#1 Boston College’s march to a national championship starts this afternoon at the DCU Center in Worcester, Massachusetts. The best team in the land did not have to go very far to get there, and will play host to the Air Force Falcons for a chance to move to the regional final on Sunday.
The Falcons enter the tournament as the champions of the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA), having taken down RIT in the championship game one week ago. It’s not exactly a power conference, and as such, Air Force are the lowest-ranked team in the field of sixteen.
Boston College, on the other hand, are the Hockey East champions for the third-straight year and fifth year out of the last six. They streaked to their title by having won their last fifteen consecutive games, making for the longest win streak since Jerry York became Eagles coach in 1994. It is one that BC hopes it can ride from here all the way into next season, with a trophy hoisting in Tampa in between.
Air Force has won their last three games in a row and five of their last six, thanks mainly to a 4-1 winning record in the AHA Tournament. Interestingly enough, they have played games in Worcester already this season (though at Holy Cross’s Hart Center, not the DCU Center). Their road trip did not go quite so well, however, as Air Force went 0-1-1 that series against the Crusaders.
The Falcons are led by Kyle DeLaurell, who is tops on the Falcons with 38 points this season (15 g, 23 a). Air Force’s top goal-scorer is John Kruse, who notched sixteen coming into the regional semifinal. Otherwise, only Tim Kirby also has more than ten goals (12) for Air Force this season. All of this might lead one to believe that the Falcons are not a potent offensive team, but they do score 3.13 per game, which is 14th-best in the country. Boston College, for purposes of comparison, score 3.52 per game and are ranked 5th in the nation.
The Eagles top three point leaders, in order, are Chris Kreider, Johnny Gaudreau, and Barry Almeida. Kreider tops the rest of the team with 41 points (20 g, 21 a), but senior Almeida is going out with a bang, leading Boston College with 22 goals on the season. BC has gotten some big offensive production, and as such, six players (Whitney, Arnold, and Carey in addition to the aforementioned three) all have double-digit goals on the year.
Boston College will be spearheaded in-net by Parker Milner, a man who has had a personal rejuvenation, which in turn helped light a fire under his team and propel them to a massive win streak. Milner, once benched for a freshman and a longtime backup, returned to the net in late January and the Eagles have not lost since. Along with a 25-5 record, he sports a 1.82 GAA and a .931 save percentage, the latter of which is tied for sixth-best in the nation.
Air Force’s goalie will be Jason Torf, who missed quite a bit of time early in the season after suffering a groin strain. Considering that he has only started 18 games, his five shutouts are impressive. His .928 save percentage and 1.72 GAA are also quite admirable. He will give the Eagles all they can handle and try his best to keep his team in it.
Air Force is not a bad team, but there is a reason they’re #16 and BC is #1. The Eagles have the better offense, the better coach, the practically-home location, and the much hotter win streak. Boston College also has the better power play (.216; AFA: .173) and penalty kill (.875; AFA: .812), for that matter. Air Force’s goalie, Torf, will be absolutely crucial to their chances as he is the Falcons’ key strength. Nevertheless, a loss here for the Eagles would be an upset of catastrophic proportions and make the Colorado College loss look more reasonable.
Fortunately, odds are that won’t happen, but games aren’t played on paper, so you never know. This game will, however, be played on ESPNU at 4pm.