Boston College will meet Ferris State tonight for the 2012 NCAA Division I national championship in Tampa, Fla. The game will air live on ESPN2 at 7 p.m. EDT.
Conventional wisdom would tell you this one is over before it begins, but how often has the conventional happened in college hockey this year? If 2011-12 season has taught us anything, it’s that we can expect the unexpected. Now, I’m not saying expect Ferris State to beat Boston College, because that would probably be a little irresponsible on my part. What I will say, is that anything is possible.
Ferris State, located in Big Rapids, Mich., is this year’s Little Engine that Could. Despite holding the No. 1 ranking in college hockey for two weeks in February and winning the regular-season title in the CCHA, the nation’s toughest conference, the Bulldogs are still widely considered a dog of another kind. No NHL Draft picks, no big time recruits on this roster. Still, Ferris State is a well-built and well-coached hockey team. Making it to the Frozen Four is no fluke.
Boston College meanwhile has looked more like a machine sent to destroy anything in its path en route to yet another national championship. Currently on a staggering 18-game winning streak, the Eagles are looking for their second title in three years, third in the last five, and fifth overall. A roster chock full of NHL Draft picks including two first- and two second-rounders, BC has elite talent up and down the lineup. Bigger, faster, stronger, better than just about everybody else.
Coming up after the jump, a brief national championship preview.
When looking at these two teams individually, they couldn’t really be any more different.
One is among college hockey’s elite, the other even some casual college hockey fans hasn’t heard of. One annually brings in blue-chip prospects and NHL Draft picks, the other skims the second-tier junior leagues in the U.S. and Canada. One plays in a Division I athletic department, the other is its school’s only Division I team. One has hung four national championship banners, the other has none.
The national championship game is somewhat old hat for Eagles. Half of the BC roster has been here before as part of the national championship team in 2010.
Ferris State doesn’t have that kind of experience. Not even close. This is the first national championship game in school history. A team has not won the national championship in its first appearance at the Frozen Four since 1988 when Lake Superior State claimed the title. Do the boys from Big Rapids have enough in the tank to break that drought?
Ferris State doesn’t score a lot of goals. Boston College does.
However, where the teams are similar is in the amount of goals each gives up. Which is to say, not many.
BC’s Parker Milner has allowed just one goal in NCAA tournament play. Ferris State’s Taylor Nelson, a first-team All-American this year has allowed just three — one in each of his team’s three national tournament wins.
While Ferris State had a mostly challenging road to the national championship game, they haven’t faced any team quite like Boston College. There likely isn’t a more complete team in the country than the one Jerry York will send out Saturday night.
Ferris State head coach Bob Daniels won the Spencer Penrose Award as national coach of the year and yet the toughest test his team has faced lies ahead. The game plan will have to be superb if his team is to have a chance.
The Bulldogs, which can be stingy in their own end will have to have their heads on a swivel, with Boston College’s speed and skill up front. Players like Chris Kreider, Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes and Barry Almeida could give Ferris fits.
The good news for Ferris State is that Nelson is on their side. He’s put up phenomenal numbers and looks stone-faced between the pipes, never lacking confidence, or at least it would appear. He will have to play the game of his life. Even though he should get fairly decent support from the guys in front of him, Nelson will have to be prepared for a lot of work.
Boston College simply has to keep playing the way it’s been playing. On this 18-game winning streak, BC has outscored opponents 73-20 and 12-1 through its first three games at the national tournament.
When outscoring opponents by those margins, every facet of the team has to be firing on all cylinders and that’s been the case for the Eagles. Good scoring, good defense, good goaltending. As long as BC continues to play that way, there isn’t a team in the country that can beat them.
None of what this match-up looks like on paper will matter when the puck drops in Tampa. Every statistic, every bit of conventional wisdom and everything we think we know about each team goes out the window. The game still has to be played. Even though we think a certain outcome is impossible, there’s always that chance that perhaps it isn’t, and that’s why we watch.
If Ferris State were to somehow pull off the upset, it would be among the biggest in NCAA hockey national championship history. It’s not because Ferris State isn’t good, because they are. It’s because of the current streak of domination Boston College is on. There are few teams in the history of the college game that have been this impressive as BC has been for the last two-plus months.
These are the last two teams standing at the end of what was an incredibly wacky college hockey season. Whatever happens on the ice, whether it’s a huge upset or the completion of a dominant run, it will be fun to watch for college hockey fans new and old.
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