April 12, 2008
NCAA Frozen Four Notebook
BC's D Rises as Sneep Goes Down
Shorthanded Eagle blueline held Notre Dame at bay

By Inside College Hockey Staff

Mike check: Boston College captain Mike Brennan and his defensive teammates stood tall in front of goaltender John Muse.

DENVER – While Boston College freshman defenseman Nick Petrecki has garnered much of the recent attention on the blue line due to his physical play, sophomore Carl Sneep has had just as strong of an NCAA tournament.

After taking a shot off his right ankle in the first period, though, Sneep’s night was over. He was carried off the ice by Nathan Gerbe and Brian Gibbons with 3:24 to play in the first, and the Eagles used a five-man rotation on the blue line from there on out.

“Our defense did an awesome job,” said Sneep, who still found his way onto the ice when the Eagles celebrated by goalie John Muse after the final buzzer. “It’s not easy to play with five defensemen. They did a great job of picking me up.

“I took a shot in the ankle. … I felt the initial pain. I took some pressure off my foot then put [it] back down at a weird angle. Then I got hit at the same time and twisted it.”

Sneep’s teammates weren’t made aware he wouldn’t return until the first intermission, but senior defenseman Mike Brennan relied on logic once Sneep hit the deck at the left circle in the BC zone.

“He couldn’t even get up,” Brennan said. “I think the D corps just kind of rallied around it and said, ‘You know what, he might be out. We’ve got a full game to play still, and we’ve got to go out and stick to what we need do.’ And that’s what happened.”

Of course, it helps to be prepared to handle such a situation. The Eagles shifted lines all season, and they weren’t exactly strangers to losing players – by injury or other reasons – all season long. Plus, the team already knows its five-man rotations in case someone goes down.

“As a D corps, we kind of just said we have to keep things simple,” Brennan said.

“We were going to be out there logging a lot of minutes. You can’t be as physical as you want to be because you’ve got to keep things simple and move pucks. That’s exactly what we wanted to do. That was our goal. Carl Sneep is a great player, and he is one of our big-time defensemen back there. When he went down, it was a little bit of an eye opener, but this team is never fazed ever. Whatever the score is, whatever happens in a game, we always stick to our objectives, and that’s exactly what we did.”

The defensive effort remained solid throughout the night. The Eagles held the Irish to eight shots in each of the next two periods, and Notre Dame had just six Grade A chances all night, with three coming after Sneep left the game.

“I thought they were pretty tough all game long,” Notre Dame senior forward Mark Van Guilder said. “And when [Sneep] went down, I think you had five guys over there that picked up their play like we have in the past when we had a key player go down. It’s really too bad getting hurt in a game like this, but his teammates responded really well and picked up the slack for him. They were really good in their end tonight.”

— Jeff Howe

KICKING THEMSELVES

Distinct scoring motion?: Had Kyle Lawson's goal not been waved off, the Irish would have pulled within a goal with more than 15 minutes remaining in the third.

Kyle Lawson’s third-period goal was disallowed, which was bad news for Notre Dame. What made it even worse was that Boston College scored 35 seconds later, stretching its lead to 4-1 in the national championship game.

The Fighting Irish said they spent the long review break telling each other to keep playing hard, regardless of which way the decision went. Perhaps that was easier said than done.

“I thought we had them covered up pretty good,” Irish defenseman Brock Sheahan said of the ensuing shift, “but giving up that goal is huge. It kills any momentum we would’ve had.”

Sheahan, a senior, was disconsolate about his performance in general, and he was particularly upset about that first shift after the video review. The Irish gained possession, but Sheahan had a point shot blocked, sending the Eagles the other way. The puck eventually found Ben Smith in front of the net, and his shot rode up Sheahan’s stick, off his shoulder, and floated over goalie Jordan Pearce, who only caught a glimpse of it.

“If I don’t shoot that puck like I shouldn’t have and they don’t put that in, we keep coming, and who knows what happens after that?” Sheahan said.

Most Notre Dame players hadn’t seen the replay of Lawson’s no-goal when interviewed minutes after the game. But they had been through similar situations before, having a goal waved off against Michigan State in the West Regional final. They felt confident that they could bounce back from Saturday’s setback, too.

“A two-goal lead is the worst lead in hockey,” Irish forward Dan Kissel said. “Then you get down three, it’s 4-1 and you’ve gotta score three goals. It puts you down.”

Trying to battle back from a 3-0 deficit was going to be tough enough, but having referee Todd Anderson signal no goal made the hill that much steeper.

“Obviously, you hope it goes your way,” Pearce said. “But you kind of knew the longer it took, you have the feeling that if there’s something there, they would have called it a goal right away.

“It’s human nature to be disappointed and come down a little bit, but you have to fight that natural urge.”

— James Jahnke

NO-GOAL MUSINGS

Boston College freshman goalie John Muse said he knew right away Kyle Lawson’s third-period goal shouldn’t have counted, but Muse readied himself for disappointment. Rather than taking the chance of psyching himself up only to end up crashing down if the official’s review went the other way, Muse prepared for the worst.

“I didn’t think it was a goal when I saw it just because it looked like he moved his skates to direct the puck to the net,” Muse said. “Luckily, they saw the same thing and disallowed it.

“I just figured it would be a goal. I didn’t want to [think it was] a no-goal, so I’d get disappointed when they said it was a goal [after the review]. I just took it as they scored and we were up by one. It was real nice to have them disallow it.”

BC senior captain Mike Brennan wasn’t sure what to think, but he originally assumed the goal would count and it would be a 3-2 game with 15:04 to play in the third period.

“I didn’t even know they were going to review it because I thought it had hit one of our guys’ skates, so we went out there like nothing was going to change and just focused on the next shift,” Brennan said. “When I talked to the linesman, he said ‘I saw it hit [Lawson’s] skate.’ It wasn’t a hard shot, so it had to be some kind of kicking motion, I thought, so I was just waiting for the result. Luckily, it wasn’t a goal. I haven’t seen the replay yet, so I couldn’t make the judgment on it.”

— Jeff Howe

Related Coverage

Game Story: BC's Charmed Life
Nathan Gerbe and the Eagles finally got the chance to celebrate in their third straight trip to the national title game.

INCH Slideshow
Larry Radloff's best shots from the title game.

SEEN AND HEARD AT THE PEPSI CENTER

• Call us pessimists, but was anyone else slightly concerned that the outcome of the national championship game may have hinged on the judgment of the WCHA replay official in Denver? If the aforementioned reference eludes you, ask any Wisconsin fan for an explanation.

• Maybe Boston College wasn’t taunting the hockey gods, but it certainly was poking them with a stick when the team’s sports information director put a photo of the NCAA championship trophy atop the Eagle line charts for Saturday’s game.

• Ol’ Mo is a fickle, fickle character. Just check out what happened during this stretch of four-plus minutes in the second period:

The sequence started 5:37 into the second period when BC’s Nathan Gerbe scored his second goal of the game. Notre Dame was hit with a minor penalty shortly thereafter, had two prime scoring chances during the ensuing penalty kill, then received another minor penalty. Joe Whitney scored a power-play goal for the Eagles at 8:11 to make the score 3-0, but Kevin Deeth got the Irish on the board with an even-strength goal at 9:07.

• For a guy who left the game with an injury that, at the time, was termed a lower leg injury, Boston College sophomore defenseman Carl Sneep managed to get some serious air during the Eagles’ on-ice celebration. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Sneep, who said he actually sprained his ankle late in the first period, vaulted to the top of the flock of players celebrating in one end of the rink. At one point, the Nisswa, Minn., native appeared to be lying atop the pile.

“I couldn’t feel a thing,” Sneep said of his wonky ankle. “It was pretty exciting. I was so happy.”

• Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson on Nathan Gerbe: “He’s a dynamic player. As much respect as I have for Kevin Porter, if they named the Hobey Baker after this weekend, they may change their mind. He was a tremendous player on the weekend and on the biggest stage. He’s a heck of a player, and God bless the small guy. He plays fearless, and he plays with a lot of jam and skill and good instincts. He’s a heck of a hockey player. He reminds me of another guy that used to play for BC, Brian Gionta, although he might even be quicker than Brian.”

• The Boston College penalty kill was again spectacular, killing all eight of Notre Dame’s power plays. The Eagles also killed eight against North Dakota in the Frozen Four semifinals and shut down 24 of 25 in the NCAA tournament. The only power-play goal BC allowed came against Minnesota, when Ben Gordon scored at 16:33 of the third period. But even that goal took nearly three minutes for officials to finally review and allow it.

“Going into this tournament, we know we’re going to have to kill penalties,” BC senior defenseman Mike Brennan said. “Maybe we took a little too many than we wanted to take there, but we knew we were going to kill them. The biggest thing was having confidence in the PK when they’re out there. The same thing with the power play. When the power play went out there, we knew we were going to score a goal. The biggest thing was blocking shots and being tenacious.”

• Boston College was definitely the favored team coming into this game, but the score was tied 0-0 after the first period and the slower, defensive-minded play was more suited to Notre Dame. It was reminiscent of last year’s Michigan State championship march.

“We know they like to play that style, sit back and try to bore you a little bit,” Gerbe said. “It’s the same style Michigan State played last year, and we choked on it last year. It’s one thing we weren’t going to choke on it this year. We were going to sit back with them and wait for them to make a mistake, play their game and take it to them.”

• Gerbe on winning the title: “I think the biggest thing is now I can call myself a winner. Last year, you can’t call yourself a winner. You can call everyone in that locker room winners no matter what. If you’re on the fourth line, a backup goalie, you’re still a champion. You’re still a winner.”

• More Gerbe minutiae … uh, maybe that’s a poor choice of words. Anyway, Gerbe’s five goals against North Dakota and Notre Dame were the most by a Frozen Four participant since Boston University’s Dave Silk scored five back in 1997. He’s the 12th player to score five or more Frozen goals in a single season. Gerbe’s seven goals in four games matches the NCAA tournament record held by three players. The most recent to accomplish the feat – Boston University’s Tony Amonte in 1990. And in three career games against Notre Dame, Gerbe has scored nine points (five goals and four assists), including two goals and two assists Saturday.

Standing tall: Nathan Gerbe (right) took to the air to celebrate Boston College's championship.

• In the Boston College locker room following the game, a member of the team’s training staff mockingly asked Gerbe, the obvious focus of media attention at the Frozen Four, in a reporter’s tone, “How does a guy as short as you win a national championship?”

“I used to be short,” Gerbe replied, “but now I’m a champion.”

• Among those spotted at the Pepsi Center Saturday was Notre Dame football coach Charlie Weis. Based on the outcome of the championship game, the fewest goals scored by the Irish in its four NCAA tournament games, we’re guessing he had a hand in the offense.

"It shows how special Notre Dame is. There's so much camaraderie," goalie Jordan Pearce said. "Charlie Weis coming out to support our team, you know, I'm sure we'd do the same. We enjoy going to football games and cheering them on. I don't know if you get that at other places, but Notre Dame is just a big family."

• Three weeks ago no one outside of the home locker room at the Joyce Center expected Notre Dame to the brink of the school's first hockey championship. That said, the Irish aren't looking at the second-place finish as a reason to celebrate."Just because we were a fourth-seeded team doesn't mean we were just happy to get here," Notre Dame senior forward Brock Sheahan said. "All year long, I thought we were one of the better teams in the country."

• This year’s Frozen Four title game marks the fourth in a row and fifth in six years in which the losing team scored one goal. The lone offender of the bunch was Boston in 2004, where Denver beat Maine, 1-0.

• Saturday’s attendance at the Pepsi Center was 18,632. Frankly, we don’t care where that ranks in the tournament annals. We’re just thankful that the attendance factoids will be rendered moot when Detroit’s Ford Field hosts the Frozen Four in two years.

• The championship game started at 5 p.m. local time. It was odd to see the sun pouring through the many large windows located throughout the Pepsi Center concourse as fans circled the arena in the third period.

• Signs posted outside the entrances to the Pepsi Center suites welcomed the groups occupying the spaces. Our favorite belonged to a suite occupied by a dozen Air Force alums who dubbed themselves the Barry Melrose Fan Club.

• Someone needed to tell ESPN analyst Bob Norton to pipe down. The New England-based Norton, seated just outside of the Pepsi Center media room, shouted out congratulations to Boston College cronies as they walked past and also participated in an impromptu sing-a-long to the school’s fight song. His actions were, at best, unprofessional.

• Speaking of the media, sending two Pepsi Center staffers delivering two dozen postgame pizzas to the Boston College locker room was not a good decision.

PLUSSES AND MINUSES

Okay, this is like telling Daniel Day-Lewis he’s a good actor, but in a tournament in which the majority of name players were ineffective or, even worse, invisible, BC’s Nathan Gerbe was sensational, turning in the most memorable Frozen Four performance since Minnesota’s Thomas Vanek electrified fans in Buffalo in 2003.

A Mile-High stick salute to the NCAA, the Denver Metro Sports Commission, and the University of Denver for the job it did in organizing this year’s Frozen Four. If it wasn’t the best-run Frozen in recent memory, it’s very high on the list. Special mention to University of Denver media relations director Erich Bacher, one of the college game’s really good guys.

It didn’t end up costing the Eagles, but the slashing penalty Boston College forward Andrew Orpik took in the second period – just 28 seconds after Nathan Gerbe scored to give BC a 1-0 lead – was undisciplined and stupid.

For the second time this weekend, the bands representing the competing teams were seated opposite the school’s fans, which would seem like an easy fix. Also, the band’s music was piped through the Pepsi Center sound system, which amplified it but also caused a strange reverb effect that made the tunes difficult to hear.

WHAT'S NEXT

What's next for Boston College is legitimate thoughts of another national title. Barring any unforseen early departures, the Eagles will bring back all but four players – forwards Dan Bertram, Pat Gannon, Matt Greene and defenseman Mike Brennan – from this year's squad. They'll also regain the services of Brock Bradford, who missed all but five games during his junior season because of an arm injury.

Junior forward Nathan Gerbe has some thinking to do. There’s no real consensus on Gerbe’s future depending who you ask. Some think he’ll leave early. Others have said he’s been advised to stick around for his senior season.

“There’s always a decision to make, whether you’re going to come back or leave,” Gerbe said. “That’s something I’m going to put behind me now while I’m going to enjoy this with our team. That’s where I am at in the present.”

Notre Dame's outlook is similarly bright. The Fighting Irish will also lose a quartet o players in forwards Evan Rankin and Mark Van Guilder and defensemen Brock Sheahan and Dan VeNard, and they'll have a healthy Erik Condra to start next season. The end result was disappointing, but coach Jeff Jackson appears to be on the verge of building a college hockey powerhouse in northwest Indiana.

— Mike Eidelbes and Jeff Howe