Hockey East Semifinal Preview: vs. Massachusetts

After a heart-pumping quarterfinals series with Providence, Boston College men’s hockey unexpectedly finds itself in the Hockey East semifinals at TD Garden for the fourth year in a row. Despite blowing a 3-1 lead in Game One against the Friars, the Eagles rallied behind Logan Hutsko—the sophomore scored an overtime game-winner in Game Two, then broke a 1-1 deadlock in Game Three with an eventual game-winning goal in the third period. It was a hectic weekend in Rhode Island, defined by penalties, back-and-forth play, and even controversy. The conference investigated an alleged racist remark by a BC player, but were unable to find enough evidence and the ruling was inconclusive.

With that whirlwind of games and news behind them, the Eagles head to Boston for a matchup with the tournament’s top overall seed, No. 3 Massachusetts. The Minutemen split their final four games of the regular season, then looked shaky in their postseason opener, needing overtime to knock off eighth-seeded New Hampshire in Game One. They rebounded healthily, though, routing the Wildcats, 6-0, and advancing to the semifinals for the first time since 2007.

Who is BC playing?

No. 3 Massachusetts

When is BC playing?

Friday, March 22, 7:30 p.m.

Where is BC playing?

TD Garden, Boston, Mass.

How to Watch/Listen:

The game will be available to watch on NESNplus, or you can listen to it via WEEI 850 AM and BCEagles.com. Live stats can be accessed here.

What to Know About UMass:

The top team in the conference in the regular season by a five-point margin, UMass is balanced with no clear weaknesses—there’s a reason the Minutemen have been a top-three team in the national polls for much of the season. They led Hockey East in scoring offense (3.86 goals per game), the power play (29.1 percent), the penalty kill (86.9 percent), and were third in defense (2.06 goals per game). Throw in the fact that UMass has the conference’s top-three point scorers alongside a goaltender who is fourth in goals against average, and you can see why it rattled off nine straight wins at one point this season.

A four-headed points monster is more than enough to give any team headaches. Defenseman Cale Makar became the first blue liner to post 30 points in Hockey East play since 2000-01, eventually finishing the year with 15 goals and 31 assists, a remarkable 46-point performance that put him atop the conference table. He rightfully was the only unanimous selection to the All-Hockey East First Team, where he was joined by teammate Mitchell Chaffee, a sophomore classmate who piled up 17 goals and 24 assists. Separating the two in points is senior forward Jacob Pritchard, who nabbed a second team nod behind a 16-goal, 29-assist year. A few spots below Pritchard—and also on the second team—is sophomore John Leonard, who chipped in 13 goals and 23 assists, raising his point total from last season by eight.

It’s incredibly difficult to contain these four players, as just taking one out of the game is far from enough to hold the Minutemen in check. They average nearly four goals per game because the offensive system they have in place is a handful and because the bench depth is there as well. Bobby Trivigno (12 goals, 15 assists) and Marc Del Gaizo (12 goals, 14 assists) are a pair of freshmen that have been turned to at times and made the most of their opportunities. Another reason UMass is so difficult to grapple with offensively is that it is strong, regardless of its numbers on the ice. Pritchard and Leonard are first and third in power-play points, respectively, while the team as a whole has a plus-23 power-play net, eight goals better than the second place team.

It’s hard to crack the Minutemen on the other end of the ice, too, as the team finished third in the conference in scoring defense and additionally just eighth in penalty minutes. A smart, well-run blue line unit has been the recipe for success, protecting netminder Matt Murray—who finished just ninth in the conference in save percentage—very well.

Season Series:

Entering this year, the Eagles had taken eight straight from UMass, outscoring the Minutemen by a decisive 44-12 margin. The tables were turned in 2018-19, though, as UMass swept the two-game season series, beating BC at Mullins Center and then the following night at Kelley Rink.

The first game was a heartbreaker for the Eagles, the third straight loss in what would delve into a six-game losing streak. BC had a dream start, building an early 2-0 lead in the first period on the strength of goals from defenseman Casey Fitzgerald and Connor Moore. That was followed by three straight goals from its hosts, with UMass controlling the pace of play from the middle of the first to the outset of the third—goals from Makar, Leonard, and Philip Lagunov handed the Minutemen a 3-2 lead. The Eagles were able to respond, with Julius Mattila equalizing at the 13-minute mark of the third period, but lost on a dagger, as Jake McLaughlin’s one-timer beat Joseph Woll with 2.3 seconds left in the game for a 4-3 win.

Even with the dismay of losing in the waning seconds on the road, BC put up a good fight in the rematch. With a late puck drop time of 8 p.m., the Eagles took just nine minutes to take the first lead for the second game in a row. Graham McPhee’s opener didn’t hold up, though, as UMass again rattled off three unanswered goals and answered McPhee’s second of the game, en route to a 4-2 win.

Outlook:

They say anything can happen in a single-elimination playoff matchup, and BC arguably has more to play for. Yes, the Minutemen have lost the only Hockey East Championship they were in and will be desperate to leave their mark, but they’ve already got a spot locked up in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles, meanwhile, sit eight games under .500, and their only hope at playing more hockey rests in winning out. It’s been a while since UMass has been able to beat BC—the Eagles hold a 27-6-1 record over the last 10 years—so it’s very much a little brother finally getting a shot at the big brother.

Matchup wise, everything points to the Minutemen, but that was largely the case with Providence last week—even if BC had taken two of three from the Friars in the regular season. The Eagles have shown that when they’re able to play up, they have enough talent and depth to make things interesting. The ability to take early leads against UMass and even fight back in the third during the two regular season losses reflects a team that has what it takes to pull off an improbable upset. If they catch the Minutemen at less than their best—like UMass’s double overtime game against UNH in the quarterfinals—there’s a legitimate chance that a 14-win team could be three periods of hockey away from a NCAA berth.

Featured Image by Kayla Brandt / For The Heights

Bradley Smart
About Bradley Smart 300 Articles
Bradley is the sports editor for The Heights. He believes that America does truly run on Dunkin, baseball teams should always wear stirrups, you can't outrun a bear, and being down 3-1, in anything, is never cause for concern. You can follow him on Twitter @bradleysmart15.