The NCAA has been promoting a bracket contest this week called "Frozen Four's Finest," counting down some of the best NCAA Hockey teams of all time and having fans vote on head to head matchups of who advances to the next round.
Voting opened today in a first round matchup between the 2001 Boston College Eagles and the 2009 Boston University Terriers. (If you care about such things, you can click through and vote at the above link, or vote on Twitter with hashtag #BC01 or #BU09).
I expect BU's team to win in a landslide for a number of reasons: recency; the historic nature of their championship win; what a huge deal it was at BU given their other lack of recent success; etc. etc. Plus, doesn't this just seem like the kind of thing BU fans would flip out over? It does, and Twitter has borne that out so far.
When I saw this matchup, my first thought was that it's really hard to compare these two teams, which were both absolutely historic in terms of how great they were. I was very young when Maine was led by Paul Kariya, so I can say that in my lifetime of watching Hockey East these are the two teams that stand out as the greatest for various reasons. Both also had elements of battling history - BC snapping a long title drought, and BU returning to prominence after a difficult decade that saw BC leave them in the dust throughout the 2000s. Plus, both teams won the title dramatically in overtime.
I wanted to try to objectively compare the two teams. So, here goes:
Both BC and BU ran the table in terms of hardware for the season - regular season crown, Hockey East tournament title, Beanpot title, and national championship.
BU had a pretty rare accomplishment in '09 of having both the Hobey Baker Award winner (Matt Gilroy) and the Penrose award winner for national coach of the year. Both teams placed two players on the All-American first team and one on the second team.
2009 BU: 35-6-4
2001 BC: 33-8-2
Slight edge to the Terriers here. Unpacking the records a little bit, let's take a look at conference dominance:
2009 BU: 18-5-4 in Hockey East; won league title by 1 point
2001 BC: 17-5-2 in Hockey East; won league title by 7 points
The way BC steamed away from the pack in 2001 was incredibly impressive, although the close race for the '09 regular season crown says more about what a good season Northeastern had that year than it does about what BU accomplished. As it was, Northeastern was only a third period home meltdown against BC away from snatching the regular season title in 2009.
Both teams had impressive non-conference accomplishments: BC had two wins over Notre Dame, a sweep at Denver, and a win against Michigan. The '09 Terriers beat North Dakota, Michigan State, Michigan, and Denver.
BC 3, Maine 1
BC 4, Michigan 2
BC 3, North Dakota 2
BU 8, Ohio State 3
BU 2, UNH 1
BU 5, UVM 4
BU 4, Miami 3
This is where I give an edge to the Eagles. They went through three absolutely rock solid programs who were all quite mighty at the time. All had recently won national championships.
BU had the unfortunate task of having to play UNH in New Hampshire, a quirk of the way regionals are scheduled, but that was a pretty mediocre UNH team. They played a Vermont team that managed to squeak past Air Force and Yale to get to the Frozen Four, then faced Our Lady of Perpetual Fail Miami D'OH. Obviously, they can't control who was on their schedule, they could only beat who was in front of them. But BC's run here has the edge in my opinion.
overall - 4.07 goals per game, 2.28 goals allowed per game
league play - 4.20 goals per game, 2.37 goals allowed per game
average shot margin: 35.6-25.0
power play 22%
overall - 3.93 goals per game, 2.02 goals allowed per game
league play - 3.81 goals per game, 2.00 goals allowed per game
average shot margin: 30.4-23.7
power play: 21.9%
Before actually looking at the stats, my mind recalled the '01 team has being an offensive juggernaut; the '09 Terriers as having an absurdly stacked defense corps; and the '09 BU team as having a historically good power play. The stats back up the powerhouse nature of BC's 2001 offense and BU's 2009 defense, though it turns out BC's power play in 2001 was actually a little better than 2009 BU's.
Both teams were dominant throughout the season, but BC had a little bit more in terms of offensive fireworks. What's amazing about the BU blue line is how many of those guys went on to play in the NHL... more on this next.
What really strikes me about the 2001 BC team is how many of those players went on to play in the NHL. Even today, the league is loaded with guys who helped bring the trophy home to Boston College in 2001. It looks like that 2009 BU team is going to end up with a pretty similar legacy for producing a huge amount of NHL talent. Let's compare:
2009 BU players who have made it to the NHL for at least a cup of coffee (10 total):
Colin Wilson, Nick Bonino, Brandon Yip, Matt Gilroy, Colby Cohen, Kevin Shattenkirk, David Warsofsky, Brian Strait, Eric Gryba, John McCarthy
2001 BC players (9):
Brian Gionta, Krys Kolanos, Chuck Kobasew, Ben Eaves, Bobby Allen, Rob Scuderi, Brooks Orpik, Scott Clemmensen, Jeff Giuliano
However you slice it, it's incredibly impressive for any college hockey team to have placed almost half of its roster into the NHL at some point. Pretty incredible. While a lot of the BU guys are still writing their legacies, a number of those BC '01 players have not just made it to the NHL, they have thrived and had outstanding careers. The amazing thing about the BU list is that they placed pretty much their entire defense corps in the NHL: Gilroy, Cohen, Shattenkirk, Warsofsky, Strait, Gryba. Six defensemen. That's nuts! Think about the bottom defensive pairing even on most really good NCAA teams - you're not likely to see a lot of players bound for the NHL.
Obviously there's no right answer to this question and your opinion will probably depend a lot on who your rooting interest in Hockey East is. It's a tough call. I think what's remarkable about the 2001 BC team was the outstanding teams they overcame in the tournament, along with the legacy of Stanley Cup winners, Olympians and NHL regulars they have left over the past 13 years. Strictly looking at their record of accomplishment during the season in question, I would say a slight edge has to be given to the '09 BU team - but only slight.
My memories of the 2001 BC team are colored by the fact that I was 13 years old, but I remember the 2001 team being incredibly explosive and fun to watch. My memories of the 2009 BU team are a lot more vivid, and I remember them being especially dogged and you pretty much always felt like they were going to find a way to win no matter what game they played.
My heart would probably make me vote for the 2001 BC team, but it's a close call. Both were truly historic and stand out in the annals of great teams for both programs.