Hockey East Quarterfinal Preview: Vermont vs. Boston College

John Quackenbos

Ranked fifth in the nation, the No. 2 seed Boston College Eagles are coming off a three-point weekend in Burlington, Vt. to close the season and look to bring momentum into their Kelley Rink quarterfinal match with Vermont.

No. 7 Vermont (11-17-6, 8-13-6 Hockey East) at No. 2 Boston College (20-10-4, 15-9-3 Hockey East)

Friday (7 p.m. on NBC Sports Network), Saturday (7 p.m.), Sunday (4:30 p.m., if necessary)
- at Conte Forum, Chestnut Hill, Mass.
-

For the Boston College Eagles, February's Beanpot title marked the start of trophy season.

After falling just short of the second rung of the ladder - the Hockey East regular season title - to UMass Lowell by a single point, the No. 5 Maroon and Gold finished second in the league and look to rebound this weekend against the Vermont Catamounts at Kelley Rink.

The Eagles enter off of a solid three-point weekend over UVM as they closed the regular season with a pair of games at Gutterson Fieldhouse - a 4-4 tie on Friday and a dominant 7-2 victory on Saturday.

Oddly enough, the situation is one that will be duplicated for another team on the Heights this week as the basketball team, fresh off beating Georgia Tech, will face the Wramblin' Wreck to open the ACC Tournament on Thursday in Greensboro, N.C.

"It’s an interesting scenario," head coach Jerry York said of facing the Catamounts for a second consecutive weekend during Tuesday's media teleconference. "I was talking to our basketball coach Steve Donahue...You’ve really got to be conscious of the fact that just because you beat that team in the regular season doesn’t give you a head start – doesn’t give you two goals or two baskets – free. It’s a fresh start."

With Saturday's win, the Eagles captured their 20th win of the season and assured York, in his 19th year behind the bench of his alma mater, the 14th 20-win campaign in 16 years.

Sophomore Johnny Gaudreau amassed a seven-point weekend, including a career-high six on Saturday, to earn Hockey East Player of the Week honors. The Carneys Point, N.J. native scored three goals on eight shots over the two games and broke from a six-game stretch without a goal.

In addition, Gaudreau's junior linemate Bill Arnold tied his previous career-best with two goals and two assists to help BC remain unbeaten against Vermont in the last seven games at 6-0-1.

A remarkable story in the making for BC is that senior defenseman Patch Alber will be returning to the line-up for the series, after missing 20 games with a displaced lateral meniscus in his right knee suffered before a 5-2 win over Alabama-Huntsville on Dec. 29, 2012.

"He got hurt in a soccer warm up. He thought he was Lionel Messi in the pre-game warm up in Minnesota in late December," York said sarcastically. "Our surgeons thought he had probably played his last game at BC. But he’s kind of defied the odds and he practiced full up yesterday."

On the flip side, after missing the postseason for the first time in seven years since joining the league, UVM bounced back into the playoffs as the No. 7 seed after a rough 2011-12 season that saw it earn just three wins and a tie in Hockey East play. For head coach Kevin Sneddon, the mindset to make this year better has been present along.

"I’m very proud of our guys considering what we went through last year," Sneddon said. "We kind of entered the season a little bit fragile, maybe didn’t perform as well as we would’ve liked during the first half. I think our leadership core - H.T. Lenz, Chris McCarthy, Connor Brickley, and Tobias Nilsson-Roos - did a real nice job of getting our guys focused in on being much more competitive on a daily basis...here in the second half."

A mainstay in that effort has been goaltender Brody Hoffman, who started every game for the Catamounts from start to finish. The Saskatchewan native finished second to BC senior Parker Milner in saves among Hockey East netminders with 890 (or an average of 26.2 per-game) and became the first since Tim Thomas in 1996-97 to start each regular season game for the squad.

"He’s different than most freshman goaltenders that I’ve coached in that he’s far more mature," Sneddon said. "He’s handled big situations throughout the year, he’s essentially played playoff hockey the last four weekends just trying to get into the playoffs, so he’s played in a lot of pressure-packed situations...He's been sensational for us."

Junior Chris McCarthy has also been solid, especially of late, as he has 13 points over the last ten contests and added two goals in the weekend against the Eagles. He split his offensive output with a goal and each game, posting six shots and a +2 rating over the pair.

For Sneddon and the Catamounts, the main objective for a winning weekend is clear.

"The biggest thing we have to do is make sure we’re well aware of when Mr. Gaudreau, Whitney, and Arnold are on the ice. They’re excellent players, they’re going to get chances we just have to make sure that we make them earn those chances and minimize to the best of our ability their time of possession with the puck."

Joshua Kummins covers Hockey East for SB Nation. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins.

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