Collins and kids come up big for BC

MILWAUKEE -- It's too bad voting for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award closed nine days ago.

Boston College's Chris Collins, who is one of three finalists, put on an award-winning performance in the Eagles' 6-5 win over North Dakota in Thursday's first national semifinal at the Bradley Center.

The 17,637 in attendance saw Collins score in almost every way imaginable as he collected a hat trick to help BC (26-12-3) advance to Saturday's title game against Wisconsin.

As a Hobey Hat Trick finalist, Collins will be here when the award is presented Friday night (7 ET, ESPNU). Collins isn't considered a favorite for college hockey's player of the year, which is expected to go to either Denver's Matt Carle or Wisconsin's Brian Elliott.

But the senior left wing, taking a cue from former BC Hobey finalist Brian Gionta, said he came to the Frozen Four to win one trophy, and that's the one that comes with winning the national championship. In 2001, Gionta lost out to Michigan State's Ryan Miller for the Hobey, but BC beat North Dakota 3-2 in overtime to capture the Eagles' second national title.

With one game to play, Collins now has 34 goals and is tied for the nation's scoring lead at 63 points with Minnesota's Ryan Potulny.

Prior to this season, Collins' best scoring output was his freshman campaign, when he finished with 11 goals and 23 points. He credits this year's breakout to the discovery of some confidence. Some believe it started in last year's 6-3 loss to North Dakota in the East Regional final, when Collins scored two goals in a game that was dominated by the Sioux.

"I've had confidence all year, and a lot of the times that the puck's been going in it has been … not a fluke, but it's just dropped in for me and it's been nice," Collins said. "I think confidence is the biggest thing for sure. Once you have confidence, it just uplifts your game 10 notches."

After Thursday's performance, consider Collins' confidence to be a perfect 10.

He gave BC an early 2-0 lead when he scored his sixth shorthanded goal of the season -- which ranks second in the nation behind UND's Drew Stafford. On the play, BC's Mike Brennan blocked a shot by Ryan Duncan and the puck bounced out toward Collins at the blue line. He collected it, raced down the left side and beat Fighting Sioux goalie Jordan Parise with a snap wrister high to the glove side.

"It's been like that all year," Collins said. "Our penalty kill takes a lot of chances offensively and that really boosts our team. If you look back at the BU game in the regional final, we scored two shorthanded goals."

Collins extended the lead to 3-0 at 18:08 of the first when he snapped another wrister from deep in the left circle that deflected off Sioux defenseman Joe Finley's stick before it beat Parise high to the stick side.

The hat trick came late in the second period and gave BC a 5-2 lead. On the power play, the Eagles caught North Dakota making a change after a dump-in and BC goalie Cory Schneider sent a long lead pass to center Benn Ferriero, who carried the puck into the zone and found Collins coming up the left side. Collins took the pass and flipped a wrister past Parise on the stick side.

After scoring his third goal, Collins skated toward the corner to salute the BC faithful. On his way there, he found his father in the crowd.

"He was sitting right there in the corner and when I scored, he was the first face I saw," Collins said. "It was pretty special, I get tingles just thinking about it. That's something you dream of, scoring like that in this atmosphere."

Considering the atmosphere and the stage associated with the Frozen Four, it was a little surprising that the rest of BC's offense came from its freshman class.

Defensemen Brett Motherwell and Anthony Aiello each scored, but it was center Nathan Gerbe who produced the highlight-reel goal -- and the afternoon's game winner.

The 5-foot-6, 165-pound Gerbe completely undressed 6-5, 220-pound Sioux captain Matt Smaby just inside the blue line, skated in alone on Parise and tucked the puck around his stick just inside the left post.

"They took advantage of the opportunities we gave them and buried them every single time," Parise said. "That's how they played the entire game. Every time we gave them an opportunity, they really took advantage of it and generated some great scoring opportunities."

Gerbe's goal gave BC a 6-3 lead midway through the third period and the Eagles hung on for their postseason lives in the final 10 minutes.

"The game featured a great rush from us early and then we were just hanging on there in the end," BC coach Jerry York said. "Now we have a chance to play for a national championship and no one will ask how young you are.

"Ask the Maryland women's basketball team. You're not supposed to win because you have all these young players.

"The trophy never says that. We are going to try our best to keep this thing rolling."

Now Collins and his teammates have a good reason to stay here for the rest of the weekend. And it has nothing to do with Friday's Hobey Baker Award ceremony.

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