BOSTON — In Boston College men’s hockey’s semifinal victory over Boston University, head coach Jerry York’s group bent, but did not break. The BU attack launched 22 shots Joseph Woll’s way in the final frame, two of which found the back of the net in the final five minutes, reducing a once three-goal lead. It all came down to one faceoff. Ryan Fitzgerald won the bout, smothered the puck, and ran out the clock, sending the Eagles to their 17th Hockey East Championship Game.
On Saturday against Massachusetts Lowell, the script completely flipped.
Down two goals in the third period, BC, like Friday night’s Terriers, turned to desperation mode. York pulled Woll with about three minutes remaining, giving the Eagles an extra body on the offensive end. Shortly after, Fitzgerald netted a no-look wraparound goal. Yet the Eagles still trailed by one.
With 43 seconds to go, Savage delivered the puck to Fitzgerald, who was positioned a few feet in front of the Hockey East emblem. Fitzgerald wound up and slapped the puck, sending it past a cluster of River Hawks. But instead of lighting the lamp, the puck dinged against the crossbar. BC whipped up a few more shots, tallying 15 for the period, but could not equalize.
As the clock ticked, the Eagles’ chances at extending their season dwindled. All that stood between BC’s offseason and a potential overtime-forcing goal was a faceoff. Austin Cangelosi, the nation’s best faceoff man, lined up against Nick Master. The senior had won 15 of 25 decisions to that point, but as soon as the puck dropped none of that mattered. Master immediately cleared the puck into BC territory, clinching a 4-3 River Hawks’ victory and ending the Eagles’ season.
For the fourth time in the Hockey East Tournament and for the second-straight game, BC (21-15-4) recorded a shorthanded goal. Close to the end of the second period, Colin White was called for an elbowing penalty. He took a seat in the box, and Lowell (26-10-3) went on the power play.
But as C.J. Smith—the tournament’s eventual MVP—brought the puck up the ice, Graham McPhee picked his pocket. With only Tyler Wall to beat, the freshman forward approached the goal, pushed the puck to the left and backhanded it into the net.
The goal came just minutes after the Eagles failed to convert on a lengthy 5-on-3. Strangely enough, this is isn’t the first time this season that the Eagles have had more success on the kill than on their 40th-ranked power play. McPhee’s score marked BC’s 11th shorthanded goal on the year—the second most in the country and two more than any other team in Hockey East.
In BC’s first two matchups versus Lowell, the Eagles were outscored by a total of five goals. Their lone scoring plays came in the third period, after the River Hawks had already established a lead in the first two periods. But on Saturday night, BC kept pace with Lowell throughout the entire first frame, scoring just as many goals in 20 minutes against the River Hawks as it had the entire season.
Not only did the Eagles get on the board early, but in doing so, they reduced multiple one-goal deficits. Lowell struck first blood, but a bit more than four minutes later, BC erased the River Hawk lead. Thanks to a Jake Kamrass boarding call, the Eagles got their first power-play opportunity of the night. And it wouldn’t take long for them to cash in.
Savage located J.D. Dudek in the left zone, who then blasted a shot toward Wall. As the puck approached the freshman netminder, Cangelosi tipped it in midair, redirecting the shot and tying the game at one.
Around seven minutes after that, Lowell retook the lead, as the River Hawks moved the puck around the BC zone, before finding Chris Forney for the defensemen’s fourth goal of the year. Nevertheless, with time winding down in the opening period, McPhee forced a Smith turnover on the penalty kill near center ice and got the better of Wall on the ensuing 1-on-1.
The Eagles proceeded to hang around the conference’s No. 1 seed for the rest of the game, even coming close to capping off a late two-goal comeback.
Fitzgerald lit the lamp twice in the semifinals and almost did so again on Saturday night. Less than three minutes remained in the final period when Savage set Dudek up for another open shot. The sophomore’s attempt was saved by Wall, but Fitzgerald corralled the rebound and scored on a no-look, between the legs wraparound.
The highlight-reel play put BC in position to force overtime. And the senior was a matter of inches from doing exactly that. Fitzgerald whipped up a long-distance slap shot, which looked as if it was going in, but instead deflected off the crossbar.
“You know in this game, crossbars go in and all of a sudden, you’re advancing to a national tournament, and you’ve got a chance to do something special,” York said. “[But here, it] hits the crossbar and goes out the other way. It’s a matter of inches.”
Regardless of the All-Tournament Team forward’s misfire, his body of work in the last week of the season was commendable. Fitzgerald notched a third of his goals this season in the Hockey East Tournament.
Last season, BC was ranked ninth in the country on the power play. This time around, it has consistently struggled on special teams, dropping to a mere 40th in the field. But of late, it appeared as if York’s crew had finally found a solution. Coming into the championship game, the Eagles had racked up five power-play goals in the conference tournament. Six minutes into the first period, it seemed like that success was bound to continue. Cangelosi and Dudek capitalized on the one-man advantage, tag-teaming for BC’s first goal of the contest.
But later in the period, everything fell apart. Only seconds separated the penalties of Dylan Zink and Ryan Lohin. As a result, the Eagles were up two men for about a minute and 40 seconds. Yet, even so, they could not get a shot by Wall.
Players were stumbling with the puck at their feet and continued to circulate the puck around the Lowell zone, but only ripped four shots Wall’s way. In a situation that should have guaranteed a goal, BC looked hesitant to even take shots. This sequence would come back to haunt York and Co., as they found themselves reaching for one more goal in the final minutes of the game.
The Eagles would go on to finish 1-of-4 on the power play.
Second Period Collapse
Often, when BC has lost games this season, it has given up goals in bunches. Back on Feb. 10, Woll gave up three goals to Merrimack in the first 10 minutes. It even happens when the Eagles have the lead. For instance, take Friday night’s semifinal. BC was up three goals with five minutes to go, and just like that BU put together two goals in one minute.
At times, the defense appears impenetrable. But when opponents score once, there’s no telling when they’ll stop. Nine minutes into the second period, Matthew Gaudreau picked up a hooking penalty. Soon after, John Edwardh made BC pay on the power play. But the worst was still to come.
A minute and a half later, Michael Kapla passed the puck to Joe Gambardella, who went top-right on Woll from the right zone. Instead of being tied, the Eagles were now down two, a steep hole, especially against the 13th-ranked River Hawks defense.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor