MEN'S HOCKEY: Eagles Adjust To Playoff Style Hockey
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 00:02
Head coach Jerry York, after his team’s loss on Tuesday, acknowledged the added weight that each game possesses as his Eagles and six other teams stand in contention for the Hockey East regular season.
“We’ve been involved in some good races over the years—generally two teams, maybe three, but with the four tied—fifth and sixth hovering around—any one of those teams could win it,” York said.
Heading into the night, the Eagles were sitting on a three-way tie for first with one game in hand, possessing a perfect opportunity to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the field. With the loss, not only did they fail to create such separation, but they also allowed UMass-Lowell to grab a share of the top spot and lost their game in hand position. York was aware of what possibilities the night held for Boston College, but he didn’t express disappointment in his team.
“It’s going to go into the final night, I would think,” he said. “We all kind of play each other as we head down through the stretch here. But surely tonight was a night that would have given us a little separation.”
Two minutes for hooking. Two for interference. Slashing. High sticking. Interference again. The intensity that comes with, as York calls it, “playoff type hockey,” as the teams move down the final stretch of the regular season, may have translated into urgency for the Eagles, as they took five penalties on the night compared to Lowell’s two. One of those, Bill Arnold’s high sticking in the second period, was matched by Joe Houk of Lowell, putting the teams in a four on four situation rather than going a man down, but this meant that BC had only one power play in the three periods of play.
During that single power play, the Eagles scored one of their two goals, and while the teams were at even strength, neither was able to dominate in their offensive zone.
Because of the even style of play, possession became extremely valuable for both teams, and they did everything that they could to keep the puck. That meant big hits, tough play in the corners and along the boards, and a reliance on speed.
Michael Matheson came out in the first period with one of those key elements in mind as he electrified the playing surface with two big hits within the first half of the period. During those opening minutes, physicality ruled play as both teams came out with the appropriate sense of urgency that comes with the final games of the regular season, and they conveyed it through hard hitting, fast hockey.
This even display of physical play led to the quick succession of goals, first by the River Hawks then followed by BC. Yet after the Eagles got on the board and as the period went on, the play slowed and fewer tough interactions occurred.
The result? A second period that contained scoring chances but went without solid control at either end as neither team took a distinct advantage.
In this “playoff type hockey,” the scoring chances don’t come easily.
“Everybody is playing good, hard, tight defense,” York said. “We’ve got to really be assertive and capitalize on those scoring chances cause there aren’t going to be a lot of them. Goals are hard to come by now.”
Knowing that chances without concrete results can become a source of frustration, York is clear in that he doesn’t want his team to let that sentiment build up.
“You have to eliminate frustration from the game,” he said. “Shift after shift you can’t because that makes tight sticks.”
This outlook will lead the team into the rest of their season. With four games remaining, the Eagles will need loose sticks if they want to remain at the top of Hockey East. Providence, New Hampshire, the Lowell, and BC all have 28 points. They all have four games remaining. Heading down the stretch, dropping one game could mean dropping out of contention.
This weekend brings big matchups for all. Lowell faces Merrimack, who is just one point back, in a two-game series. UNH takes on Massachusetts, and in the matchup that holds the highest stakes, the Eagles are set to take on Providence in two games.
If Tuesday night’s game was “playoff-type hockey,” the next week takes the tone of a single-elimination tournament.