BOSTON — March is all about Cinderellas, regardless of which NCAA Tournament you most prefer. And Boston College men’s hockey couldn’t decide if its special teams would wear the glass slipper or turn back into a pumpkin.
Much of the Eagles’ chances for a 12th Hockey East Championship rested on the success of their uncharacteristically-poor power play—the unit ranked ninth in the country last year, but entered their title game against the University of Massachusetts Lowell a mere 41st. Throughout the first period of Saturday’s game, a 4-3 defeat, BC flipped back and forth between a revival of its once-great form, and a reminder of what the team had been for much of the back half this season.
Nine seconds after Jake Kamrass headed to the box for boarding, Austin Cangelosi perfectly tipped in a blast from J.D. Dudek to cut a 1-0 deficit. The firm plant in front of the net by Cangelosi had long been needed by BC (21-15-4), but rarely seen, throughout the season. Down 2-1 to Lowell (26-10-3) later in the frame, the Eagles received 1:39 of a 5-on-3, thanks to Dylan Zink and Ryan Lohin. On this extended blessing, BC reverted back to its old form: sloppy passes, trouble staying upright, and failure to produce quality chances on the goaltender.
When Colin White sat for a two-minute elbow to close the frame, Lowell had every opportunity it needed to extend its lead. But the Eagles displayed their best special teams talent in the most dire of times: the shorthanded goal. Graham McPhee, who has often been touted for his playmaking skills, but has struggled to get onto the scoresheet this season, provided that necessary spark.
McPhee forced C.J. Smith to turn the puck over at the blue line 30 seconds into the Lowell power play. He dashed down the ice and pushed it past Tyler Wall in net with a sharp backhanded move. With a drop to one knee and huge pump of the fist, McPhee embraced his teammates for the equalizer.
His goal should’ve provided BC with all the momentum it would need. But Lowell’s ultra-crisp passing in the second period made sure that wouldn’t continue. And now, despite outshooting the River Hawks 41-25, neither will the Eagles’ season.
Lowell’s third Hockey East Championship ends the 2016-17 campaign for the Eagles. Because of the vagaries of the PairWise Rankings, BC ends the regular season as the No. 16 team in the nation. Since the WCHA champion receives an autobid for the tournament, the cut line in stops at 15. Thus, BC finishes one spot short, failing to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2008-09. But with the youngest team in the nation, Jerry York had nothing but high hopes for his team.
“For them to be picked sixth in the league, … which was probably pretty accurate, to achieve what we did achieve, a share of the crown, within a whisker of winning the Lamoriello Trophy,” York said. “I’m very proud of them.”
The Eagles didn’t capitalize on the boost from McPhee, playing back on their heels for much of the middle frame. Joseph Woll kept BC in the game as much as he could, with a couple of great saves. Though Matthew Gaudreau saved a clear look by Kamrass, the ensuing penalty came back to bite BC. John Edwardh cleaned up a rebound set up by Joe Gambardella to give the River Hawks a 3-2 lead. Less than a minute later, Gambardella struck back with one of his own from an extremely tough angle to double the lead.
BC never stopped fighting. In the third period, the Eagles outshot Lowell a whopping 15-2, putting up many quality chances on freshman goaltender Tyler Wall. On one in particular, Austin Cangelosi burst down the ice to send Wall into a split. Then, with Woll off for an extra attacker, Ryan Fitzgerald gave the Eagles hope. His wraparound, no-look attempt knocked off Wall’s back skate and into the net to cut the lead to 4-3. Fitzgerald gave BC one last opportunity with under 10 seconds remaining. But his final shot hit iron instead of twine.
Here's another look at Ryan Fitzgerald's potential equalizer that would have likely sent the game into overtime. pic.twitter.com/INeujfd40U
— Andy Backstrom (@AndyHeights) March 19, 2017
“I thought our club did very well tonight, certainly a lot better than when we ended the season with two losses to Lowell,” York said. “It comes down to a Fitzy crossbar from sending this game to overtime.”
In 2016-17, the Eagles had placed as high as No. 7 in the PairWise Rankings, immediately prior to their opening-round game with Boston University in the Beanpot. As York stated, many predicted BC to finish in the bottom half of Hockey East. After all, the program had lost seven underclassmen to the NHL, highlighted by Mark Richter Award-winning goaltender Thatcher Demko. A February swoon in which BC went 1-5-2—including a sweep by Lowell and a last-place finish in the Beanpot, the program’s first since 1993—dropped the team to the precarious position on which it finished. But still, for the Eagles to be in this position at the end of the season given all the trouble they had was something to be admired, at least according to Lowell head coach Norm Bazin.
“With the turnover they had over the summer, to have the season they had is pretty special,” Bazin said.
In total, BC’s five-man graduating class of Scott Savage, Chris Calnan, Cangelosi, Gaudreau, and Fitzgerald combined for 52 goals, 94 assists, and 146 in their senior season. Over the four years, that total jumps to 173 goals, 267 assists, and 440 points. The Class of 2017 finished with a record of 98-46-16 (56-17-13 Hockey East), a stretch that included three Hockey East regular-season titles, two Beanpots, and two Frozen Fours. Two of these five seniors will matriculate to the NHL after being drafted—Fitzgerald (Boston Bruins) and Calnan (Chicago Blackhawks). The other three are expected to find homes as well, particularly Cangelosi, who concludes his college career with a reputation as the nation’s best faceoff man—he finished with the nation’s best draw winning percentage (about 65) among players at his position in each of the last two years.
With the loss of this class, BC must replace four of its top-five point scorers, while waiting on the fate of the fifth. In the next few weeks, sophomore Colin White, a 2015 first-round draft pick, is expected to sign with the Ottawa Senators.
The Eagles, however, will likely return a lot of talent. Sophomores Dudek and Christopher Brown should step up as significant scoring threats, along with freshmen McPhee and David Cotton. BC’s freshman-laden defense will also have an additional year of experience, led by Buffalo Sabres prospect, Casey Fitzgerald. In the back end, the Eagles will have Woll, the Toronto Maple Leafs third-rounder who some argued may be even better than Demko. And next season, barring any midsummer departures, BC brings in a new crop of star-studded players, led by projected top-10 pick Eeli Tolvanen. Before he even thinks about next season, York plans to take his wife, Bobbie, on an extended vacation, a fact he emphasized in a red-eyed press conference.
But when he returns, the offseason will begin for the most dominant college hockey program of the 21st century. Unfortunately for Eagles fans everywhere, without an NCAA Tournament for only the third time in the 2000s, it’s much longer than they’re used to.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor