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Boston College looks for 1st repeat hockey titles

There may only be one thing left: repeat as national champion.

“Every year we’re trying to win a championship. It’s hard to do,” York said this week as the Eagles prepared for Saturday night’s opener against Northeastern. “We try to prepare as best as we can. Other teams get in our way, though.

“They’re just difficult to get, whether it’s the Patriots or Celtics or Heat. But certainly our goal is to win it. If we do it this year, that would be a feat we’ve never accomplished. But I haven’t been obsessed with that. We’re not thinking of last year, trying to extend a winning streak.”

The college hockey season begins in earnest this weekend, with the Eagles among the favorites to make it to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh on April 11 and 13. BC is ranked No. 1 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, with Minnesota topping the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine rankings.

The Gophers begin on Friday night, when they host Michigan State. Minnesota returns all six starters on defense and seven of the top nine forwards from the team that won the WCHA regular-season title last year; there is only one senior on the roster, Seth Helgeson.

All told, this is a season that has a bit more buzz to it, thanks in part to the NHL lockout.

As the work stoppage nears its second month, there are more eyes on college hockey. At Ohio State, Blue Jackets forward R.J. Umberger has returned to his alma mater to help coach the Buckeyes as a volunteer. And at Penn State, Division I hockey is about to debut on Friday night, against American International.

But BC and Minnesota are the best of the bunch.

“This is the most talented team I have played with,” Gophers defenseman Nate Schmidt said. “Time will tell, but I think we have a good base to build on.”

So does Boston College.

In addition to top goaltender Parker Millner, who took over the starting job last year and won the last 19 games of the season, the Eagles return three defensemen and 10 of 14 forwards, including four 30-point scorers. York has also added six freshmen to a roster that also includes a handful of sophomores expected to play bigger roles.

“The freshmen, they saw us get our rings and our watches they sat in the locker room watching us get all our stuff from last year. I’m sure that put a little boost in their step when they saw that,” said forward Johnny Gaudreau, who had 21 goals and 23 assists last season and is the top returning scorer. “Just getting those rings and the watches, we want to win another one just because it’s so cool. It’s such a big celebration. We’re going to know the team we had last year for the rest of our lives.

“It’s a special bond.”

York wants his players to remember that — and then move on.

BC won it all in 2010 and came back the next year with hopes of a repeat. In the 2010-11 season, the Eagles won 30 games — including the Beanpot and Hockey East tournaments — but fell 8-4 to Colorado College in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“It felt like all that work that we put in kind of came down to one game and we weren’t able to perform,” said Millner, who won titles as a freshman backup and the starter last year. “That year, you just don’t look at it the same. We won everything except that one trophy. It’s just not the same experience. I know that and I think all the older guys know that.”

Captain Pat Mullane said the team has learned its lesson.

“We won all the major tournaments except the national championship. We took one game lightly, and just like that our season was over,” he said. “Obviously, we learn from that, and make sure that every game we go into we’ll be well-prepared.

“I want my freshmen to experience what I’ve been able to experience,” he said. “That’s in our culture. It’s just in the culture that once you taste success, you want more of it. And you’re never satisfied with, ‘Oh, I’ve won one championship.’ Once you feel how special it is to win a national championship, you want to get another one.”

For York, a title this year would be the school’s fifth and his fifth — his fourth at BC. He won the 1984 NCAA championship at Bowling Green, and also brought the title to Chestnut Hill in ’01, ’08 and ’10. (BC also won it all in 1949.)

And even though he’s second all-time with 913 career wins, he’s no more satisfied than his players.

“It starts at the top. Obviously, it starts with Coach York,” Mullane said. “His passion, his motivation, his drive for success — it shows through every day when we come to practice. It trickles down to everyone involved in the program. He’s not satisfied with 900 wins or becoming the winningest coach of all time.

“He’s not satisfied with winning last year. He’s very much about being in the present, and he wants to win now. Winning in 2001 or 2010, that’s not what gets him going. What fires him up is today’s practice, getting better today, and winning another national championship in the future.”

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