Like a pair of bullets fired at the clouds from within a crowd of wailing banshees, the sound of Ian McCoshen’s stick rapping against the ice pierced the cacophony of the UMass Lowell horde. For a nanosecond, the resonating desperation caused by the slap of the stick on the ice overpowered the rapturous blob of Riverhawks fans. It was a wooden plea for the puck-and instants later, as McCoshen howled for the pass, Teddy Doherty obliged his defensive partner in crime. The 6-foot-3 tree trunk of a freshman saw daylight with the puck on his stick, and, gunning a wrister for the open space in Connor Hellebuyck’s net, McCoshen could not miss.
Down went the Riverhawks, 4-3.
Half an hour later, UMass Lowell senior winger Josh Holmstrom pressed a towel to his sweaty, pink, and emotion-torn cheek and faced the press. Dried tears on his face and reinforcements quivering in the corners of his bloodshot eyes, Holmstrom steadied his shaking voice and held it together. He endured forced, rambling questions about his legacy at Lowell and his second period goal, and then escaped for the locker room where he could be with his teammates and slip off his red, white, and blue Riverhawks sweater for the last time.
Holmstrom remained composed. The forward credited Boston College and faithfully did everything student-athlete protocol demanded he do, but it would be hard to blame him if he had just laid his head flat on the table, cursed Jerry York, Ryan Fitzgerald, and all things maroon and gold, and sobbed, because on Sunday night, his team lost one of the best games of hockey in years.
BC and UMass Lowell fought like demons in each of the three periods of the NCAA Northeast Regional Final, beating the hell out of each other physically and mentally for the entire time. There were 60 minutes of back-and-forth grappling in that game, and there was not a single time in which it was remotely clear who would win-even with 10 seconds left, it took a desperate clearance from McCoshen to keep the game from going to overtime.
It’s easy to buy into the whole “best defense vs. best offense” narrative and chalk the game up to the poetic parallelism of yin versus yang, but in reality, the Eagles defended responsibly and attacked like spring-loaded mavericks, and UMass assaulted BC’s zone better than most teams have this year and defended with highly focused composure. Anyone watching the action at the DCU Center didn’t witness opposing forces of nature dueling it out for narrative justice-they saw two great hockey teams adapting to each other and scrapping it out however the game demanded.
There’s been a lot of punditry about and questioning of BC’s depth, lately-which is absurd, considering that each forward on BC’s second line has scored more than 25 points this season-but BC’s depth is what edged it past Lowell.
Twenty-one seconds after the Eagles gave up a momentum-crushing, slip-up howler, Fitzgerald scored his first point in four games by tearing off on a breakaway and deking Hellebuyck halfway back to Lowell.
Every single one of BC’s defensemen looked sharp throughout the night-Michael Matheson in particular had the puck glued to his stick all game, and it’s shocking the third line didn’t score. Quinn Smith, Michael Sit, and Brendan Silk ran the Riverhawks ragged on every shift.
Even the fourth line excelled in its select minutes of ice time-Adam Gilmour looked like a younger Kevin Hayes, picking out passes and creating space.
All the while, the Riverhawks threw everything they had at BC. Despite how well-matched the birds of prey were, one team had to lose, and on this night, it was Lowell.
The great cruelty of sports isn’t anything that happens on the ice, field, or court-it’s what happens when the game is over, the fans are gone, and you have time to think. York and the Eagles are headed to Philly to grab some cheesesteaks and maybe a sixth star for the back of their jerseys, and Holmstrom and his fellow seniors’ college hockey careers are over.
And yet, it could have easily gone the opposite way. BC won two games and tied another against Lowell this season, but these teams could play 10 times and end up 5-5. One tiny moment could have flipped the script on Sunday night, and if Doherty had failed to hear McCoshen’s stick pounding on the ice, it would have been Bill Arnold with a towel pressed to his cheeks, and tears welling in his eyes.