The Eagles take down the Terriers, leaving Agannis Arena with a 4-2 win over Boston University.
Take a look at your Yik Yak feed, or spy in on conversations on the Newton bus, and you’re bound to hear complaints of how hard it is to be a freshman at Boston College. Mundane 100-person introductory classes, the constant struggle to find the right group of friends—and don’t even start about futile attempts to crash a Mod party. Things seem hard now, your upperclassmen friends may say, but it gets better.
The freshmen on the BC men’s hockey team, however, need no sympathy. For them, being a freshman is just fine.
Led by first-year players Noah Hanifin, Alex Tuch, and Zach Sanford, the Eagles (13-7-2, 6-4-2 Hockey East) took down their bitter rivals, the Terriers of Boston University (12-4-4, 7-2-2 Hockey East), in the 267th Battle for Commonwealth Avenue.
In the first game of this year’s edition of the famed rivalry, the Eagles suffered an embarrassing third period collapse at Conte Forum—leading 3-2 with 14 minutes left in the third, Thatcher Demko faltered, handing the Terriers a 5-3 win. For BU, this meant the beginning of a run that saw the team climb to the No. 2 national ranking. For the Eagles, on the other hand, this defeat was the third of a four-loss stretch (the Eagles’ first such streak in a decade) that led to a sharp decline to the No. 17 ranking, and even had some writers question whether BC’s reign in Hockey East had finally ended.
Entering the game, neither team had lost a game since Nov. 30. Once the new year hit, however, BU hit a comparative cold streak, going 1-0-2 in its last three games. Meanwhile, the Eagles ride into the Agganis Arena as the nation’s hottest team, winning their last seven games.
Friday night’s game opened with chippiness on both sides. BC and BU combined for 11 first period penalties, six of which resulted from a fight that broke out between the Eagles’ Quinn Smith and Tuch, and the Terriers’ Cason Hohmann and Nick Roberto.
Three Terrier penalties, however, came back to haunt them. A tripping penalty by Danny O’Regan at 4:51 and interference by A.J. Greer at 5:20 gave the Eagles a 5-on-3. With a golden opportunity and a clear shot to the net, Hanifin, BC’s star defensemen, let a slapshot rip past BU goalie Matt O’Connor at 6:41 to put the Eagles up 1-0.
BC coach Jerry York lauded his 17-year old freshman’s ability to succeed on the offensive side of the puck, craving more of his hard shots. “We’d like him to shoot it more. [Noah]’s been so unselfish, typical for a young kid that he wants to move it to someone else,” York said. “He shoots it very hard, and I think he’s gaining more confidence.”
Nearly simultaneous penalties by Evan Rodrigues and Destry Straight put the teams in a 4-on-4 situation with about four minutes to go in the period. Hanifin’s offensive production continued again—he wrapped around the back of the net to launch a perfect pass to Tuch, allowing the Syracuse native to launch the puck right over O’Connor’s left shoulder, giving BC a 2-0 lead at the end of the first.
Facing another 5-on-3 opportunity at 13:23 in the second period, following penalties by Robbie Baillargeon and BU captain Matt Grzelcyk, Tuch rocketed another shot from straight away central, handing the Eagles a 3-0 lead.
“I want to step my level of play up higher than it was at the World Juniors, and I think I showed a little bit of that tonight,” Tuch said. “Just a really good game all around.”
Heading into Friday, the Eagles did not succeed all that often on the power play, scoring on average only about 12 percent of the time. BC’s two power play goals against BU, however, even surprised York. “We’ve been a below average power play team most of the year,” York said. “[Associate head coach] Greg Brown is in charge of our power play and has spent more time on it than usual, and we saw some improvement there.”
The Eagles, however, were wary to toy with the Terriers. Before Friday’s game, BU outscored opponents 37-9 in the third period. Dan Quinn’s late game fighters certainly came alive, along with the Terrier faithful in a sold out crowd, after goals from O’Regan on a power play at 1:17, and Matt Lane at 16:37.
“This is the best BU team we’ve seen in a number of years,” York said. “We had that 3-0 lead, and you’re not clock watching, but you’re trying to extend it to 4, and all of a sudden, it’s 3-2.”
The late game surge, however, was for naught. A key blocked shot by Sanford allowed him to score on the empty net, clinching the 4-2 victory for the Eagles.
Tuch had nothing but praise for his classmates following the game, who continue to grow stronger after having some early season struggles. “I think, just in practice, our confidence is growing a lot,” Tuch said. “I think Noah had a really good game tonight, and Sanford showed a lot of hard work and dedication, especially the blocked shot at the end.”
BC needed to make a statement in this game, after a rough first half of the year put them on the long climb on the ladder towards a berth in the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles now sit at fourth in Hockey East, with only BU, Vermont, and UMass-Lowell in the way. With three games left against these opponents (potentially four, if BU and BC both advance to the final round of the Beanpot) along with two contests against longtime rival Notre Dame, BC has plenty opportunities to reclaim the top spot.
But perhaps no bigger statement was made than by the Eagles’ freshmen, who combined for four goals and two assists, and outshined BU’s star freshman, and NCAA leading scorer, Jack Eichel. “I didn’t realize just freshmen scored for us tonight out there, so they’ve contributed,” York said. “I think they’ll be major players for us going through.”
Freshman life may get better for Noah, Alex, and Zach—and with their talent, it probably will.
But right now, freshman life is pretty darn good.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor