Outshot substantially for the second night in a row, on the road, devoid of power plays, and playing its last game before its season’s extended halfway break, Boston College needed some extraordinary performances for a chance to grab any points from Saturday night’s game at UNH’s Whittemore Center. The Eagles got those performances from their top line and goaltender Thatcher Demko, and BC left Durham with a 2-1 win and four more points in the standings than they had Friday afternoon, giving the young Eagles squad a welcome boost into their Christmas respite.
Demko played the biggest of all. On his last day as a 17-year-old, the freshman put forth an effort that dispelled any doubt about head coach Jerry York’s sticking by him after Demko’s poor game against Holy Cross on Nov. 29. It was also an effort that harkened back to another game against UNH, one in which Demko also played superbly, but in which BC didn’t even participate.
A year ago to the weekend, playing for the USA U-18s, Demko stopped 35 Wildcat shots in front of York and BC assistant Greg Brown. BC offered Demko a position the next day, and then Demko paid the dividends Saturday night.
The goalie sent back all but one of UNH’s offerings, stoning every type of chance. Demko worked quickly to corral all loose pucks, minimize rebounds, and move post-to-post fluidly when faced with odd-man rush one-timers. For a 6-foot-4 goalie, it was extremely impressive.
That size also served him well in more predictable scenarios. In two of these instances, Demko kept his team in the game when many would not have been able to.
The first came a couple minutes into the second period, when an egregious Eagles defensive breakdown and a saucer pass to UNH forward Collin Bourque left Demko as the only obstacle between Bourque’s point-blank wrist shot from the left slot and the back of the net. Demko calmly kick-slid to his right and ‘played big’-in other words, he came out of his net and left no angle for Bourque to fit his shot in between Demko’s frame and the goal’s. Bourque’s shot was harmlessly swallowed up, and BC retained the lead.
The second time Demko saved the game by ‘playing big,’ he didn’t need to make a save. In the third period, as BC packed the defense in and UNH fired away from the perimeter, Wildcats forward Jay Camper ripped a missile of a shot from just outside the slot considerably over the crossbar. Camper was not rushed, and his shot was not tipped. On the outskirts of his crease, Demko again relented little daylight from Camper’s vantage point, and Camper couldn’t pick his spot-few could.
The Wildcat center’s misguided screamer was the epitomization of his team’s third period. Possessing the puck for the majority of the last frame, UNH only came away with seven shots on goal. So while Demko only “saved” 28 shots, he affected many more.
The Eagles came away with the only goal of the first period, when BC’s star-studded line of upperclassmen pounced on the chance that their young goalie gave them. Down a man three times in the first period, Demko backboned the nation’s No.3-ranked penalty kill and kept the Eagles in the game by staving off all the Wildcats’ chances-many of them quality. Just over 16 minutes into the period, though, junior Johnny Gaudreau and seniors Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes did what they were put together to do.
“[That line] should [create chances],” York said after Friday’s game. “They are our three most dynamic offensive players.”
Create they did, Gaudreau specifically. Coming down the left wing, Gaudreau stopped and generated space by sliding farther toward the half-wall in the Wildcats’ zone. As he drew the defense laterally, Hayes drove vertically from the blue line towards the space Gaudreau created, and Gaudreau promptly passed the puck to Hayes. Hayes, sensing a defender coming from the net-front area to fill the area vacated by those that went to Gaudreau, one-timed the puck towards Arnold, who was posting up right in front of goalie Casey DeSmith. After a few hacks, Arnold banged the puck into the back of the net to give BC the first lead of the game.
In the second, the Wildcats’ Matt Willows, a top-liner himself, tied the game with rebound wrist shot from the far post 7:11 into the game. BC’s top guns-the most explosive in Hockey East-responded a little more than 10 minutes later.
Caught in a line change, senior captain Patrick Brown was in Arnold’s place this time, but filled it well. Just inside the redline, Brown saw Hayes filling the gap behind the UNH forwards and in front of the defensemen near the right side offside faceoff dot. Brown led Hayes and skittered a pass into the Wildcat zone.
Rarely smooth but ruthlessly efficient, Hayes created space from his defender with a simple right-to-left move at the right hash instantly released his snap shot in stride. DeSmith barely saw it, but not because he was screened. The puck was past UNH’s goalie before he could check which hole the shot beat him through.
The Eagles’ defense hunkered down after Hayes put them up 2-1, and the score didn’t change the rest of the way. They could only do so much, though, because of the position that their top weapons and Demko’s best outing put them in.