Right now, with the current form of the Boston College men’s hockey team, its opponents need to play exceptionally well and be lucky to beat BC. On Saturday at Gutterson Fieldhouse, University of Vermont played pretty well, even better than BC for considerable stretches, and it wasn’t enough. BC won both the game, 5-3, and its third trophy of the season-Hockey East’s regular season title-clinching the top spot in the conference with three games remaining.
“We had to play near perfect to beat these guys and we just didn’t do it this weekend,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon.
The win was primarily powered by BC’s, and college hockey’s, top line of Bill Arnold, Johnny Gaudreau and Kevin Hayes. Each of the three scored a goal, and it’s more than fitting that the trio was the primary factor in the game’s outcome, because it was the main reason BC was in the position to lock up the regular season title with two weekends of games left on the conference slate.
After dropping a home game to Holy Cross the day after Thanksgiving, BC head coach Jerry York put the triumvirate together as BC headed into the bulk of its conference play. After the first game in which the team’s three best forwards skated together, York said, “there’s a chance they could be a very good line for us.” They have been way, way better than very good, and the Eagles haven’t been beaten during the 17 games that Arnold, Gaudreau and Hayes have been terrorizing defenses together. In those 17 games, they have combined for 91 points and a plus-70 rating.
After Chris Calnan scored the opener on a shorthanded breakaway, the line scored three consecutive goals that put the game out of reach. At the end of a first period in which the Catamounts outplayed BC, Arnold was in the right place to deposit a goal from Isaac MacLeod at the right post.Vermont finally capitalized two minutes into the second, but Gaudreau scored later in the period to make the score 3-1 and to also extend his point streak to 26 games. Hayes scored a little over five minutes later off an assist to put BC up three. Two Catamount goals in the third period were partially offset by a Scott Savage snipe from the blue line, created by excellent work down low by Chris Calnan and Destry Straight, and the score settled at 5-3.
For a couple of minutes in the first period, the main storyline emanating from this game was going to be the potential demise of BC’s first line, not its continued dominance. Arnold went down in a heap early in the first period after blocking a Vermont slap shot and had to be helped off the ice. He would return later in the period and was healthy enough to score, but another player critical to BC’s recent and future success, defenseman Michael Matheson, mysteriously left the game and did not return. Matheson, a first-round pick capable of incredible highs and lows, such as his first period interference penalty for tackling a Vermont player in the neutral zone, would be a massive loss for York’s defense corps if he were to miss a significant amount of time.
Eagles junior goalie Brian Billett, playing in his first game since Jan. 17, when he allowed BU back in the game with shaky third period play, turned away 35 shots. Early in the first period, BC’s defense allowed some of those Vermont shots to be from dangerous areas, but Billett showed why there was a goalie rotation earlier in the season in Conte Forum.
Freshman goalie Thatcher Demko did not play up to his excellent standard on in Friday’s 4-3 win at “The Gut.” He was good, just not otherworldly.
Catamounts captain HT Lenz beat Demko five-hold off a faceoff on a shot that Demko did not appear to see, and the freshman also let in two third period goals that were not unstoppable, the second of which came off a rebound with 18 seconds left. The goal gave Vermont a chance to steal a point, but the Catamounts couldn’t put another one past Demko in the game’s waning moments.
BC went ahead for the first time Friday night 30 seconds into the second period with a power-play strike from Gaudreau, and the whole sequence encapsulated the season for the Eagles and the weekend for Vermont.
Aided by the 90-foot width of the ice at Gutterson, Matheson, Hayes and Arnold moved the puck around the Catamount zone expertly. Arnold eventually dropped a pass from the left faceoff dot back to Hayes at the point, who unloaded a one-timer though wide-open lane created by BC’s movement. The puck rebounded off Vermont goalie Mike Santaguida right to Gaudreau alone at the left circle.
There was nothing Vermont could do about the puck finding its way to the country’s leading scorer’s tape, and there was nothing it could do when Gaudreau ripped a wrist shot past a sprawling Santaguida. The Eagles would lead the rest of the game and the weekend, just as they would lead Hockey East as they have all season.