With the Hockey East regular season title safely clinched after Friday night’s 6-3 victory over Maine, Boston College men’s hockey entered Saturday with something quite rare in the college hockey universe: nothing to play for. Win or lose, the Eagles would still enter a 12-day break before taking on the lowest seed to survive octofinal weekend in a three-game slate at Kelley Rink. All that was left was to go out at home the way most college teams do—by celebrating the seniors.
Except, which seniors were there?
It’s not like we didn’t know this was coming, of course. The four members of what would’ve been the Class of 2018 ditched long ago for the NHL: Alex Tuch (Vegas) and Zach Sanford (St. Louis) after sophomore year; Noah Hanifin (Carolina) after freshman year; and Sonny Milano (Columbus) before he even got on campus. A senior day celebration of silence was in the works for almost two years.
So instead, during the ceremony prior a 2-1 victory for BC (18-13-3, 18-6-0 Hockey East) over Maine (16-14-4, 10-11-3), the program celebrated graduate transfer Kevin Lohan and its three senior managers: Chuck Van Kula, Lucas Hurtt, and James Daly. For Van Kula, the night held a special importance.
“Definitely kind of abnormal, kind of nice having Kevin there too to balance it out a little bit, but obviously our class was pretty successful individually so they left early, but I think it just shows what this team’s been able to do without this senior leadership,” Van Kula said. “We’re in a different role being seniors as managers rather than players, but it’s cool to be a part of … It’s flown by, I’ve been doing it for four years, you put a lot hours in, it’s obviously a grind at times, but I’m thankful for the opportunities I’ve had.”
After the game on Senior Night, Van Kula reflected on the most thrilling month of his career: when he got called up to the ice. He played goaltender for St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia, and with Thatcher Demko still recovering from double hip surgery, head coach Jerry York wanted Van Kula to prepare, just in case the hips flared up, and to give Demko rest in practice. A month prior, Van Kula began taking the proper blood tests and paperwork just to be a body for a bunch of NHL prospects to shoot at in warmups.
But when Ian Milosz got a concussion the week of the Beanpot, Van Kula had to be ready. He sacrificed his scholarship money from being a manager in his sophomore year to comply with NCAA rules and make sure BC didn’t go over the scholarship limit on the team. That Monday, Van Kula spent the day in compliance filing paperwork and piecing together equipment from former goaltenders Brian Billett and Alex Joyce.
“My chest protector was ratty, so I wasn’t going to wear it with Ian McCoshen taking slapshots at me,” Van Kula said, referring to the Florida Panthers prospect then anchoring BC’s defense.
The only piece of equipment he forgot was his cup. Not wanting to wear one of theirs, he had to call goalie coach Mike Ayers, who hadn’t yet gotten on the bus to TD Garden, to bring it over. Fellow assistant coach Greg Brown put it in his briefcase, which made for an awkward moment when security checked his briefcase. But it was an unreal feeling for him to have a couple of No. 33 jerseys printed up for him that day.
“I was gonna hang it up, but I never got around to it,” Van Kula said. “The one time it came out was my friend wore it for the BC-Clemson football game, but Hags [Director of Hockey Operations John Hegarty] had a couple made for me this season, so I think I’m coming out of here with three or four jerseys. But the one that got game use is in a bag in my room somewhere.”
Van Kula, naturally, had his mood lightened by an Eagles victory. Down top-three scorer Julius Mattila, who is out with mono but should return for the playoffs, BC opened the scoring halfway through the first. After working strong along the boards behind Maine goaltender Jeremy Swayman, David Cotton pulled a nifty move around defenseman Alexis Binner. While Swayman looked low for Cotton’s point-blank shot, the sophomore from Parker, Texas shot high for the game’s opening tally. The Eagles doubled that lead early in the second on a power play caused by a hold from Brady Keeper. Again with a strong backcheck, Aapeli Rӓsӓnen sent out a perfect feed to Christopher Brown. The forward captain used a baseball-style swing to light the lamp—the goal was confirmed after a brief replay.
BC’s defense also put together a strong performance, particularly by Michael Kim and Michael Karow. Each defenseman laid out multiple times on breakaway attempts to knock the puck away from impending forwards. The one time it cost BC—when Kim got called for a penalty on Eduards Tralmarks in the second, leading to a penalty shot—goaltender Joseph Woll stood tall. It’s the latest dominant performance in a strong stretch of games for Woll, who got hammered early in the season but has since settled down in Hockey East play.
“He’s had a good year, but the last three weekends have been the best hockey of his two-year career with us at BC,” head coach Jerry York said. “Right now, he’s at the very top of his game, and that’s why we came right back with him tonight.”
Rob Michel’s lone goal, which slid through Woll’s five-hole on a bad change during a power play, couldn’t provide the Black Bears the momentum they’d need to stay in it. And with a shutdown defensive third period, BC heads into the playoffs with the right kind of streak.
That’s important, because though the Eagles had nothing to play for in terms of the Hockey East standings, a loss could further hinder their chances of making the NCAA Tournament. BC likely needs to win the Hockey East Tournament to earn a berth, although there’s a slim chance it can slip in based on the PairWise Rankings. What’s currently holding the team back is its bleak nonconference resume—the Eagles finished 0-7-3 against what was the most difficult slate in the country. Even with the tournament chances on the line, York has little regrets, especially as he’s seen his team grow.
“We want to play Denver, we want to play Saint Cloud State,” York said, referring to the country’s top teams out west. “We’re not gonna shy away and we expect to beat them. I think our team now would have a good chance to win.”
For the Eagles to even be in this position without any seniors at all is impressive. And sometimes, it comes down to the influence of the managers.
“Sometimes you think about that senior class that would’ve been here, but it happens to a lot of us,” York said. “Great for the managers, and Kevin Lohan, I was kidding with him before the game, it’s my second senior night back-to-back. He stayed, except for the broken jaw, he stayed healthy … My managers do an awful lot for us, they’re almost part of our core team. So Chuck and James and Lucas have all [been] outstanding for us.”
Featured Image by Steven Everett / Heights Editor