Typically, when it has been a long time since you’ve done something, it can take a while to get your legs back under you. Maybe you can’t shoot a free throw the same way you did back in your days on the basketball team, or maybe the material from the beginning of your calculus class will need some refreshing come finals.
For the Boston College hockey team, this waver in focus and confidence was very possible. After a season of playing competitive games at least twice a week, the Eagles had played just four games in the month leading up to Saturday’s NCAA Northeast Regional first-round matchup with the Denver University Pioneers. Each of those four games had been played against the same team—Notre Dame—and the Eagles lost three of them.
“It was rough losing to Notre Dame,” said senior forward Kevin Hayes. “Not being able to play in the Garden kind of hit everyone hard. I thought the coaches did a great job the last two weeks getting the guys ready. The motivation, like Coach says, is we have nine freshmen and we want to show them how it’s done, and I think they got a pretty good taste of how hard they have to play.”
For those nine Eagles, this was the lead up to their first-ever NCAA tournament, and for BC, it was not an ideal way to enter the biggest tournament of the year. While the Eagles were forced to make do with practice instead of game play, the Pioneers were in the midst of their first NCHC tournament, capturing wins over Nebraska Omaha, Western Michigan, and Miami (Ohio) in the final for the conference title.
This dynamic could have been dangerous for the young Boston College team, but the Eagles thrived in it, putting forth a convincing 6-2 performance and advancing to the regional final.
The Eagles leapt out from the very beginning, immediately showing that a few weeks without frequent gameplay wasn’t about to slow them down. Rather, they made an early statement, as Johnny Gaudreau put up the first goal of the night 25 seconds into the first period. The offense didn’t end there, though. In the first 10 minutes of play, the Eagles scored three times, with Hayes tacking on the second point about five minutes after Gaudreau’s opening strike, then Gaudreau making it 3-0 just before the 10-minute mark of the period.
“We started very, very quickly,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “We got some terrific play out of Billy Arnold’s line. [They] have been our mainstays through their careers, and I thought tonight they were really sharp, moved pucks well.”
All four lines saw playing time on Saturday night, but only the first saw any tallies on the score sheet. BC was playing in a dominant style, with goaltender Thatcher Demko seeing little action on his end of the ice. Denver took only three shots on goal in the first period.
“[They] competed really hard, coming back and playing good defense,” York said.
The Eagles’ barrage continued into the second. Denver managed to stoke the fires of its offense a little, getting off six shots to the Eagles’ 10, and one from Trevor Moore slipped by Demko to score as the clock dipped under the one-minute mark for the period.
Before Denver tallied its first goal, though, the Eagles had already tacked on another three—Hayes tallying his second, Gaudreau completing his first hat trick as an Eagle, and Arnold completing the scoring sweep for the line.
With a comfortable margin heading into the third period for the Eagles, the fourth line, which was expected to see very little playing time during the tournament, started taking regular shifts, cooling down the first line that was blasting on all cylinders during the first two periods of play.
“We can play them a lot more minutes because of the [television] timeouts,” said York. “Two-minute timeouts three times a period, so our game plan was to at least play them 24 minutes. I think they exceeded that, but at the end we sat them for the last six or seven minutes … You can’t do that during the regular season.”
The Pioneers also made a change, pulling goalie Sam Brittain in favor of Evan Cowley. Those changes calmed Eagles’ onslaught, as Cowley stopped each of BC’s seven shots.
Decreased offense did not come with slacked defense, though. The Eagles’ pk stayed perfect for the day, killing off 14 minutes of penalties taken by various BC players throughout the night. Two of those successes kills came in the final frame. There was only one blip in play—with the Eagles still up by five going into the final 15 seconds, a lapse in concentration allowed Evan Janssen to slip the Pioneers’ second goal past Demko.
It was much too late for a comeback, though, and the game ended with a final score of Eagles 6, Pioneers 2. On those six goals, only two of the nine freshmen gained a single point. Scott Savage had an assist on the game opener, and Demko was credited with an assist on Gaudreau’s third. The top line of Gaudreau, Arnold, and Hayes combined for 13 points.
“We want to have a good offense,” said York. “If it happens to come from three players, then it comes from three players. I think when they watch from the bench they can see some of the plays they make, and how they protect pucks—it helps all of us.”