Collins, Eagles ready to rumble

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MILWAUKEE (AP) – Undrafted and undersized, Chris Collins was nothing more than an average special-teams player with 29 career goals coming into his senior season at Boston College.

Wisconsin goalie Brian Elliott was a backup with nine victories in 15 career starts.

What a difference a year makes.

When Boston College and Wisconsin meet tonight in the college hockey national championship game, Collins’ offense and Elliott’s defense are the top reasons why.

Collins has 34 goals and 29 assists this season, going from unheralded to a Hobey Baker finalist as one of the top players in college hockey.

Boston College coach Jerry York said he thought his best chance to win a second national championship to go with his 2001 title was last year.

But York, whose Eagles practiced for the 114th time on Friday, never imagined that Collins would become an offensive dynamo, including three goals in the Eagles’ 6-5 semifinal win over North Dakota on Thursday.

“He’s really kind of the exception,” York said. “You don’t go from a role he had on our team to all of sudden a first team All-American, a Hobey Baker candidate. Thirty-four goals is incredible.

“It’s great to see. It gives a lot of young players hope across the country.”

The Eagles have gotten 16 goals in three tournament games because a host of role players are stepping up.

After nearly being knocked out of the Hockey East tournament in the first round, the Eagles have found other options than Collins and Brian Boyle, who has 22 goals and 30 assists, to become the first No. 3 seed to ever make the championship game.

Three freshmen scored in BC’s semifinal win against the Fighting Sioux.

“We’re much more balanced and that makes us much more dangerous as a team,” York said. “We are becoming much more difficult to play, you can’t just shut one or two players down.”

But the offense still runs through the 5-foot-8 Collins. The Eagles are 16-3-1 when he scores, and he’ll pester the Badgers’ big blue line defenders with his speed and grit.

“We’ve got to be aware of where he is on the ice keep him to the outside,” Badgers defenseman Tom Gilbert said. “He’s got great vision, so we’ve got to know how many guys are coming down on the rush on us. We’ve just got to be ready.”

Wisconsin, looking for its sixth national title and first since 1990, also has a last line of defense in Elliott.

He has five shutouts in nine games, a 1.57 goals-against average and 26 of Wisconsin’s 29 wins. Elliott is a Hobey Baker finalist, too, but wasn’t even selected the top goalie in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association, the conference that’s produced the last four championship teams since BC’s 2001 title.

“He faces a lot of shots from the perimeter because he has a very good defense in front of him,” Boyle said. “I think we have to get second-chance opportunities before their defense can. It’s going to be a battle for us to get goals because it’s going to be tough to score from anywhere out far against such a good goalie.”

Wisconsin has killed 32 penalties in a row, dating before the NCAA tournament began. In the Badgers’ 5-2 victory over Maine on Thursday night, they killed off seven penalties. Ross Carlson scored an acrobatic goal and added an assist while sliding past the net on another to eliminate the Black Bears.

“As soon as the guys came in to pat me on the hat, the only thing that they were saying was just, One more, one more, one more win,”‘ Elliott said. “Everybody’s on the same page and we’re ready to go.”

Elliott is quiet and focused. The junior drafted by the Ottawa Senators manages to crack a smile around other teammates, like captain Adam Burish, the voice of the Badgers who has stepped up with a pair of two-point performances in three NCAA tournament games.

“I’m not nervous, I’m not scared, I’m not worried about it being my last game,” Burish said. “I’m excited, I want to put that jersey on for one last time … and take it off one last time as a champion.”

AP-ES-04-07-06 1808EDT

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