BOSTON — Ryan Fitzgerald waited until Jake Oettinger turned around. Refusing to take any chances, especially on a shorthanded attempt, Fitzgerald needed to be absolutely sure that his heave landed on the twine. The suspense of the puck flying in the air delayed Fitzgerald’s celebration. He, along with Charlie McAvoy and Christopher Brown, all just turned to wait.
But before the red lamp flashed, Oettinger’s head dropped to the goal line. And Fitzgerald welcomed all those who came in for the hug.
The suspense wasn’t as strong in the third period, though. That time, when Fitzgerald scored, he knew immediately. And the once hesitant redemption tour against Boston University had been affirmed.
With Boston College men’s hockey’s season on the line—not to mention his own college career—Fitzgerald scored two goals in the Eagles’ 3-2 win over the Terriers in the Hockey East Semifinals. The win sets a date on Saturday with Massachusetts Lowell for the Hockey East Championship, the program’s 17th trip to the title game—most of any team in the conference—and its first since 2012. And for Fitzgerald, who struggled through a cold February like the rest of the team, it provides a scoresheet manifestation of his hard work this season.
“I thought Ryan Fitzgerald has been outstanding [this season],” York said. “His goal production has been down because of crossbars and pipes, not because of lack of effort.”
The win is the first in four tries for No. 15 BC (21-14-4) against its archrivals from down Commonwealth Ave. In fact, in the first three games against No. 7 BU (23-11-3) and Oettinger, the Eagles only amassed a measly two goals total. And though the Terriers stormed back with two extra-attacker goals in the last three minutes—including a controversial ending—the early offense was just enough for BC.
The victory also keeps BC’s hopes for an NCAA Tournament berth alive. After Western Michigan’s loss in the NCHC Semifinals, Friday’s win alone will assuredly not cut it based on PairWise Rankings—they must win the Lamoriello Trophy on Saturday night to get an autobid.
As strong and impactful as it was to get Fitzgerald going again, no player was as important as for BC than goaltender Joseph Woll. The freshman from St. Louis, Mo. put together his best performance this season—by far—with 42 saves.
During an electrifying back-and-forth first period, in which the two teams set a fast pace, Woll deflected a couple of attempts, particularly from Patrick Harper and Bobo Carpenter. He survived all five Terrier power-play opportunities, including an almost four-minute stretch in the first period that featured a brief 5-on-3.
Late in the second, Woll staved off a massive scrum in front of the net for his most impressive save of the evening. Graham McPhee fell into Woll in the net, knocking him onto his backside. Clayton Keller, Patrick Curry, and Ryan Cloonan all crashed on Woll, but he extended just far enough to prevent the lamp from lighting.
“We know we have a very good goaltender, and we produced some runs for him tonight,” York said. “Some of those saves were spectacular.”
BU head coach David Quinn took the praise a step further.
“Joe Woll is a hell of a goalie,” Quinn said. “And he has been for a long time.”
Offensively, the Eagles ran counter to the strategy York and team captain Chris Calnan emphasized earlier in the week to beat BU: getting deflections and firm plants in front of the net. BC’s first goal was a snipe by Julius Mattila from the top of the left circle. The freshman from Finland launched one at Oettinger, taking advantage of Terriers that played soft on him.
Fitzgerald’s first goal was of the same variety. Despite an Austin Cangelosi holding call, Brown worked around Chad Krys to dish the puck to a streaking Fitzgerald. He moved around his potential future Boston Bruins teammate, McAvoy, to loft one up from the slot against Oettinger. That shorthanded goal, mixed with the the deficit, came back to sting BU.
“I thought the shorthanded goal really changed the complexion of the game,” Quinn said. “I’ve mentioned it before, we’ve been playing with fire over the last few weeks, and tonight we played with an inferno.”
BC’s third goal, however, was of the expected variety. Fitzgerald tipped in a dribbling pass, again by Brown, that got through the Terriers’ defense. Doyle Somerby didn’t get back in time to prevent Fitzgerald from tipping it in past Oettinger’s left. Now playing center instead of his typical right wing, Fitzgerald has done what he can to improve other parts of his game. The fact that the posts and crossbars haven’t been going his way isn’t lost on the senior from North Reading, Mass. Yet it was a relief for him to get a few goals, too.
“Anytime you can produce for your team it can be good,” Fitzgerald said.
As to be expected, the Terriers didn’t go quietly into the cold March night. After failing on two power-play opportunities—a unit Quinn said “let him down” in the game—Jordan Greenway pushed one over the head of Woll. Under a minute later, Woll gave up a rebound that Casey Fitzgerald tried to clear, but landed right onto the stick of Keller to cut the lead to 3-2.
On the game’s final faceoff, with 9.8 seconds left, Fitzgerald claimed to have tripped to fall onto the puck. Instead of getting up to risk the shot on goal, Fitzgerald risked the delay of game penalty.
“It was a little bit of a broken play, and I just ended up on the ice,” Fitzgerald said. “I just hovered over it and protected it for as long as possible.”
The play caused a huge brawl between the two teams to end the game. The penalties (and likely, suspensions) might stretch into a whole other scoresheet.
But, as Fitzgerald said, anything he can do for the team can be good. And for the Eagles, to keep their season alive, they’ll need to do everything possible to win the Hockey East title.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor