For a whole month, Boston College men’s hockey floundered.
The Eagles kicked off February with a 6-4 win at New Hampshire. But after that, the team went on a seven-game winless streak that included a last-place finish in the Beanpot, both of which were firsts since Jerry York had been named head coach in 1994-95.
But once the calendar flipped to March, BC began to do what it has done better than any other program since York took over: win, and win big. With their season uncharacteristically on the line in the Hockey East Tournament, the Eagles did it yet again.
For the second-straight night, No. 17 BC got the touchdown—complete with extra point—against No. 13 Vermont. This time, it came from an atypically successful performance from the power play—a whopping 4-for-7. The 7-4 win caps off a sweep of the Catamounts in the season’s final game at Kelley Rink and punches BC’s ticket to TD Garden for the Hockey East Semifinals. More importantly, it keeps the Eagles’ slim hopes for the NCAA Tournament alive for at least one more weekend.
“For all we knew, this could’ve been our last games,” said senior Austin Cangelosi of his grade’s performance in the game. “Knowing that, we’re on a roll, and it’s the same mindset.”
Though not as quick as Cangelosi’s goal at the 0:08 mark of Friday’s game, the Eagles (20-14-4) got off to a similarly fast start against Vermont (20-13-5) on Saturday. A mere 14 seconds after Matt O’Donnell was put in the box for cross-checking, J.D. Dudek rocketed a shot from the blue line. Helped by screens from Colin White and Scott Savage, Dudek’s shot flew past Stefanos Lekkas in net for an early 1-0 lead.
Brendan Bradley then got called for interference less than a minute after Dudek’s goal. The Eagles didn’t score on the man advantage, but sustained pressure in the Vermont offensive zone. Connor Moore capitalized with a blast from the top of the left circle that went bar down. Initially, Moore’s shot didn’t light the lamp, but the linesman immediately signaled for a goal. After a quick review, it was good enough for the first of Moore’s college career. Dudek then took advantage of a Brady Shaw elbowing call with a snipe low on Lekkas’ left, assisted by Cangelosi. York praised his team’s change in strategy on the power play—after not doing so throughout February, the coaches reinstalled Dudek at the point on special teams. And because of that change, just like Friday, the Eagles led Vermont 3-0 in the first period.
“We got off to another good start, which I envisioned, to see if we could get off to a quick start to see if we can demoralize Vermont,” York said. “But geez, there’s no quit in the Catamounts.”
York was certainly correct about that. With Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Ross Colton back in the lineup, the Catamounts came storming back following a series of BC penalties. Colton got the first one after a David Cotton interference call, going top shelf past Joseph Woll. Then, with 18 seconds remaining in the first, Rob Hamilton launched a power-play goal from the blue line. Suddenly, another surefire BC blowout became a sweat fest for the 3,102 in Kelley Rink.
Yet, as they have done all season, the Eagles turned back to their MVP: Cangelosi.
With Chris Muscoby in the box for a double minor, White found Cotton slamming his stick in front of Lekkas. He fired and Cotton had it tip off his stick right to Cangelosi, who redirected it home. Four minutes later, White flipped another one over the head of a defenseman to Cangelosi on a power play caused by a slash from Anthony Petruzzelli. The senior center skirted easily past Jake Massie to go top shelf on Lekkas. The goals, his 19th and 20th of the season, moved him into a tie with Matthew Gaudreau for the team lead.
“Austin is having a career year as a senior,” York said. “He willed us to get to that Thursday night [Hockey East awards] banquet with the team.”
Hamilton got one back for Vermont to close the second, but the Eagles kept on pushing. Controlling the puck for much of the third, the senior duo of Chris Calnan and Ryan Fitzgerald gave BC all the insurance it would need.
“I don’t think we were great defensively, and that includes the kill,” Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “They played much better than we did this weekend. The better team is advancing right now.”
And on the Eagles march toward TD Garden. Obviously, the safest way to get back in the NCAA Tournament is to get that autobid with a Hockey East title. But, based on the way the PairWise Rankings will likely shake out, BC likely only needs one win to earn one of the coveted 16 spots. With his team finally clicking, York feels good about the Eagles’ chances.
“Offensively, we’ve gotten our mojo back,” York said. “When you get more goals, you get more confident about getting more goals.”
The only problem? BC doesn’t know its opponent yet. If Massachusetts Lowell loses on Sunday, that will set up a date with Notre Dame. In the Fighting Irish’s final tournament in Hockey East, it’s hard to imagine Jeff Jackson won’t pull out all the stops. That being said, the Eagles finished 1-1 against their Holy War rivals, and match up well.
But if Lowell wins, the Eagles will have to defeat their archrivals, a team they haven’t beaten all season: Boston University.
York wouldn’t want it any other way.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor