll use the showdown with first-round NHL draft pick Schneider as motivation. Lamoureux, a Grand Forks native, is a small, scrappy battler, and he's not afraid to roam from the crease in order to play the puck. Since Christmas, the Grand Forks native is 17-3-4 with a 2.13 GAA and a .924 save percentage.
Perhaps the most important matchup in this game pits North Dakota's third-ranked power play against Boston College's fourth-rated penalty kill. The Eagles have successfully killed 15 straight penalties and over their last nine games have allowed just three power-play goals in 47 shorthanded situations, a 93.6 percent success rate. The Fighting Sioux, meanwhile, have scored at least one power-play goal in 10 straight games and are 18-for-52 (34.6 percent) during that span. Incidentally, BC's power play is 18-for-52 over its last 12 games, while North Dakota has given up a power-play goal in six of its last eight contests.
Why Boston College wins: With 12 straight victories, the Eagles come to St. Louis with the longest winning streak of the Jerry York era. While BC had a relatively easy path to the Frozen Four, the Eagles are getting contributions from a number of different sources on offense, have a healthy group of defensemen and have a tournament-tested goaltender playing at an extremely high level.
Why North Dakota wins: Expect the Fighting Sioux to use their size advantage against Boston College by hitting the Eagles at every turn, wearing them down in the process. For as much talent as North Dakota has, this team prides itself on doing the little things: winning faceoffs, prevailing in battles for loose pucks in the corners and along the wall, finishing checks. Sure, the Sioux have the Duncan-Toews-Oshie line and a great group of defensemen, but attention to detail is the key to their success.
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