When Boston College played Penn State in the Three Rivers Classic Final in Pittsburgh in December, BC forward Destry Straight scored a hat trick in an 8-2 win. Saturday night, further east in Pennsylvania, Straight was a healthy scratch, BC gave up its first shorthanded goal of the year and only got goals from one line, and the Eagles were outshot and pushed around occasionally by a Nittany Lions team seeking revenge and playing in front of a packed house in the biggest game in Pegula Ice Arena’s young history.
The Eagles weren’t awful, but they were far from their best. Penn State likely couldn’t play better than it did Saturday night. Still, BC’s top line of Hobey Baker nominees Kevin Hayes, Johnny Gaudreau, and Bill Arnold, along with timely goaltending from freshman Thatcher Demko, sent the rest of the No. 2- ranked Eagles home east with a 3-2 win in a rare January non-conference matchup.
Arnold, the trio’s pivot, put up his second playmaker (three assists) of the season and got the primary helper on each of the Eagles’ goals. The senior also won 21 of his 34 faceoff draws. He was the game’s second star, though. Arnold’s classmate and high-school teammate Kevin Hayes put away the game’s first and last goal-each with one touch of the puck, and each largely due to Arnold’s work-to take the game’s first honor.
The two Massachusetts natives opened scoring just over 7:30 into the game. Arnold beat Penn State defenseman Conor Varley with a ruthless outside-to-inside move at the hashmarks, but slipped while attempting to backhand the skittering puck. Hayes, trailing, cleaned up and banged in a rebound that bounced off both Nittany Lions goaltender Eamon McAdam and the goal line, but the puck found enough white in the net for just long enough to give BC a 1-0 lead at 7:40. Gaudreau picked up the secondary assist, extending his point streak to 20 games.
Gaudreau added BC’s second goal over a period later during 4-on-4 play with just under four minutes to play in the second frame. After intercepting a Penn State pass, Gaudreau gave the puck to Arnold, and both Flames’ prospects took advantage of the extra ice. The duo was too fast for the opposing defensive pair of Luke Juha and Mike Williamson, and by the time Juha caught up with Arnold, Gaudreau was already driving to McAdam’s net. Arnold slid the puck under Juha’s stick, and Gaudreau, initially at the left post, baited McAdam long enough that once the forward was able to get to his backhand, it was elementary.
Aside from those two superior highlights, the Eagles were, at least, played to a match by Penn State’s skaters for the first 40 minutes. BC was outshot in each of the first two frames, but finished them, along with the game, with a lead because of its freshman goaltender. Starting for the third game in a row, Demko held off an early onslaught from the opposition and allowed BC to score the game’s first goal on BC’s first sequence of shots.
The tying goal allowed by Demko was questioned. At 6:45 into the second, Nittany Lions forward Eric Schied successfully hacked the equalizer out from underneath’s Demko’s leg pads. The usually collected Demko was not so to the officials, but the call stood upon video review, as did Hayes’ earlier goal. The only other blemish on the California native’s sheet for the night was Taylor Holmstrom’s short-handed goal in the third, after which Demko denied all overtures to extend the Eagles’ stay in central Pennsylvania by five minutes.
Hayes’ second tally of the night was the eventual game winner. Penn State forward Jonathan Milley received a major boarding penalty after he pushed the game’s atmosphere from testy to dangerous by hitting BC defenseman Steve Santini from behind. At 4:28 in the third, just 22 seconds later, Hayes buried a one-timer from the slot after Arnold emerged from a battle for the puck behind McAdam and put it on Hayes’ tape.
Just 30 seconds after that, though, Eagles’ blueliner Teddy Doherty tripped Penn State forward Tommy Olcyzk from behind when Olcyzk had a clear path to the net. Demko calmly stoned the resulting penalty shot, even as Olcyzk, over five years Demko’s elder, baited the freshman to declare. Demko didn’t, and even after Holstrom’s goal, BC left with a victory.
The win was Demko’s third in as many games, the fourth time he has led the Eagles to a victory in a hostile environment, and the second time-the other came on Dec. 7th at UNH-in which he was a major factor in the victory. A highly touted newcomer entering the season, Demko’s shown signs of living up to the hype in the last week and a half.
Saturday evening wasn’t as easy as most nights have been this season for head coach Jerry York’s team, and it wasn’t even a conference game. Yet due to maybe the best line York has had-in his words-“in decades,” along with some timely goaltending and Northeastern’s loss at Notre Dame, BC pushed up the national rankings and further entrenched its top spot on top of Hockey East. In that way, it was a pretty regular winter weekend for the No.2 team in the country.