Apr 11, 2009
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WASHINGTON -- Burn the boats.
All season long the Boston University hockey team wore T-shirts under their jerseys that said "Burn The Boats" on the front.
The reference was to 16th century Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes. To keep his men from retreating upon reaching Mexico in search of gold, Cortes gave the order to burn the boats. The idea was that his men had no choice but to be successful as it was only way to get back home.
Jack Parker's club took that sentiment to heart Saturday night in the 2009 national championship when it fell behind 3-1 late in the third period to Miami University before storming back to score two goals in the final 59.5 seconds of the period to force overtime.
On the back of those same shirts was a pot of gold and the letters "DC."
"We decided that was going to be the theme," Parker said. "Raise the level of commitment, boys. Every time you see the words 'burn the boats,' the phrase 'burn the boats,' you're going to know the commitment needed here. It showed that pot of gold with DC in the back. They got the pot of gold tonight."
The third-period comeback turned out to be prophetic as the BU Terriers went on to deliver the storybook ending, winning their fifth national title by a 4-3 final over Miami in one of the best college hockey games ever played. The Terriers found their reward in overtime when sophomore defenseman Colby Cohen, all 6-foot-3 and 210 pounds of him, ripped a slap shot from the left point that found a sliding Kevin Roeder, who sacrificed his body to block the shot. The puck hit the senior defenseman, then fluttered through the air, over the shoulder of RedHawks goaltender Cody Reichard and into the net at 11:47 of extra time.
Game over. Season over. Celebration into overdrive.
"I had been getting close to scoring some goals this weekend and I had hit a couple of bars, so I just let it go and I saw it get blocked and go up over the goalie's glove," Cohen said. "And I saw it go in, and that was it. I don't remember anything after that. It's just an unbelievable feeling."
There was an unbelievable feeling in the other dressing room as well, just at the complete opposite end of the emotional spectrum.
As soon as the season-ender -- the dream-ender in the case of Miami -- went in, RedHawks sophomore forward Tommy Wingels, who scored three goals at the Frozen Four, went back to console his freshman goaltender. Reichard never saw Cohen's shot, so he had no opportunity to make the save.
"I just told Cody it just wasn't meant to be and I'm just so proud to be your teammate and to be a RedHawk," Wingels said. "And that's why I'm wearing my jersey right now; I'm sure that's why [senior captain] Brian [Kaufman] is. We're just so happy to be part of Miami's hockey team."
For its part, the Miami team comported itself with class and character throughout its journey to the doorstep of the promised land. And even in defeat, through red eyes and pained looks, the RedHawks found a way to pay tribute to the Terriers.
"What do you do?" Miami coach Enrico Blasi said. "Kevin makes a great play, sacrifices his body. It goes over Cody's head and into the net. That's what happens in overtime, you know? And let's not take anything from BU's win, too. They played great. They executed when they had to. And the game in overtime could have gone either way."
With the victory, the Terriers (35-6-4) captured their first national title since 1995. It was also BU's seventh title of this season, as the Terriers had already won the Ice Breaker, Denver Cup, Beanpot, Hockey East regular season, Hockey East tournament and the NCAA Northeast Regional.
The win also allowed BU to set the school's single-season mark for victories. But chances are the 35th and final win is what will be remembered forever back on the Commonwealth Avenue campus.
"Wow, what a hockey game, what a finish," said BU coach Jack Parker, who won his third national title. "The finish made it an unbelievable game. It's the greatest comeback I've ever been involved in. We snatched victory [from the jaws of defeat] in this one.
"All I can say is that we'll sit back and watch this game and realize how fortunate we were to win this game."
Truth be told, BU has been living the charmed life for the past month. The Terriers lived on the edge most of the way through the postseason. In the Hockey East quarterfinals against Maine, BU scored the game winner in Game 1 at 17:04 of the third period. In the conference semifinals, the Terriers trailed arch-rival Boston College 1-0 in the third before they scored three goals in 45 seconds of a 3-2 win. The title game was a hard fought 1-0 win over UMass-Lowell.
It was more of the same in the NCAA tournament.
In what would be the only dominant game for the No. 1 overall seed, BU easily got by Ohio State 8-3 in the Northeast Regional semis. But then the Terriers needed a goal at 19:45 of the third period that went off a UNH player (sound familiar?) and into the net for a 2-1 win in order to advance to the Frozen Four.
On Thursday night, BU came back from 3-2 and 4-3 deficits to Vermont before the game winner at 14:19 of the third sent the Terriers into Saturday's championship game. The tying goal against the Catamounts was deflected in off a UVM player (where have we heard that before?).
"I've never seen anything like this," Parker said. "We got a goal here and a goal there. It seems like they're always late. We've had that ability all year."
On Saturday night, the Terriers lived beyond the edge.
Miami looked well on its way to the first national championship in school history in any sport when it took a 3-1 lead in the third period with just 4:08 left to play.
But somehow Parker and his boys refused to lose -- just like Cortes and his men.
With goalie Kieran Millan pulled for an extra attacker, BU junior forward Zach Cohen made it 3-2 when he lifted a backhand from a few feet to the side of the net and beat Reichard under his right arm at 19:00. Then Nick Bonino sent the game into overtime with the tying goal at 19:42 when he took a pass in the right circle from senior captain and Hobey Baker Memorial Award winner Matt Gilroy and beat Reichard high to the glove side.
The standing-room only crowd of 18,512 in downtown Washington, D.C., was as stunned as it was excited.
Heading into overtime, Parker had to quiet his team down a bit so it would have something left in the tank for extra time.
"Then I went and told them, 'This is an opportunity that you probably didn't think you had with six minutes to go in the game or four minutes in the game, and now you've got it,'" Parker said. "'Make sure you take the best opportunity here that you've got and do something with it.'"
It took nearly 12 minutes for BU to turn its best opportunity into the championship trophy Saturday night. And it took more than seven months from the time Parker told his players the story about Cortes in late August for the theme to deliver its ultimate reward.
"That's what our mentality was all year," Gilroy said. "It doesn't matter who we were, we were going to be a team and we burned the boats every night when we went out there together. And that shirt is something I'll keep forever. It means something special."
And the Terriers get to keep the pot of gold for the rest of their lives.
David Albright covers college sports for ESPN.com and can be reached at email@example.com