Men's Hockey

Barely Frozen Fenway

A dislodged net halted Boston College’s first penalty kill minutes into Saturday night’s game at Fenway Park, and the game’s final whistle came with that same first base-side goal off its pegs as Notre Dame scrambled to push a tying goal past Eagles’ goalie Brian Billett. After a video review, it was determined that Notre Dame did not, in fact, tie the game, and BC left its nationally-televised, primetime Holy War matchup with a 4-3 win, two more conference points, and a third-place ranking in the national pairwise standings.

The two points were big for BC, but Notre Dame needed them even more. BC’s win earned it first place in Hockey East—two points the other way would have brought the Irish to a .500 record in conference play.

“I think we’ve struggled a little bit,“ Notre Dame senior forward T.J Tynan said of his team’s inaugural season in the conference.

“Hockey East is very skilled, [it’s a] very up-tempo conference, and obviously [there are] teams that you are going to run into like BC that are extremely skilled.”

Considering the ascending Eagles—a team coming off a Three Rivers Classic championship and a sweep of UNH in their last Hockey East weekend—and the opposite state of the Irish, who had won just two out of their last seven games and most recently lost to usual Hockey East bottom-feeder UMass at home, an expected result for Saturday’s matchup based on standard circumstances would have been a reasonably decisive Eagles victory.

Saturday’s game, of course, did not feature regular circumstances or conditions. It was a Hockey East game, but the matchup was part of the league’s Citi Frozen Fenway 2014 showcase. But because Notre Dame is a geographical outlier in the conference, the league did not want the Irish to have to travel to both Fenway Park and Chestnut Hill in the same season, so here it was: a game that mattered quite a bit, played in mitigating, if nearly neutralizing, circumstances.

The playing conditions for the non-conference Saturday matinee between conference foes Providence and Merrimack were poor and they would be similar, yet worse, when the puck dropped an hour late for the nightcap at approximately 8:30, after three periods, a five-minute overtime, and another warm-up period.

Part of the reason the Eagles and the Irish started the game so late was because of the amount of work that was put into making the ice as playable as possible—hockey games in ancient baseball stadiums make that an impossible threshold. At every TV-timeout, and even during other stoppages, the ice crew was diligently scraping, shoveling, and flatting the playing surface. There was even more substantial work done in between games, so much so that the Zambonis needed to be held up.

“This is a great event, and Fenway did a tremendous job, the ice guys tried to do the best they could considering the circumstances,” said Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson. “Outdoor hockey is where the game started and where it was played … It’s nice to have this event for Hockey East. But there’s way too many outdoor games right now in my opinion.”

“The ice conditions, it was difficult for both teams, but [the ice crew] worked really hard, every stoppage of play they were out there, trying to fix it,” said Eagles head coach Jerry York. “So I’d like to give a shout out to J.R. and his crew for their ability to [let us] play a game in these conditions … Except for a couple spots, it was certainly playable.”

At the onset of the game, BC took a lead typical of its style. The Eagles drew a penalty, failed to convert, and then put the first goal on the Red Sox’ centerfield video board using its depth and offensive-minded defense. Fourth-liners Adam Gilmour and Brendan Silk hacked away at a rebound created by a Michael Matheson backhand from inside the right faceoff dot, and Silk was able to fight off defensemen Kevil Lind and Robbie Russo to bang in his first goal of the season 4:54 into the game.

Exactly four minutes later, Johnny Gaudreau faked out Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays so badly with a backhand-to-forehand move that Gaudreau did not even have to reach around an extended leg pad to make the score 2-0  and extend his point streak to 14 games. The goal originated from some non-visual communication between Gaudreau and frequent assister and fellow Calgary Flames’ draft pick, Bill Arnold.

“Simple communication, Johnny let me know where he was, I heard him,” Arnold said. “Little guy, but he’s got a big voice [when he wants the puck]. When he wants the puck, you make sure you get it to him. Then he stick-handles five times in the blink of an eye and the puck is in the back of the net.”

The normality would not sustain, though, because several hours after Merrimack and Providence took the ice for warm-ups, the bouncy walls got jumpier, the frozen puck became faster and slicker, and the exact same ice divots that were worked on from four to 11:30 by the ice crew caused the neutral zone side closest to the Fenway outfield to become even more of a no-fly zone for the puck and skaters than it was during the early game. And, of course, the nets began dislodging.

The difference between this game and others was evident when, soon after his first goal, Gaudreau found himself in the center of the ice alone with the puck between Notre Dame’s blue line and slot. In an unfamiliar play, Gaudreau whiffed on his wrist shot.

After Jackson’s team tied up the score with a falling wrister past Billett from Irish forward Mario Lucia near the end of the first period and a 2-on-1 finish from Tynan 23 seconds into the second period after Matheson missed a hip-check, the conditions neutralized the game for the Irish.

Examples in the second period illustrating this include, but are not limited to, Eagles defenseman Danny Linell looking to set up for a prime odd-man rush but slipping on a divot not far from where shortstops make a living; senior stalwart Kevin Hayes misreading a bounce off the boards that was primed for a scoring chance;  Hayes and former line mate Ryan Fitzgerald combining for a beautiful passing sequence in the offensive zone to have the net dislodge when Hayes dared venture in its vicinity; and Gaudreau customarily stickhandling through three defenders to uncharacteristically lose the puck before getting off a shot.

Despite all the chances, the shots were limited. Through two periods, BC had 13 and Notre Dame 12. If any fans stuck around for both games, though, they would have known that the third period would offer action at the net.

As Providence and Merrimack adapted to their temporary reality, the shots and chances flowed more easily, culminating in a combined 25-shot and two-goal third period (those numbers were 37 and zero after 40 minutes). The two teams in primetime experienced the same evolution, and three of the most explosive players in the country rose to the top.

About four and half minutes into the final period, while killing off an Isaac Macleod penalty, Hayes shed Notre Dame’s Kevin Lind next to the Eagles bench, who was called for holding, and powered down the left wing, beautifully feeding the puck to a streaking Arnold at Summerhayes’ backdoor. According to Arnold, scoring a goal “doesn’t get much easier than that.”

After Tynan reciprocated to Rust, tying the game from the offensive zone right faceoff dot, Hayes blocked a point shot and found himself in another 2-on-1, this time with Gaudreau wide open. Hayes suckered in the defense in the neutral zone and let Gaudreau go on his way. Gaudreau deposited the puck through Summerhayes’ legs calmly on yet another breakaway for the game winner with 11:39 to go.

“The biggest thing is they capitalize on your mistakes,” Jackson said. “And we made some mistakes.”

January 5, 2014