After managing a lone point in a home-and-home series against Massachusetts Lowell last weekend, Boston College men’s hockey picked up a much-needed conference win over Connecticut on Friday night in its final tune-up before the first round of the Beanpot. Struggles in non-conference play aside, the Eagles skated to a 5-3 win that has them keeping pace with No. 2 Massachusetts in the Hockey East standings.
BC (9-12-3, 9-4-3 Hockey East) is just three points back of the Minutemen for a share of the conference lead after polishing off a season sweep of the Huskies (7-17-2, 2-12-2), who find themselves in the cellar. This, despite struggling out of the holiday break, has the Eagles in good shape for a chance at a regular season title as they’ll face UMass after the Beanpot in a two-game series.
Friday night’s win was a microcosm of their season as a whole, with stretches that flashed its true potential as well as its struggles. BC built a 4-1 lead and appeared poised to coast to a ninth conference victory, but it let its hosts back into the game and watched as UConn closed the gap to just one with successive third-period goals. The Huskies came close several times to finding an equalizer, but they couldn’t beat Joseph Woll down the stretch, and the Eagles eventually used an empty-netter to escape Storrs, Conn. with two points.
Ben Finkelstein, a midseason addition after sitting out the first semester following his arrival from the USHL, scored his first goal of the season and added two assists. He wasn’t the only newcomer to impress, as freshman classmates Oliver Wahlstrom and Jack McBain both had nice showings—the former scored and added an assist, while the latter paired his goal with two assists.
Wahlstrom helped the Eagles start out hot, providing an opening goal in the sixth minute of the game. McBain found his teammate from across the ice and Wahlstrom did the rest of the work, using a slick deke to get into the slot before loading up a wrister that beat UConn goaltender Adam Huska in the top right corner.
McBain followed that up with a power-play redirection at the five-minute mark of the second period. It would be a sign of things to come in what would be a largely dominant 20-minute span for the Eagles. Huskies forward Ruslan Iskhakov scored three minutes after McBain, slotting his own rebound past Woll, but the rest of the middle period was all BC. Ron Greco needed just six minutes to answer back off of an assist from Finkelstein—who followed his assist with a goal of his own, taking advantage of a decisive 5-on-3 power play.
The Huskies staged a bit of a comeback to start off the third, nearly catching the Eagles despite the three-goal cushion. Iskhakov was able to find the back of the net for the second time, simply skating down the ice on a 2-on-1 before calmly finishing a wrister and shaving the lead to two. Then, BC made things difficult for itself. Finkelstein was sent to the box for holding, and J.D. Dudek followed, just 40 seconds later, after being called for kneeing. UConn didn’t have much trouble converting the 5-on-3 power play, with Wyatt Newpower one-timing a shot from the left circle to cut the gap to just one with 14 minutes to play.
The tensions were suddenly high in what had been a blowout, but Woll was able to make some key stops to keep the Huskies from knotting up the score. He piled up 27 saves in the win, finally getting to breathe a sigh of relief when Aapeli Räsänen ended the Huskies’ comeback bid with an empty-net goal in the final minute.
Blowing a three-goal lead against the conference’s worst team would’ve killed momentum heading into the Beanpot, where the stakes are raised and play is often elevated. While head coach Jerry York likely wanted a more polished final period from his team, the two points count the same in conference play, and the Eagles will look to keep rolling against No. 19 Harvard on Monday evening.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor