Riding a six-game unbeaten streak into a New Year’s Eve matchup with longtime rival Notre Dame, the sixth-ranked team in the country, Boston College men’s hockey was aiming to start the back half of the 2018-19 campaign on a similarly strong foot. The turbulent first semester featured plenty of lows, particularly in non-conference play, with the Eagles being blown out at home by St. Cloud State before falling to Bentley for the first time in program history. With ending a prolonged skid outside Hockey East play likely a new year’s resolution for the program, beating the Irish in a sold out Compton Family Ice Arena would have been an emphatic way to do it.
Instead, four BC shots clanked off the crossbar or posts, while four Notre Dame shots found nothing but the back of the net in what turned out to be a 4-0 shutout in South Bend. The Irish (12-5-1, 5-3 Big Ten), playing their first game since a disappointing 9-1 setback to Penn State back on Dec. 8, used a shutout effort from goaltender Cale Morris and goals from four different players in the win.
The Eagles (6-7-2, 6-1-2 Hockey East), meanwhile, were without second-line center Oliver Wahlstrom, who was busy playing a key role in seeing the United States National Team through to the quarterfinals of the IIHF World Junior Championship. The frustration of yet another non-conference loss—BC’s sixth of the season in six tries—was evident when defenseman Casey Fitzgerald attempted to save a cheeky empty net goal from Notre Dame’s Dylan Malmquist.
The Irish defenseman flipped the puck up in the air from near his own blue line at the 17:14 mark of the third period, and it dropped down and slid toward the net. Fitzgerald was unable to catch up to it as it nicked off the post and in, angrily sweeping at it with his stick before stopping abruptly. It was the fourth goal conceded by an Eagles team that has leaned on their defense for much of the year, with goalie Joseph Woll registering clean sheets in two of the previous three games.
Woll played well in net throughout, turning away 20 shots, but he and BC’s penalty kill unit, which has slipped to seventh in the Hockey East, dug themselves into a hole. Midway through the first period, Fitzgerald went to the box for tripping, and the Eagles came within two seconds of killing it off and keeping it scoreless. Instead, a rebound after Michael Graham’s shot from the right side slipped out to Matt Hellickson. All alone and with a wide open net, Hellickson didn’t hesitate and one-timed it past delayed diving efforts from both Woll and David Cotton.
Momentum in hand, the Irish put BC away just 34 seconds later. With the arena rocking and the crowd on its feet, Notre Dame’s Matt Steeves flung a wrist shot on net from the blue line. Somehow, it slipped by a closing Eagles defender and snuck inside the left post, catching Woll off guard. The junior goaltender was standing, watching the puck cycle, then was briefly shielded—and that was the only window Steeves needed.
The Eagles were not without chances, yet were continually turned away by Morris or the frame. J.D. Dudek hit the crossbar in the first, then BC nearly cracked the Irish defense three separate times in the second. Fitzgerald fired a one-timer from the left point that hit off Morris’ raised shoulder and clanged off the upper right corner of the cage. Six minutes later, Christopher Brown skated up the middle of the ice and sent a pass near the crease. After a weird bounce, Notre Dame’s Andrew Peeke nearly deflected the puck into the net, with Morris rescuing it at the goal line. Later, with the period winding down, Luke McInnis—who led the Eagles with four shots—was denied from point-blank range, as Morris turned away the shot from the slot.
The most frustrating period may of been the third, though. After outshooting the Irish in the second and dominating significant scoring opportunities, BC lost any chance at a comeback effort once Graham McPhee went to the box for charging, a five-minute major. The penalty kill held up for the first four-plus minutes, but the major proved too much to overcome. With 22 seconds left on the 5-on-4, Notre Dame’s Colin Theisen gathered a failed slapshot from Bobby Nardella and deftly wristed a backhanded effort past Woll.
Firmly in control, the Irish settled in defensively and turned away a number of chances—both Marc McLaughlin and Graham McPhee both hit the post for the Eagles in the third. BC eventually pulled Woll with five minutes left on the clock as it sought offense, but Malmquist scored shortly after to wrap the up the game. The shutout, a decisive one for Notre Dame, marked head coach Jeff Jackson’s 308th win with the program—the all-time school record.
It was a tough setback for BC, which had been hoping to enter 2019 on a high note. While the struggles to win outside of the comfort of conference play are frustrating for head coach Jerry York and the Eagles, the team has still lost just twice in its past 10 games—the other setback being the surprising Bentley upset. The problems with the team are well-documented, but the failure to find the back of the net once was the most alarming one. Through 15 games, BC has a -5 goal differential, and that’s with the fifth-ranked scoring defense in Hockey East. Improving his team’s lackluster offense is surely one of the first things on York’s 2019 to-do list.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff