BOSTON — It was almost too quick.
Right off the opening draw, Boston College’s Miles Wood darted down the bench side of the ice. He received the puck on a backhand pass from his linemate Christopher Brown in the neutral zone as he made a run at Northeastern’s Ryan Ruck in goal. The freshman fired five-hole, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead on the first shot of the game, a mere 15 seconds in. It seemed like the perfect start in the Hockey East Semifinals against Northeastern, the hottest team in the country.
That would be the last time BC held the lead the entire game. From then on, the Eagles completely broke down.
Clearing passes out of the neutral and defensive zone. Generating offensive production. And, oh yeah, the turnovers. Nothing went right for the Eagles (26-7-5) in a 5-4 defeat to a Northeastern (21-13-5) team that will continue its magical march into a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies will play Saturday at 7 p.m. at TD Garden against UMass Lowell for a chance at their second Hockey East Championship. And the Eagles, after dominating the conference for so many years, will go without one for their fourth year in a row—the first time head coach Jerry York has had a senior class that will graduate without raising the Lamoriello Trophy.
After Wood’s goal, things quickly soured for the Eagles. All year, we had wondered when BC’s thin defense would break down. At once, it appeared each one caught the yips. In particular, Ian McCoshen—a man who will soon lace up the skates for the NHL’s Florida Panthers—was a mess in the Eagles’ own zone, perhaps playing his worst game as a collegiate player. They each routinely turned the puck over. BC struggled to get shots on net in large part because the defense couldn’t clear it to the neutral and offensive zone. That prevented goaltender Thatcher Demko—who, despite the five goals, played spectacularly—from getting much-needed breaks. The pressure just never seemed to stop.
“That was kind of our Achilles heel,” York said regarding the defense and turnovers.
The Huskies’ Zach Aston-Reese began the rout by completely undressing McCoshen. After receiving a pass at the BC blue line from Nolan Stevens, Aston-Reese two-stepped the BC defenseman to beat Demko five-hole to knot the game up late in the first.
Moments later, BC had a collective mental lapse. Dylan Sikura stole the puck away from Zach Sanford in the left corner. The forward found Mike McMurtry between the circles, who dished it over to Adam Gaudette. Somehow, no BC defenseman saw Gaudette, allowing him to tap the puck in easily with a mere .9 seconds on the clock.
BC came out of the locker room strong in the second, appearing to shake off the sleepies that probably came with the 10:33 p.m. start—UMass Lowell and Providence, the early game, went into triple overtime. Colin White beat Ruck glove side after an excellent backhanded pass from Matthew Gaudreau to tie the game at two.
But the defensive lapses just kept continuing for the Eagles. Even their best unit couldn’t stay strong. Steve Santini’s roughing penalty set up Stevens to blast one past Demko’s blocker side. It was the first goal BC allowed on the power play in its last 26 attempts and since Feb. 20.
Soon after, the Eagles crumpled again on the kill. Again on the power play—this one because of a Casey Fitzgerald holding call—the Eagles allowed freshman defenseman Eric Williams to find space at the right circle, blasting it past Demko on the glove side on the high corner.
Once is a coincidence. Twice signifies a trend, one that’s going in the opposite direction for BC.
Wood got one back on the power play. He capitalized on a slashing call on John Stevens, picking up the puck from Ryan Fitzgerald to beat Ruck under his right pad to cut the lead to 4-3.
Don’t be deceived by the goals, though. The Eagles struggled mightily on offense. They managed a mere four shots in the first period, the lowest they’ve had in a period this season, and only seven in the second. York expressed his frustrations about the lack of shots.
“That’s not enough for our team,” York said.
In the final frame, it was the turnovers that burned BC one last time. Casey Fitzgerald attempted to clear the puck toward White at the blue line. White then tried to pass it to McCoshen on the left. Yet he made an inexcusable error, dishing it right to Lincoln Griffin in the slot. And Demko, who had stood on his head with some incredible saves in the period—one in particular, he stopped with his wrist while falling backwards—was left out to dry. The Dog Pound, Northeastern’s notoriously raucous student section, was rocking, while the (very) few BC faithful who made the trip were sent running to the T hoping to catch one of the last late-night trains back to campus.
Even once Alex Tuch scorched a backhanded beauty past Ruck, it would make no difference. The Eagles failed to capitalize on a power play, and committed two penalties in the last three minutes that ensured they wouldn’t get a real chance to make a rush at the net.
After the game, York listed all of the things his team will have to work on in practice: controlling the puck in the neutral zone, generating more offense, and reworking the fundamentals. And he noted that it doesn’t get easier the rest of the way. BC will only take on good teams, ones that are better than Northeastern. Instead of reclaiming the March magic they have become so famous for, BC will instead wait around for the NCAA Selection Show on Sunday at 12 p.m. The loss blew BC’s chances at earning a No. 1 seed, and the Eagles will likely ship out to Albany, N.Y. to play in a bracket that features Providence. The ever-competitive York is determined to not allow his team’s failures in the conference tournament affect his quest for another national title.
“Our goal is to put a sixth star on that game sweater and we’ll find out Sunday where we go, and who we play, and you know, you’ve got to win four games to do that,” York said. “I’m disappointed in tonight’s effort, but we’ll key it up and start on Sunday.”
But if BC’s efforts are any similar to Friday night’s, a team that looked like the title favorite after the Beanpot may face the indignity of a one-and-done trip to the national tournament for the second year in a row.
Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor