On March 11, 2004, the Boston sports world had a vastly different climate. The Patriots prepared to defend their title after winning their second Super Bowl in three years. Red Sox fans still clamored for a championship that had eluded Fenway Park since 1918. Eighteen-year-old rookie Patrice Bergeron gave Bruins fans hope for a Stanley Cup in the near future.
That date was also the last time the Boston College men’s hockey team faltered four games in a row, with the final loss of the streak coming in the first game of the Hockey East Tournament against Boston University. Despite BU’s first round upset of the top-seeded Eagles, BC easily cruised into the NCAA tournament with a 30-11-4 record before falling to a tough Maine team in the semifinal round of the Frozen Four at the hometown Fleet Center.
Over 10 years later, Tuesday evening’s 6-3 loss to the Harvard Crimson at Conte Forum—BC’s first loss to Harvard since 2006—dropped the Eagles to 4-5. This is the latest point in the year in which the Eagles have fallen under the .500 mark since 1996-97, head coach Jerry York’s most recent losing season.
Before the puck dropped, the Eagles had a disadvantage against a hot Harvard team coming off a 4-0 shutout at Rensselaer and a 2-2 overtime tie at defending champion Union. BC starting goalie Thatcher Demko couldn’t dress for the game, sitting out with a 103-degree fever. The situation was increasingly complicated when senior Brian Billett—who started 16 games for the Eagles between the pipes last season—unexpectedly took a leave of absence from the team earlier Tuesday, citing personal reasons.
In stepped senior Brad Barone as the emergency backup. Barone, who had never started a game for the Eagles in his four-year career, received an early test from the Crimson. Harvard launched 10 shots against him in the first period, leading to a power play goal by center Alexander Kerfoot at 15:02 and the first goal of the year for captain Kyle Criscuolo at 19:31. A poor offensive showing by the Eagles primarily marred the first period. BC had nothing going on offense and only managed three shots in the period, despite two power plays for the Eagles.
Harvard opened the second period by again putting the pressure on Barone, with a shot by Max Everson knocking into the left pipe. The Eagles looked poised to make a comeback in the game with a goal by Matthew Gaudreau—replacing a benched Danny Linell—at 4:56, the sophomore’s first of the year. From that point, BC began its offensive strike on goaltender Steve Michalek, as the Eagles outshot the Crimson 10-3 in the first eight minutes of the second period.
Despite this, Michalek, who finished with 23 saves, kept the Eagles at bay with several acrobatic saves, including one on a wide open Austin Cangelosi—the senior caught the difficult shot underneath his pads before it nearly snuck through the five-hole. At that point, Harvard regained its offensive groove, as Jimmy Vesey and Phil Zielonka tacked on goals at 14:08 and 18:16, respectively.
Vesey’s goal came off a deflection on a hard shot by Everson, knuckling on the ice before skipping just past Barone, who had trouble seeing the puck thanks to a mass of BC and Harvard players in front of him. The goalie gave a great effort again on Zielonka’s goal, covering the bottom of the net with a full split—however, the Crimson sophomore barely snuck it by him.
York said his goalie played well throughout the game considering his lack of experience. Kerfoot scored again with nasty tip off the crossbar that Barone had no chance of defending at 8:31 in the third period, seemingly the final dagger for the Eagles. But the offense finally came alive, with goals by Destry Straight at 12:03 and Alex Tuch at 13:46, pulling BC within two at a 5-3 score. No comeback came on this night for BC, however, as Straight received a slashing penalty at 15:39. Similar to Zach Sanford’s late penalty against BU last Friday night, this destroyed the Eagles’ momentum as they played a man down for much of their final minutes. Ultimately, this forced the Eagles to pull Barone at 18:15, leading to an empty netter by Kerfoot, clinching the victory and notching him a hat trick.
“I thought our team responded well in the third period to the deficit,” York said of the late offensive output. “I thought we had a couple of chances to get even closer, especially in the six on five, but we weren’t able to capitalize.”
Missed opportunities plagued BC throughout the game. The Eagles failed to take advantage of any of their seven power plays, getting off poor shots, if any at all. A few times the Crimson’s excellent penalty kill matched or even exceeded the shots on BC’s power plays, leading to some veteran-like saves by Barone. The Eagles often fumbled passes, even when left wide open in front of Michalek. On the rare occasion a BC player cleanly received a pass, often little came of it—only half of BC’s 52 attempted shots were on target.
With plenty of games left to play, York does not seem worried. “We welcome the challenge, we’ve had a good, hard schedule, but we made this schedule to play and we look forward to the next game,” he said.
This BC squad, however, lacks the cushion that 2004 team did. The Eagles cannot afford to let a tough schedule excuse their poor play. With many quality teams in the difficult Hockey East this year, BC must change its course quickly to keep strong in its quest to capture a star in its titular city.
Featured Image by Emily Fahey / Heights Editor