There were high expectations for the Boston College Eagles coming into the 2006-07 season after suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Wisconsin Badgers in the 2006 NCAA Men’s Championship game. The team stumbled at times, and looked strong in others, bringing inconsistent results early on. By early February, however, the Eagles pulled together for the beginnings of a 12-game win streak that would include the Hockey East title, and eventually lead them to another shot at the championship.
“I think earlier in the year when we were struggling, we kind of came in with the reputation of last year’s team,” said sophomore forward Brock Bradford. “We had to face the fact that we weren’t last year’s team — we lost some key guys, and once we realized that, I think guys really looked in the mirror and decided to bring a lot more hard work to the rink.”
Bradford, who was drafted by the Bruins in 2005 (7th round, 217th overall), is quietly developing into a top-level talent in Hockey East. He’s on the small side at only 5’10 165 lbs, but he’s an excellent skater who can be surprisingly difficult to knock off the puck. The Burnaby, British Columbia native is one of five Eagles to surpass the 40-point mark this season. To say that the he’s having a good year is an understatement. With 43 points (19 goals, 24 assists) in 40 games, he’s more than doubled his freshman point totals, and is tied for fourth in scoring among all players in Hockey East. Bradford is also tied for second overall in Hockey East with a total of five game-winning goals.
“He’s made a big jump physically and mentally,” explained Eagles Associate Head Coach Mike Cavanaugh. “He’s so strong on the puck right now, he’s reading plays well and he’s playing with a lot of confidence. He’s almost a 20-20 guy [goals and assists], and when you can do that in college — not many guys in college are 20-20.”
After a good freshman season that was more promising than productive, Bradford’s role on the BC offense has increased and he’s responded well. Some of the difference can be attributed to simply knowing what to expect as a returning player, but a large part is the result of continuous hard work.
“Obviously as a freshman you have to adjust, so there’s a learning curve,” said Bradford. “You’re going to have your ups and downs, but I was pretty lucky, I got to watch guys like [Chris] Collins and see All-Americans playing in front of me, and just see what it took to be one of the better players out there. In the summer I went back and worked hard, and realized what I have to do if I want to contribute more.”
It also helps that he’s clicked with his linemates.
“He and Nathan Gerbe have found a natural chemistry between the two of them, he’s got great chemistry with Gerbs. The two of them really feed off each other,” said Cavanaugh.
With the exception of the first month or so of play, Bradford and Gerbe have skated on the same line for the majority of the season. They’ve played with a number of different centers, including junior Dan Bertram, and for a time, senior Brian Boyle, but when Boyle was needed to play defense, the coaching staff decided to move a freshman from the fourth line to take his place.
Boyle strengthened the Eagles’ blueline, and freshman Ben Smith has answered the bell with his new linemates. The combination of Gerbe-Smith-Bradford has been electric, tallying 30 points in the six games they’ve been together, and they’ve factored in 18 of Boston College’s 29 goals since the Hockey East Quarterfinals against Northeastern.
“He’s been playing unbelievable since he’s been up with us — he’s obviously had a really good freshman year, but he’s really strong in front of the net, and he’s always getting in the right places,” Bradford said of linemate Ben Smith. About Gerbe, Bradford added, “Nate’s just a really offensive, high-octane guy who can do a lot of things out there at both ends of the ice. I really enjoy playing with him.”
The Eagles cruised past Northeastern University in the Hockey East quarter-finals, first shutting them out 3-0 and then beating them by a margin of 7-1, during which Bradford tallied an impressive three goals and two assists. In the Hockey East semi-final against Boston University, Bradford opened up the scoring, and finished the night with two goals and an assist in their 6-2 win over the Terriers. Another goal in the Eagles’ 5-2 win over UNH in the Hockey East final, and Bradford had a team-high nine points for the four games, earning him tournament MVP honors.
“It’s always nice just to win the Hockey East title,” he said. “I think after last year, there was a lot of disappointment. We felt that we were capable of winning — we played well and lost in overtime.”
After capturing the title this season, Boston College went on to beat both St. Lawrence and Miami in the NCAA Northeast Regional, and now they’re headed to the Frozen Four for the second season in a row. The team has battled hard and is playing some of the best hockey they’ve played all season, but they also know that the biggest challenge still lies before them.
“To get ready, it’s nothing different from what we’ve been doing the last month since we’ve been on this little streak we’ve got going,” Bradford explained. “Just continue to prepare our own game and to be aware that they have very good players at North Dakota and they are deserving to be there. We know it’s going to be a battle, and they’ll be one of the toughest opponents we’ve played all year. We’re just going to worry what we can do and how we can try to break down what they do.”
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