It should have been a goal. Nine times out of 10, that puck would have been poked, nudged, tipped, slid, or buried in the back of the net. If sports were fair and scoring goals was based on some sort of idealistic karma or merit system, it would have gone in-the Terriers had earned it. Sports are not fair, though, there’s no room for karma in hockey, and instead of counting as a goal for Boston University, that puck ended up trapped on the goal line in the snug captivity of Boston College’s sprawled-out freshman goaltender’s desperate glove.
BU would get a goal a few minutes later in the third period that would pull the game within one-but the Terriers just couldn’t score that goal, and instead they created a moment that perfectly encapsulated the essence of their 3-1 semifinal Beanpot loss to BC.
On Monday night, the Terriers played a damn good hockey game, coming extremely close to breaking BC apart at times, but ultimately failing. Despite entering the Beanpot as an 8-14-3 hockey team struggling under the guidance of a new coach, BU came out shooting in the first, fighting in the second, and unwilling to surrender in the third.
The Eagles struggled heavily at times throughout the game. When the final whistle blew, the shot differential was minimal, 32-28 BC, but one performance stood out as a game-changer.
Thatcher Demko is living up to the hype.
Coming into the season as the No. 1 American NHL goalie prospect of his class and the youngest player in college hockey, Demko was expected to be good-and he was, going 4-1-2 in his first seven starts while trading games with junior goaltender Brian Billett.
“He’s been a good goaltender for a lot of years, you know, so I don’t think it’s a surprise that he could handle something like this and play well,” said BC head coach Jerry York after the game.
After victories against Maine and Merrimack and a solid performance against Penn State on the road, Demko took over as the full-time starter and then posted his first career shutout with a 30-save effort at Providence.
On Monday night in TD Garden, after coming off four straight starts and four straight wins, Demko’s confidence was obvious as he made 27 saves to send BU to the third-place match.
“I thought we played well, but Thatcher, you know, kept them off the boards,” York said. “We gave them a 2-on-0 break, there was one save, a remarkable save right around the crease area that they made a tic-tac-toe play and-I have to see the tape, I don’t know how it stayed out of the net. I think a lot of our good defense, that was the play of Thatcher.”
In terms of the usual physicality sparked by the BC and BU rivalry, the first period was practically a jaunt in the park on a summer day, but it was a stroll led shot-wise by BU-Demko was forced to make 10 saves in the period, and his efforts combined with Ryan Fitzgerald’s power-play goal to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead going into the second.
Then, very quickly, what was tame became chaos. It took BC exactly 1:20 to double its lead in the second period. Bill Arnold gifted Kevin Hayes with a pinpoint pass right on top of the crease, and with a quick strike, Hayes smashed it home without hesitation.
The game turned ugly. At 11:33 BU’s Doyle Somerby checked a defenseless Hayes into the boards. In the blink of an eye, Arnold was there to throw a fist into the BU defender’s face. Another Terrier, Robbie Baillargeon, jumped into the scuffle, and by the time the scrum was cleared, Arnold and Baillargeon were heading to the box for roughing and Somerby’s night was over, courtesy of a game misconduct.
On the ensuing five-minute major, BC gave up a short-handed 2-on-0. Skating out beyond his crease and standing tall and then dropping back into ideal positioning, 6-foot-3, 192-pound Demko defused the breakaway with the help of a last-ditch effort from defenseman Scott Savage.
“[Demko’s] big, he’s square, he makes a great save at the end of the game where, just because, he’s in great position,” said BU head coach David Quinn. “He understands what his strength is, and it’s his size-he doesn’t waste any movement and he doesn’t waste any energy.”
BC caught up on shots in the second period, forcing BU goaltender Matt O’Connor to make 14 stops, and Demko finished with nine saves of his own.
Not long into the third period, Demko made the save that would summarize BU’s so-close but so-far plight. BC’s freshman goaltender was knocked out of position, and BU forwards Kevin Duane and Matt Lane had an open net. Each failed to capitalize, but despite their misfires, the puck ended up inches from crossing the line. Flat on the ice, Demko lunged backward and somehow-just barely-succeeded in covering up the puck.
In a rare mistake, at 6:43, a botched clearance by Demko led to an opportunity and a goal for Baillargeon.
“He hit a trailer and the guy made a good shot, you know, through-I think it was Patrick Brown’s legs-and I just lost it through the screen,” Demko said. “It was a good shot.”
The goal didn’t haunt him. The freshman came up huge to fend off BU’s last-gasp, six-man surge long enough for Johnny Gaudreau to skate in an empty netter and secure BC’s matchup with Northeastern and a chance for a Beanpot five-peat.
“I think Thatcher, as I watch him, he’s getting more confident,” York said. “He handles the puck now, he reminds me an awful lot of Cory Schneider at the same age.”
In three seasons at BC, Schneider never won a Beanpot. Next Monday, Demko will look to win it in one.