Boston College goaltender Thatcher Demko always makes his job look easy. Saturday night, his job really was easy. BC’s skaters suffocated the Maine Black Bears’ offense all game, giving up few quality chances—all of but one of which Demko denied. The Eagles shut Maine out at even strength and stayed out of the penalty box for 58 minutes in their best defensive performance of the season.
Maine’s dearth of skill outside of Devin Shore can make a lot of defenses look good, but BC’s looked great because it dominated the Black Bears’ breadwinner. Shore, owner of 76 points in 85 career games, didn’t put a shot on Demko all night, finishing with no points and a minus-2 rating. BC head coach Jerry York said that his team was zeroed in on Shore whenever he was on the ice, calling him a “real good ball player.”
Eagles freshman defenseman Noah Hanifin often matched up against Shore’s line, and he made a lot of plays that gave BC the puck whenever Shore, Connor Leen, and Blaine Byron were on the ice. Hanifin dug the puck out of corners and started—and sometimes completed—several breakouts from of his defensive zone, forcing Maine’s top trio to defend its own goal instead of shooting on the other one. That allowed Hanifin and partner Ian McCoshen to tap their offensive prowess rather than play the role of shutdown defensemen.
“If you break the puck out well in the defensive zone, you’re gonna get great offensive chances and great offensive zone time, so it all starts from the d-men out,” said forward Destry Straight.
The Eagles’ defensemen with easier assignments executed the same possession game plan. Scott Savage and Teddy Doherty got the puck out of their zone and to their forwards with crisp passing, and Michael Matheson got the puck out of his zone and into Maine’s by himself, without turning it over. BC’s forwards took advantage, hemming in the Black Bears with the sustained pressure that’s been lacking for much of the season, while contributing to the cause in their own end too. It all added up to 53 shot attempts for BC and 35 for Maine. If shot attempts are a proxy for puck possession, then BC had the puck for 60 percent of the game.
That number is especially impressive because shot attempts in hockey usually skew in favor of the trailing team. Yet, BC lead by at least two goals for over half the game, including all of a third period, in which it held Maine to eight shot attempts. The Eagles kept doing what got them that lead and pushed down on the Black Bears’ neck when Alex Tuch pursued a puck he chipped out of the BC zone and scored, giving his team a commanding 3-goal advantage. These eyes have yet to see a bear. Bringing one down ought to be harder than BC made it look, though.
“We want to play 60 minutes,” York said. “The first 20 minutes just as important as the last 20. We weren’t going to go into a prevent defense, I think that causes more trouble than it prevents. We played a steady game throughout.”
Even sans Steve Santini, BC’s defense needs to be its strength. It was that on Saturday, giving BC its best win in a while.
Featured Image by Graham Beck / Heights Senior Staff