“When you play a team like Boston College, those mental mistakes will hurt you.”
Mike Cavanaugh, University of Connecticut head coach
Frigid temperatures coursed through the veins of students at Boston College, after the first nor’easter of 2015 blanketed Chestnut Hill with snow. Excited freshmen from the West Coast, some seeing snow for the first time, grabbed sleds and hit the hills on Upper, while other students across campus curled up by the heater with a nice book (or Netflix).
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and BC wanted nothing more than to serve one up to the University of Connecticut men’s hockey team.
And just as they had to the Boston University Terriers last week, the Eagles (15-8-2, 8-5-2 Hockey East) did just that Saturday, defeating the Huskies (7-12-5, 4-6-2 Hockey East), 3-2.
In November—the first meeting of both the year and all-time between the two schools—UConn’s Evan Richardson forced his former team to the showers in shame, scoring a power play goal at 11:32 in the first period. A shutout by Connecticut goaltender Rob Nichols led to a 1-0 BC loss at the XL Center in Hartford.
Early on in this game, it seemed the Eagles faced a similar fate at the hands of Nichols. BC dominated the offensive zone, getting off the first seven shots against the sophomore goalie from Dallas. It wasn’t until nine minutes into the game that the Huskies got their first shot off, courtesy of forward Spencer Naas.
Following a Matthew Gaudreau penalty for high-sticking at 8:53, the ‘Ice Bus’ found an opportunity to get rolling. UConn defenseman Ryan Segalla launched the puck past BC goalie Thatcher Demko from the top of the right circle at 10:13, putting the Huskies up, 1-0.
Connecticut, behind strong play by Nichols, kept the Eagles at bay, preventing shot after shot, despite strong attempts by several BC players. The Eagles nearly knotted the game up after Zach Sanford’s near tip-in was waved off and deemed no good after a penalty review.
In his return to Chestnut Hill after 18 seasons as an assistant coach under BC’s Jerry York, even UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh conceded that the Eagles came out stronger in the first. “I thought Boston College had the much better play in the first period,” Cavanaugh said, in reference to BC outshooting the Huskies 15-6 in the first. “But in the second and third, I thought we were able to garner some chances and play a pretty good game.”
The Huskies gained better chances early in the second period, outshooting the Eagles 6-2 eight minutes into the period. On the other side, BC showed significantly sloppy play, through both poor passing and an inability to get well-targeted shots, highlighted by a Chris Calnan breakaway, on which he couldn’t finish—once again, after a stellar save by Nichols.
Nothing, however, could prepare either team for the wild three minutes that concluded the second.
After a tripping penalty by UConn freshman Derek Pratt at 14:42, Ryan Fitzgerald broke BC’s scoring drought, launching a shot past Nichols and tying the game at one at 16:40. The Huskies responded almost immediately, as Joona Kunnas raced down the ice and shot it past Demko a mere 23 seconds later, again giving Connecticut the lead.
Shortly after, Fitzgerald took over again, wristing in a shot right over Nichols’ left shoulder after the feed from Cangelosi at 19:06, sending Kelley Rink into a frenzy and tying the game at two apiece.
Penalties abounded for both sides early in the third, as a hitting foul by Sanford and a hooking call on Kasperi Ojantakanen allowed each team to trade power plays, to no avail. The power play came again for Connecticut at 11:40, when Kunnas went to the box for hooking.
This one haunted the Huskies for good. And the same man pounded in the dagger.
At 12:20, Fitzgerald again rocketed a shot from the mid-right circle for his third goal of the game, and Eagles’ fans let their headgear fly. The hat trick, the first of Fitzgerald’s career, bumped his season goal total up to 12, surpassing Calnan as the Eagles’ leading goal scorer.
“It’s definitely special,” Fitzgerald said of his triple goal effort, preferring instead to talk about the team’s overall performance.
Cavanaugh, on the other hand, felt envious. When asked his reaction to the excellent performance of the forward he recruited for BC, the UConn coach simply replied “I wish I didn’t.”
He then had nothing but good words for the sophomore from North Reading, Mass. “He’s a really good player,” Cavanaugh said. “He plays both ends of the ice, he’s got excellent stick skills, he’s gritty, he goes to the tough areas, and that was evident tonight—that’s why he scored.”
Perhaps the most clutch performance of the game came in the final minute. With their net emptied, the Huskies bombarded Demko with shot after shot, punctuated by a lunge to his left and a glove snag of a rocket by Kunnas.
“The three quick saves rapid fire by Thatcher at the end of the game, when he had not seen much action through a long stretch and all of a sudden he was called upon to make some remarkable saves was certainly one of the keys to us winning the game,” York said of Demko’s late-game run.
Cavanaugh praised the goalie even more. “Thatcher made probably an ESPN Top Ten Save there,” as Demko clinched BC’s 3-2 win.
With time running down on the Eagles’ season, they need all of the wins they can get. The Beanpot, UMass-Lowell, and two games against Vermont all lurk right around the corner, and BC cannot afford to lose any of these “gimme” games to lesser opponents.
And while getting a win always feels sweet, some stone cold revenge on the pesky Hockey East newcomers probably feels a little sweeter.
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