All season long, Boston College men’s hockey’s top forward line—made up of David Cotton, Logan Hutsko, and Julius Mattila—has shouldered the bulk of the scoring load for the Eagles. Coming into Thursday’s tilt against Connecticut, the trio had combined for 35 of the team’s 72 points and often appeared to be the only line capable of generating a consistent scoring threat.
The story was no different on Thursday, as Cotton, Mattila, and Hutsko combined for seven points—with Mattila recording his first career hat trick—in a thorough 4-0 win. A suddenly stout Eagles defense once again held firm, posting BC’s second shutout in as many games. The result was an excellent start to a weekend series versus the Huskies, as the Eagles opened the scoring late in the first period and cruised to a comfortable win.
At the outset it was UConn (5-10-1, 2-8-1 Hockey East) that first applied offensive pressure. The Huskies were able to record the game’s first four shots, as Carter Turnbull and Benjamin Freeman forced BC (5-6-2, 5-1-2) goaltender Joseph Woll into a pair of early saves. UConn kept its foot on the gas, outshooting its visitors, 12-4, through the first 14 minutes of play. The Eagles’ defense, however, continued to look much improved, as Michael Karow got his body in front of a drive from Kale Howarth and Woll appeared unbeatable in net. The junior finished with 30 saves and extended his scoreless streak to 117-plus minutes of game time, dating back to last weekend at Boston University.
The momentum swung with six minutes to play in the first period, as J.D. Dudek and the Huskies’ Ryan Wheeler received matching penalties for the game’s first infractions. With the ice less crowded, Mattila immediately took advantage. The junior forward skipped around a UConn defenseman on the left wing and crashed toward the net, before switching to his forehand and slotting the puck home in between Huskies netminder Adam Huska’s legs to give the Eagles the early lead.
Ruslan Ishakov tried to answer for UConn but couldn’t beat Woll with a pair of slapshots, as the teams headed to the locker room with BC up, 1-0. The Huskies were afforded an early opportunity to even the score in the second period when Christopher Brown was sent to the penalty box for tripping, but found the Eagles’ penalty kill impassable. After Thursday’s win, BC has now killed 88.2 percent of opponent power plays on the year—a stellar figure.
UConn had two more golden opportunities to climb back into the contest throughout the period, but found that Woll—the reigning Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the Week—was more than up to the task. First, six minutes into the frame, Turnbull had a great opportunity on the doorstep, only for the Eagles goalie to deny him with a sprawling glove save. Then, three minutes later, Woll slid across the goal to block a wraparound shot from Jachym Kondelik with his right pad.
In the meantime, the Eagles’ top line kept on converting opportunities. One minute after Turnbull couldn’t convert, Roman Kinal was penalized for holding, giving BC its first power-play opportunity of the game. Just under a minute into the one-man advantage, the puck was cycled out to Casey Fitzgerald at the point. The senior captain lined up a shot, but whiffed. Luckily for him, the puck remained between his skates. Fitzgerald regained control, before spraying the puck out to Hutsko in the left circle. The sophomore forward made no mistake with his slapshot, sending it past Huska to double the Eagles’ advantage.
The story was much the same on BC’s second power play of the period. With four minutes to play in the second frame, the Eagles went back to the one-man advantage after Justin Howell was whistled for boarding. Cotton maneuvered into space in the low left slot and delayed a second prior to sliding the puck across the ice to Mattila, who buried a shot at the opposite post to effectively seal BC’s win.
From there, the Eagles were in cruise control. Woll made 11 saves in the third period to cap his shutout, and BC even took advantage of an empty net with four minutes left in the game to pad its lead. With Huska pulled for an extra skater, Jack McBain was able to dig the puck out before locating Mattila alone at neutral ice. The junior skated around the Huskies’ defense before calmly lighting the lamp to complete the hat trick.
With the win, BC has moved within one game of .500 with one game left to play before the conclusion of the first half of the season. After a dismal start to the year that included two games in which the Eagles conceded seven goals, it has to be encouraging for BC fans that the team’s defense has rebounded and morphed into one of Hockey East’s best. In fact, in conference play the Eagles are conceding just 1.12 goals per game, the fewest in the conference.
It’s also fair to say that the defense has papered over some of the offensive cracks, namely BC’s inability to consistently create opportunities outside of its first line. For now, with the Eagles seemingly back to their winning ways, they’ll at least have the long break to work on some of those offensive issues before resuming conference play in January.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / For The Heights