LOWELL, Mass. — Joseph Woll had given Boston College men’s hockey one last gasp of life.
Luke McInnis had just failed to get back in position. His desperation hook on John Edwardh gave the Massachusetts Lowell forward a penalty-shot attempt. But the junior shot it right at Woll’s stomach, an easy save for the Eagles’ freshman goaltender. And after Colin White cut the River Hawks lead in half to start the third period, J.D. Dudek blasted down the ice. He knocked one off the crossbar, showing off the fire the Eagles needed to make a two-goal comeback.
Yet Dudek couldn’t help himself. His frustration with not getting that puck just an inch lower—and, perhaps, the team’s performance in February—couldn’t be held back. Dudek got into a scrum with Lowell goaltender Tyler Wall and several defensemen, giving him a seat in the box. Though the Eagles survived the penalty kill, they lost all of the momentum. And when Jake Kamrass wrapped the puck around Woll in net, sliding it past the goaltender’s right pad, BC’s season was just about lost, too.
A collapse three weeks in the making was, at last, complete.
In its final regular-season game of the year, No. 14 BC blew its chance at the top overall seed in the Hockey East Tournament, a distinction it had been in place for wire-to-wire from the beginning of the year. After a 3-1 loss to No. 5 Lowell at the Tsongas Center, the Eagles will now enter the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak. The program has not endured such a streak since Nov. 1-26, 1994, the inaugural season for head coach Jerry York.
“Just not a lot of puck luck on our side tonight,” York said, dejected after Friday’s defeat.
Similar to Friday night—and to most of their first periods—the Eagles (18-14-4, 13-6-3 Hockey East) started out strong against the River Hawks (22-9-3, 14-7-1). BC earned a power play 5:18 into the frame when Evan Campbell took a seat, two minutes for interference. Though the offense kept the puck squarely in the zone, nothing found the twine. For much of the opening frame, the Eagles kept up that pressure on Wall. They controlled the time of possession in a way that would have made Steve Addazio proud, blasting shot-after-shot toward the net.
Similar to Thursday night, however, many of those shots came without a skater ready for the rebound or across the crease without anyone ready to push it home.
BC also caught a bad break when Matthew Gaudreau took an elbow to the face, causing him to fall onto the ice for a few minutes. Though the senior did not return to the ice in the first, he came back in the second.
Unfortunately for the Eagles, the rest of the team—especially Woll—did not.
Just 19 seconds in, Woll gave up one of the softest goals he had allowed all year. Edwardh shot it right at the meeting point of Woll’s pads. But somehow, it squeezed through an opening, trickling into the net for Lowell’s first goal of the game.
Kamrass helped the River Hawks double the lead with a cross-crease backhanded pass to Ryan Lohin. The Tampa Bay Lightning prospect took advantage of a wide-open net on Woll’s left for the easy tap-in.
Three minutes into the third, White cut the deficit with his 15th goal of the year—far less than what had been expected from the Ottawa Senators’ first-round pick. Scott Savage took a blast from the blue line that deflected off Wall right to David Cotton. The Parker, Texas native dished it to White, who was ready for the easy goal.
Yet once Kamrass got the game-clincher seven minutes later, Norm Bazin’s famed shutdown defense did the rest.
Based on his postgame demeanor, York has all but faced the writing on the wall. And though he remained confident in his team’s ability, the fact remains: the offense can’t make up for a defense that can’t stop anyone.
“To stay alive and advance, we have to score more goals,” York said. “Otherwise, we have to play the perfect 1-0 game.”
Now, trophy season officially begins. To begin the month, the question was not if BC was going to make the NCAA Tournament. It was a matter of where fans should plan their vacations, if the path the team might take would be smooth enough to extend the program’s NCAA record to 26 Frozen Fours.
BC does still own a first-round bye in the tournament, which gives them next week to regroup. Additionally, against all odds, the Eagles can actually still come away with the Hockey East regular-season title. If Notre Dame wins Saturday against Boston University, it will win the trophy outright. If not—regardless of a tie or a BU win—BC will share the title with Lowell and one other team, either BU or ND.
But because of the PairWise Rankings and a low RPI, the Eagles are all but certain forced to win the Hockey East Tournament to make it back to the Big Dance. In a season in which BC has gone winless against BU and Lowell in five tries, that is the biggest of ifs.
And this season’s question is one York rarely has to face, not since the 2008-09 season. If they were to somehow accomplish that feat and get an NCAA berth, based on the last few weeks, would they even deserve it?
Featured Image by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor