A blistering seven-goal win over New Brunswick in a preseason exhibition for Boston College men’s hockey inspired plenty of optimism entering a road weekend series with Wisconsin. The 12th-ranked Eagles seemed poised to shake off the non-conference struggles from a year ago, especially against the Badgers, a team that came to Chestnut Hill a season ago and skated away with a resounding three-goal win.
The struggles continued, though. BC was blanked, 3-0, in Friday night’s season opener, then mounted a second-period comeback the following night only to watch it slip away in a dramatic 7-5 loss. The back-to-back defeats, even though they came on the road, were especially startling as the Badgers entered the year unranked and had seven freshman don their first sweaters and appear in a D-I game. BC, despite returning almost all of its production, couldn’t find a goal in the opener and then struggled mightily in its defensive zone the next night.
Despite outshooting their hosts in the first loss and then staying level in the second game, the Eagles extended a particularly harsh run of non-conference losses. BC hasn’t won a non-conference game since a 3-1 win over Arizona State on Nov. 13, 2016, almost two years ago at the turn of the month. The Eagles nearly warranted a top-10 ranking entering this year, with people looking at the impressive depth and experience as a mark of success, but BC squandered a chance to solidify that ranking with the disappointing weekend.
Fans are looking for a return to the NCAA Tournament, but until the Eagles can prove they have the resolve to win non-conference games, especially those away from home, people shouldn’t place great expectations on the group. Yes, BC was close with Wisconsin, even clawing its way back in the second game, but goaltender Joseph Woll allowed a career-worst six goals and the offense had to turn to a sparkplug in David Cotton to even keep it close.
Wisconsin took advantage of lapses in the Eagles defense to pile up seven goals, a number that mirrored last season’s setback against rival Boston University. The first two minutes would prove to be simply a sign of things to come, as it was a featured underclassmen on each side that found paydirt. Badgers sophomore Sean Dhooghe deflected a shot from teammate Wyatt Kalynuk past Woll just 38 seconds in, then BC’s Oliver Wahlstrom scored his first career goal under a minute later—the star freshman was set up by Christopher Grando and Michael Kim, beating goalie Jack Berry to his blocker side.
The Badgers answered back and then some, though. Wisconsin scored three unanswered goals, taking full advantage of a porous defense. Kalynuk tucked one away past Woll from the left circle a little past the midway point of the first period, then Tarek Baker finished off a rebound and Woll couldn’t keep his glove on a shot from Will Johnson—both goals came in the first 12 minutes of the second period.
Cotton, desperate to erase the frustrations of the loss the night before, went on a run of his own making. Wahlstrom’s goal was followed by almost 35 minutes of scoreless play from the Eagles, as they struggled to crack Berry and the energetic Badgers defense. Cotton broke the drought with a forehand shot on the power play, then closed the gap further less than two minutes later. Jacob Tortora found Cotton after beating a defenseman along the right side and the puck kicked off his skate for a goal.
Surging with confidence, Cotton set up the game-tying goal with under a minute remaining in the second. The junior was credited with the secondary assist on the power play goal, playing the puck to Connor Moore who set up Graham McPhee in a routine finish.
Any momentum didn’t last, though. Wisconsin scored twice in the opening eight minutes of the final period, withstood a Cotton goal in the final third minutes, and punctuated the win with an empty-netter. Cotton’s hat trick was a remarkable individual feat, as without him, the Eagles likely would’ve suffered a much more embarrassing loss.
The defeat followed up a disappointing effort in the first night, a 3-0 setback marked by missed chances. The Eagles knocked on the door all night long, peppering Berry with 29 shots, but failed to break through. The same couldn’t be said about the other team, as the Badgers used their youthful exuberance to great success, tallying twice in the second period and icing the game with an empty netter.
Freshmen K’Andre Miller and Mick Messner scored their first collegiate goals in style. Miller, off of assists from Peter Tischke and Johnson, capitalized on a screen and sent a wrister past an unassuming Woll. Messner finished off an odd-man rush, gathering a rebound and slipping it past Woll after his initial shot from the slot was denied.
Michael Kim had the best chance early for BC, nearly scoring in the second period, but the puck slipped off his stick. The Eagles upped the pressure in the final frame, sending 14 shots Berry’s way, but the junior goaltender held fast. Julius and Jesper Mattila were denied with a man advantage, and Wahlstrom created space for himself but missed the mark with a shot of the left post. The clock ran out after an opportunistic Baker scored with Woll on the bench, and the Eagles didn’t come away with a win in the opener for the second year in a row.
The trip had all the makings of a statement opening weekend, especially for a BC team that is trying to justify its place on the national stage. The Eagles haven’t won a marquee non-conference game in over two seasons, and while the competition has been steep, there’s not much one can say to justify the struggle. If BC merits preseason hype, then it has to be able to back it up. Struggling mightily in non-conference play is a flaw that head coach Jerry York needs to find a fix for. Starting the year with consecutive losses to an unranked opponent that finished five games under .500 in 2017-18 has left a disappointing cloud over the team, something that should force adjustments as further non-conference foes loom.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / For The Heights