Lined up for success

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- Brian Gibbons still has some work to do on his shot. He doesn't have the experience some of his competitors do. He does the best he can, but he's just not the sniper he needs to be if he wants to hold his own against the tough competition he faces.

"Gibbs is learning," said Boston College winger Joe Whitney, who almost always ends up on the same unit as Gibbons these days. "I'm trying to teach him a few things."

"Gibby really doesn't know what he's doing when he's playing," said fellow BC winger Cam Atkinson. "He's just like a chicken with his head cut off."

Gibbons, to his credit, understands his deficiencies.

"I'd say I'm probably the worst," he said. "I'm the worst on the team. But I'm working on it, and hopefully over time I'll get better. It's mostly about aim. I can see the guys. I just can't really shoot 'em."

Rest easy, Eagles fans. It's the video game "Call of Duty" that Gibbons has to work on. Out on the ice, Gibbons and linemates Atkinson and Whitney have done just fine.

BC coach Jerry York put perhaps his three most prolific forwards together after the Eagles' loss to Boston University at Fenway Park on Jan. 8. He's reaped the rewards ever since: The trio has accounted for 14 goals and 24 assists in BC's past seven games.

Not coincidentally, the Eagles have won five of those seven games, scoring at least four goals in all but one. Confidence couldn't be higher entering Monday's Beanpot title game against BU.

In BC's shooting-gallery win over the University of Massachusetts on Friday in Amherst, York's new favorite line struck twice in the opening 15 minutes. Whitney scored his first goal on a perfect cross-ice pass from Gibbons out of the corner, and scored his second when Atkinson pounced on a loose puck and threw it across the crease onto his waiting stick.

Gibbons made another beautiful pass midway through the second period to a streaking Chris Kreider -- the Eagles were in the midst of a line change -- for BC's sixth goal of the game. And Atkinson ripped home a goal of his own with less than a second left in the second period.

Gibbons has 10 goals and 24 assists this season, including a Hockey East-best 21 assists in conference games. The 5-foot-8 center from Braintree, Mass., already has surpassed the nine goals and 19 assists he compiled last season. Playing with Atkinson and Whitney figures to boost his numbers even more as the regular season winds down.

If the Eagles can chase down first-place New Hampshire in the conference standings, Gibbons might have a pretty good case to be named Hockey East Player of the Year.

"With Joe and Cam, especially, they're two of the best playmakers in our league," he said. "You look to make more plays with them. If you're playing with other players, you might try to keep things simple, but with Joe and Cam, I know they're thinking the game the same way that I think the game and are seeing the same plays that I'm seeing."

"We all have a similar type of style," Atkinson said. "We just seem like we know where each other is at all times. It's nice, you know? All three of us don't have the same style, but we seem to be clicking."

The first time York put Atkinson, Gibbons and Whitney on the ice together, it took all of 60 seconds for lightning to strike. It was against Providence on Jan. 12, four days after the loss to BU at Fenway Park. Gibbons threw a pass to Whitney from behind the net and Whitney made a behind-the-back pass to Atkinson on the other side of the crease for an easy goal on their first shift as a line.

"I remember looking at Cam, and we just started laughing," Gibbons said. "From then on, we just have fun with it and work as hard as possible, at the same time, to keep the line together."

Gibbons and Whitney first played together when they were 6 or 7, learning the game in various leagues in the Boston suburbs. They then played against each other while at Thayer Academy and Lawrence Academy, respectively. Atkinson, a year younger than the other two, played against Gibbons when he was at Avon Old Farms School and Gibbons had transferred to Salisbury School.

"We're all good friends off the ice as well," Whitney said. "That carries over onto the ice. We all have a lot of respect for one another. We just like to work hard and make plays and have fun."

Enter "Call of Duty." Defenseman Carl Sneep got the tradition going, even tutoring Whitney on the ins and outs of the video game. Six or seven players and a couple of managers usually are involved.

Gibbons is one of the few who doesn't have his own XBox and his own copy of the game, meaning he has to rely on the generosity of his roommate, goaltender John Muse.

"He's kind of been playing alone, trying to catch up," Muse said. "He runs around. He's kind of reckless out there. He's still trying to catch on to some of this stuff."

The skill level of Gibbons' linemates? That's open to interpretation.

"You can be the sneaky guy, or you just go full-out kamikaze and go right into the ring of fire," Atkinson said. "I like to consider myself more of a sneaky guy. I'm a sniper."

"He thinks he's creeping around," Whitney said. "He's not very good. He gets stabbed every couple of minutes."

They might not have much respect for each other's skills on the XBox, but none of the three bother to hide their respect for each other's skills on the ice.

"You don't hear their name a lot in 'Call of Duty,'" Atkinson said, "but you hear their name a lot in the box score and in hockey games, which is better. That's where we need them to succeed more."

Brian MacPherson is a frequent contributor to ESPNBoston.com. His e-mail address is brianrmacpherson@gmail.com.