SOUTH BEND—The Notre Dame Fighting Irish skated to center ice, surrounding the giant shamrock under the scoreboard at Compton Family Ice Arena. Just like all teams in the world of college hockey, the ND players gave an ole with their sticks, tapping them in the center and then back to the outside in salute to their fans. But something seemed different about Notre Dame on this game’s concluding ritual.
Perhaps it was frustration.
Forwards Thomas DiPauli and Mario Lucia slumped their shoulders. Defenseman Robbie Russo rolled his head backwards in disgust, loathing every second of this tradition. And freshman goalie Cal Petersen looked as helpless as a baby bird awaiting food from its mother.
The Fighting Irish looked tired, weak, and defeated after 60 minutes of play. And they can blame Thatcher Demko for that.
Similarly to his rookie season, Demko has excelled for the Boston College men’s hockey team, allowing a mere 2.15 goals against average this year in 30 starts. He can thank his defense for many of those great performances—the Eagles’ strength comes on the blue line and opposing attacks usually get off only around 20 shots on Demko, often giving him an easier workload than other goalies.
But on Friday night, Demko put together his best game of the season with a commanding shutout of ND (14-16-5, 9-7-5). More importantly, his impressive performance clinched a first-round bye (and at least one home game) in the Hockey East Tournament for BC (20-10-5, 12-6-3).
Demko compiled 35 saves against the Irish’s vicious attack, each one more impressive than the last. Throughout the game, Demko snagged pucks out of the air, sprawling to deflect several attempts. The ND forwards even had a couple of breakaway opportunities, beating out defenders or getting them 1-on-1, but Demko remained composed, knocking each shot away with ease. He even held his ground when a Michael Sit penalty at 17:33 in the third period allowed ND to pull goalie Cal Petersen and unleash a 6-on-4 attack on Demko.
“He stayed square to the puck, he stayed in control,” BC head coach Jerry York said. “He made some very difficult saves look relatively easy by his positioning.”
He could’ve faced even more shots, too, if not for the stellar Eagles’ defense—despite three penalties, BC’s penalty kill performed formidably again. No defenseman played more efficiently than freshman Noah Hanifin. On one play, ND’s Sam Herr slid past the defense eyeing to cut BC’s lead in half. Demko made the initial stop but couldn’t handle the puck as it bounced in front of him because Herr and DiPauli screened him. But Hanifin poked the puck away at the last second to Steve Santini, who blasted it out of ND’s offensive zone.
BC’s forwards also joined the defensive party—Alex Tuch and Zach Sanford each regularly came up with big stops to prevent shots by ND defensemen from getting to Irish forwards in front of the net.
“I think my D did a great job boxing guys out, and seeing pucks really well from the point and from the outside,” Demko said.
Even the Irish bailed out Demko. Jeff Jackson’s team is known for its conservative style, but at times, his forwards used that strategy to a fault. At one point, ND’s Anders Bjork received the puck with a clear shot at Demko and fans across Compton screamed at him to take the shot. Bjork sold out, dumping it off instead to Russo, whose shot misfired.
For his efforts, Petersen played an excellent game for the Irish—he faced 33 shots on BC’s attack. Still, Tuch and Ian McCoshen continued their hot streaks by rocketing two-first period shots past him to give BC a 2-0 lead that it didn’t relinquish.
With the win, the Eagles have been given new life. The team’s inexplicably poor start in November knocked BC out of the national spotlight, while much of the attention turned to Jack Eichel and Boston University’s high octane attack. Since then, York’s defensive-heavy squad has steadily improved, slowly compiling wins and climbing the polls. Now, BC has a chance to clinch a share of the Hockey East regular season title with BU—the Eagles must win tonight and they need Northeastern to beat or tie the Terriers at Agganis Arena.
The Eagles skated towards the far end of the ice at Compton, each one leaping over the bench to hug their goaltender. Something seemed different about BC on this game’s concluding ritual.
Perhaps it was hope.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor