Sports, Winter, Hockey

Game Two Notebook: Heavy On The Hits

When asked what the difference between his team’s 7-2 win against Boston College on Friday and its 4-2 loss to the Eagles on Saturday in the Hockey East Tournament quarterfinals, Notre Dame head coach Jeff Jackson had a simple answer.

“The officiating … and obviously BC’s top line played like the best line in college hockey,” Jackson said.

And that’s pretty much how the rest of the press conference went. Jackson cited his team’s penalties—and the officials who called them—before trying to divert things back to BC’s improved play in the second game of what was three-game series with a rubber match yesterday afternoon.

“Well, the first period, there was no flow to it with all the penalties,” Jackson said. “It really was the difference in the game. I think that’s where the whole tempo of the game was established. Our power play really hurt us. I think it actually gave them momentum.”

There were four penalties called on the Irish in the first period, totaling eight minutes of penalty time, and three called on the Eagles. Although Jackson wasn’t pleased with the shift in officiating from Game One to Game Two, Notre Dame’s six penalties for the game were barely more than the 5.5 the team has averaged this season. In fact, BC actually finished the game with the most penalties, earning seven—almost two more than its season average of 5.1—and 14 minutes of time on the penalty kill.

“We have to play with discipline,” Jackson said. “I’m not complaining about any of the calls. It just needs to be the same way both ways, you know, in my opinion.”

Jackson sounded much happier with the officiating crew from Friday night. The Irish were called for two penalties in each period while the Eagles were only called for two in the game, but Notre Dame did a significantly better job with its penalty kill.

“I don’t know why we switch officials from one game to the next when the officials have a good feel for the series,” Jackson said. “That’s just my thought process. It’s not my decision.”

Some of Jackson’s bitterness about the officiating shift resembles a brewing dislike between these two teams. Rarely could a play be called dead in either of the first two games of the series when an official wouldn’t have to separate the maroon and white from the gold and blue.

The physical play started early, as freshman defenseman Ian McCoshen slammed a Notre Dame player into the boards during the game’s first 13 seconds, and it only grew from there. On Friday night, aggressive play in the first period and then throughout the game put the Eagles in a bad spot. BC looked too concerned with roughing up the Irish, at the expense of making plays with the puck.

That wasn’t the case on Saturday. BC’s top line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold finally created easy scoring opportunities after being nearly shut down in the previous game, as all four of the Eagles’ goals looked like they were scored with ease. It helped that McCoshen and fellow defensemen Steven Santini and Michael Matheson controlled their aggression, using it to create plays rather than just bruise the Irish.

“I think we definitely came out a lot more physical tonight,” Gaudreau said. “I think that gave us a little bit of an edge too, tonight. It was great to see some of the guys getting huge hits, which really boosted our motivation up throughout the game.”

Hayes and Notre Dame captain Jeff Costello had to be separated by the officials in the final minutes of the game, with Hayes refusing to leave until his teammates came and pushed him away. For the Eagles, though, advancing through the postseason is going to come down to whether they can intelligently take advantage of that aggressive play like they did on Saturday, or if it’ll get in the way like it did on Friday.

“I think we’ve just got to keep playing the way we are right now,” Gaudreau said. “We established a great forecheck throughout the whole game, and I think that’s what got us a few of those goals in the game. It was just a great forecheck, and we’ve got to make sure we keep pressuring their [defense].”

March 16, 2014