With Penn State’s hockey program in its infancy and its football coach possibly departing for the NFL, many in Happy Valley were likely unaware that the Penn State men’s hockey team had a championship game against Boston College on Saturday. For those Nittany Lions fans in the dark, that was for the best. BC beat Penn State 8-2 to win the Three Rivers Classic at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, and Eagles forward Johnny Gaudreau was named tournament MVP.
Penn State does not win a lot, but it does shoot a lot. Coming off a 62-shot performance against Robert Morris on Friday, the Nittany Lions came out in the first firing. After an Eagles turnover in their own zone, Penn State forward Jonathan Miley fed Casey Bailey the puck, and Bailey’s one-timer beat Eagles goalie Brian Billett at 4:46 to open the scoring.
BC’s loaded first line of Bill Arnold, Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes was on the ice for Penn State’s first goal of the game, and for the rest of the period, the forwards looked to redeem themselves. A few minutes after Bailey’s goal, Gaudreau came down from the left-side circle in the offensive zone and fired a shot past Penn State goalie Matthew Skoff. The BC radio team was pretty positive that the puck went in, but after a video review, the officials disagreed—BC remained down a goal.
Gaudreau, though, drew a slashing penalty from Penn State forward Zach Saar at 17:21 that led to the game’s knotting. On the ensuing power play, Eagles freshman forward Ryan Fitzgerald redirected classmate Austin Cangelosi’s pass to the far post and past Skoff at 18:12. It counted this time.
As they are wont to do, the Eagles quickly added another goal and demonstrated why they are frustrating to play against. The first line scored what would be the game-winner 33 seconds after Fitzgerald’s goal when—after Hayes kept the puck in the offensive zone with his long reach—the Blackhawks prospect buried a shot from Arnold’s superior centering pass. Gaudreau had the other assist, which extended his point streak to a career-high 13 games.
York first put together his veteran top line after BC’s home loss to Holy Cross, in an effort to combine his most consistent and experienced forwards and power his young team. Of course, that left the other lines more inexperienced and uncertain. The resulting third line was the most suspect after the shakeup. The center, Fitzgerald, had played on Hayes’ wing all season and was not tested at center as an Eagle. Cangelosi had been on the receiving end of many of Gaudreau’s dazzling displays, and Destry Straight was the wing opposite Fitzgerald on Hayes’ line. In its first game together against UNH, though, the third trio had a collective six points and finished with a cumulative plus-8 rating. Fitzgerald has played well all season, and has been a particular standout after being moved to center.
Just over six minutes into the second period, Fitzgerald continued the strong play that’s helped BC become a top-heavy, yet deep team. With great stick handling in the offensive zone, Fitzgerald drew the Penn State defense toward him and left the puck in front of the net for Straight to bang past Skoff. Four-and-a-half minutes later, Straight redirected Isaac Macleod’s shot—off a feed from Fitzgerald—to make it 4-1.
A little later, Hayes intercepted a Penn State breakout pass and gave the puck to Gaudreau. With Skoff as the only obstacle between Gaudreau and the back of the net, there was no real obstacle for the veteran forward. Gaudreau’s goal at 12:36 made it 5-1.
The third period felt unnecessary, but it did provide encouraging harbingers for BC. The power play’s second unit added another one when Linell scored his first goal of the season, and Straight, who was a healthy scratch earlier this season, recorded a third goal and finished his hat trick. Travis Jeke also added an assist on BC’s final goal of the game when Michael Sit made it 8-1. All four of those players either have been a healthy scratch or could become one when top-defensemen Steve Santini and Ian McCoshen return from the World Junior Championship in Sweden, illustrating the depth York has amassed.
There were plenty of positive performances in this championship game that could help the Eagles reach, and win, more trophies this season. The competition will be tougher, but the potential is there, as it has been all season. Part of that potential was realized in Pittsburgh.