Commentary

Brennan, defense step up to end Boston College's title drought

Originally Published: April 12, 2008
By David Albright | ESPN.com

DENVER -- When Mike Brennan took off his blood-stained Boston College sweater for the 168th time Saturday night, it marked the end of his career as a college hockey player.

And it marked the beginning of his career as a national champion.

By virtue of their 4-1 win over Notre Dame at the Pepsi Center, the Eagles captured the 2008 national championship and the third title in school history.

"We have the '49 team and the 2001 team, and it's an honor to be part of the '08 team," the senior captain said while clutching the NCAA trophy under his arm. "That was one of the things we wanted, to have a season that never ended, and now we have that."

The 2008 Frozen Four most likely will be remembered for Nathan Gerbe.

The 5-foot-5 blur of a left wing, with the catch-me-if-you-can speed and the get-under-your-skin attitude, skated his way around the ice and scored five goals in two games -- including the winner in BC's victory over the Irish.

For his dynamic efforts, Gerbe was named the Frozen Four's Most Outstanding Player.

"It's just numbers to me," Gerbe said from the postgame podium. "The biggest thing is this trophy right next to us. We'll do whatever it takes to get that, and tonight was a night where everyone stepped it up a notch to get a championship."

In the shadow of the Rockies, the Eagles cast a mountain of pressure off their collective shoulders. After they lost the previous two national title games, not getting to the final game of the season probably would have been better than losing an unprecedented third in row.

And it wasn't as easy as the score might indicate.

BC (25-11-8) had to survive eight penalties, and there was a key first-period injury to defenseman Carl Sneep, too.

[+] EnlargeMike Brennan
AP Photo/Evan SemonMike Brennan finished his Boston College career as a national champion.

The Eagles also benefited from a disallowed Notre Dame goal at 4:56 of the third period that would have cut the lead to 3-2 with a lot of hockey left to play. Instead, a two-goal lead quickly turned into the final margin when Ben Smith took a blind, between-the-legs pass from Gerbe (who else?) and beat Irish goalie Jordan Pearce to make it 4-1.

"As much respect as I have for [Michigan's] Kevin Porter, if they named the Hobey Baker after this weekend, they may have changed their mind," Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. "[Gerbe] was a tremendous player on the weekend and on the biggest stage. He's dynamic, and God bless the small guy because he plays fearless."

As impressive as Gerbe was in the title game with his two goals and two assists, the BC win also should be remembered for the job done by Brennan and the Eagles defensive corps.

When Sneep went down with an ankle injury late in the first period, it forced the remaining five blueliners to rotate and take extra shifts for 40-plus minutes.

"The big thing when you're going out so much is that you have to play smart," Brennan said. "The D corps has been together for so long now that we knew we could rely on each other. That's the biggest thing with this team. When we had a job to do, we did it.

"Maybe it's not the most talented and All-Americans and all-league guys, but we were a team, and I think that's why we won this game."

The architect of the defensive rotation was assistant coach Greg Brown, who had to rotate the pairings to keep the players fresh and to try to keep them playing on the side of the ice to which they were accustomed.

"The guys dug very deep tonight," Brown said. "Sometimes they were coming off the ice sucking wind, but they always said they were ready to go back out when we needed them. And they played very smartly.

"They didn't get themselves into more trouble by trying to force things or make plays that weren't there. And when they play smart, they can conserve some energy, and they did a great job of that."

And they did a good job of keeping it together the whole season with little room for error.

When Brett Motherwell and Brian O'Hanley were suspended indefinitely after the first game of the season, it forced Anthony Aiello and Tim Kunes to become permanent fixtures for a defensive unit that was forced to play with only six players all season in front of freshman goalie John Muse, who registered 20 saves in the title win.

[+] EnlargeJerry York
AP Photo/Jack DempseyJerry York won his third national championship and his second with the Eagles.

Suffice it to say that Notre Dame didn't notice a difference in BC's defense after Sneep left the ice.

"They were pretty tough all game long in their end," Irish captain Mark Van Guilder said. "When he went down, they had five guys who picked it up, 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 picked up the slack and they were really good in their own end."

When you think of BC's latest national championship, don't forget Brennan, Aiello, Kunes, Sneep, Tim Filangieri and Nick Petrecki -- even if Gerbe gets most of the spotlight.

In addition to picking up the MOP honors, Gerbe finished the year as the nation's leading scorer with 35 goals and 68 points. And he became the first player to score five goals at a Frozen Four since Boston University's Dave Silk in 1977.

And BC coach Jerry York not only picked up his third national championship but is now tied with BU rival Jack Parker for most NCAA tournament wins with 26.

Add Beanpot and Hockey East titles to the mix, and it was a very good season at the Heights.

"Right after the [NCAA] regionals, one of the players said, 'In nine days, our season is going to be over,'" York said. "And we stressed the fact that if you win the national title, the season never ends. You have unbelievable spin-offs from it, like trips to the White House and throwing out a pitch at Fenway Park.

"So it never ends."

The national championship season clearly began here in Colorado and will continue for a lifetime.

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