The fans at Kelley Rink held their breath.
No. 4 Boston College men’s hockey had already given the 5,154 faithful who had arrived on a Sunday afternoon plenty to worry about. The Eagles came out flat throughout the first 10 minutes of their tilt with No. 11 Minnesota. The visitors from the Midwest had shown off their quick speed against BC’s young defensemen, and didn’t give the Eagles a chance to breath at any point. With two point-blank shots—one at the end of the second by Tyler Sheehy, the other in the third by Vinni Lettieri—the Golden Gophers defeated the Eagles, 4-2.
But the biggest loss for BC (11-4-1, 6-0-1 Hockey East) wasn’t the game. It was that of their star left wing, Ryan Fitzgerald.
Not long after taking the lead early in the second period, Fitzgerald was caught in front of Eric Schierhorn in net. He held onto a Minnesota (6-3-2) player, causing a penalty. Yet it turns out it wasn’t to try and prevent a shot on Joe Woll. It was for his own safety.
Seconds later, Fitzgerald was helped over to the boards by his linemates, JD Dudek and Austin Cangelosi. From there, the trainers took over. Fitzgerald, unable to put any weight on his right ankle, put his head down in pain. Despite having the lead, the Eagles had already lost. Head coach Jerry York couldn’t provide any additional information following the game, other than his hopes for a speedy recovery.
York had plenty to say about his team’s poor start, however.
Brent Gates, Jr., began writing the scoresheet with a goal just 34 seconds into the game. He rocketed a left-handed one-timer over Woll’s left shoulder. The freshman goaltender never got his glove up in time—a soft goal allowed for a netminder who has been so sharp in his rookie year. Quickly, the Gophers were ahead, 1-0.
Throughout the first 10 minutes, Minnesota pressured Woll by working behind the net. Each of the team’s four lines were clicking, taking advantage of some lackadaisical play from BC’s young defensemen. The Gophers even hit a few posts, with Tommy Novak knocking both in one shot. After congratulating Mike Mottau, the 2000 Hobey Baker Award winner who had his jersey retired during the first intermission, York hurried into the locker room to knock some sense into his guys.
“We were just watching them,” York said. “They were really pressing and closing, everything had us back on our heels.”
The Eagles actually improved by the end of the period, generating some better pressure on Schierhorn. In the second, they capitalized on it. Schierhorn forced Gates to the box for a trip and BC went on the attack. The team didn’t find the back of the net, seemingly coming away safely. That is, until Gates had trouble getting back to the offensive zone in time.
Matthew Gaudreau rocketed a shot at Schierhorn, still with a man advantage. He nearly gloved it, but David Cotton knocked it out to Colin White. The Ottawa Senators prospect flipped it over Schierhorn’s right shoulder for the equalizer.
Two minutes later, Fitzgerald and Austin Cangelosi nearly combined for a breakaway. Fitzgerald, thinking the goal was in, took a cross-checking penalty to force a review. The Eagles didn’t get good news from that, so they created some of their own.
White forced the puck out on a 2-on-1 break around a Minnesota defenseman. He skated quickly up the Gophers’ sideline to the side of the crease. At the last second, he pushed the puck across to Gaudreau for the shorthanded goal.
Then came the Fitzgerald injury. And then came Minnesota.
The Gophers exploded in the latter half of the second period. Gates appeared to have a goal with about four to go, but it was overturned for goaltender interference on Lettieri. No matter, because Sheehy crushed the game-tying goal past Woll a mere two minutes later.
Halfway through the third period, Lettieri got free after Gates poked the puck away from Michael Kim. Lettieri beat Woll with a great move in front of the net for the game-winner.
By the time BC’s offense generated any pressure, it was too late. The team had already been depleted by Fitzgerald, and the replacement lines, which had already been tinkered with entering the game, couldn’t make up the difference. For York, it was a learning experience. But with a game coming up on Tuesday at Matthews Arena against Northeastern, it’s one from which the Eagles will have to learn some new things fast.
“We tell our players, we learn every time we play a game,” York said. “We had some chances, but we got to bury them.”
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor