Penalty killing is an art. It takes an army of four men to block shots and sacrifice their bodies for the good of their team. No team in college hockey has killed penalties better than Boston College this season. Keeping the opposition from capitalizing on its man advantage requires an effort from the entire team, whether it’s Johnny Gaudreau or Steve Santini. Head coach Jerry York has gotten an exceptional effort out of his team in this campaign, and one of the keys has been defenseman Isaac MacLeod. With 10:15 remaining in the second period of the team’s 3-0 win against No. 7 UMass-Lowell on Friday night, though, the Eagles lost MacLeod to a five-minute major and game misconduct after he toppled a Riverhawk who was away from.
The penalty put the Eagles in a hole during the middle of a crucial second stanza, but BC pulled together to stop the away team’s attack. Patrick Brown took a shot off the inside of his leg before being called to block another attempt. Gaudreau took a shot for the team at the start of the kill as well, while Kevin Hayes worked hard to pressure the Riverhawks when they moved into BC’s zone.
Hayes bolstered the team’s offense, getting multiple shots off in the game’s opening minutes, but the senior forward did not accumulate any points on the night. His play was based more on tracking back to help break up play.
“It was Kevin Hayes’ best all-around performance,” York said. “Playing defense, playing forward, and just the jump Kevin had tonight was really good to see, but I think he’s versatile, you know, he’ll go back and play defense like that. He made some good clears from where he was. That was important for us.”
As the Riverhawks dominated the Eagles in their zone, the shots kept coming at freshman Thatcher Demko, though they were stopped by a defense that totaled nine blocks on the evening.
“We had guys through the rotation just eating pucks the entire time,” Demko said of his power play, which, as of Friday night, had killed 91.7 percent of the penalties it faced this season.
During the five-minute major, BC was able to break forward on two occasions. Gaudreau tried to fool goaltender Connor Hellebuyck, but his breakaway was thwarted by the away team’s defense. Quinn Smith had a similar opportunity moments later, but was stopped by Hellebuyck.
Demko then came up huge on a missed opportunity by Evan Campbell, who had the net at his mercy with 7:31 to play in the second period. The angle was difficult for the Riverhawk to thread, and Demko was able to keep the Eagles’ side of the sheet clean.
Toward the end of the five minute major, Gaudreau, Santini, McCoshen, and Arnold all took to the ice, clearing their zone to keep the visitors from further peppering Demko.
“That was pretty impressive for us-blocking shots and getting clears, because they have a pretty good power play,” York said.
Shortly after the Eagles killed the five minute major, Matthew Gaudreau went to the penalty box for hooking. The kill came up with another stout performance to keep the Eagles’ 1-0 lead intact. Losing Santini for another penalty with less than five minutes to go in the third period produced the same result. Hayes was instrumental in killing the final penalty BC gave up on the evening.
Losing MacLeod was quite the blow for the Eagles, who entered the game without injured sophomore defenseman Michael Matheson.
“It’s tough to have four or five guys back there, but I thought all our D stepped up to the plate when we needed them,” Demko said. “I know that’s hard to do. They just battled through it. They played really strong throughout the game.”
Demko’s play between the pipes was strong as well.
“Thatcher played extremely well and continues to get better over the course of the year,” York said.
The freshman stopped all 33 shots (11 in each period) he faced from UMass-Lowell.
Demko stopped one grade-A opportunity in the first period, as his team pressed the visitors in their own zone. The Riverhawks were limited to shots from long distance on counter attacks, each of which headed straight for the gut of the goaltender. As the game continued, UMass-Lowell had opportunities to attack Demko’s crease more often. The penalties played a part in the offensive uptick of the Riverhawks, and by the time the game came to a close, Demko stopped six more chances from close range, a few of which came from potentially lethal redirects in front of goal.
“Our D did a great job of boxing guys out, so they didn’t get very many second opportunities, which makes my job a little bit easier,” Demko said.
During the winter break, it looked as if junior Brian Billett was a lock to keep the starting job in goal. At the time, Demko was overseas representing the U.S at the World Junior Championship, but since arriving back on campus, the 18-year-old has put in several solid displays, including one in the Beanpot championship game against Northeastern.
“Right now, he’s on top of his game,” York said.