“Tomorrow’s winner goes to the Garden—it doesn’t get any better than this.”
– Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon
Boston College defenseman Ian McCoshen wound up and let a blistering slapshot fly from the blue line on the right side.
The puck rocketed through the air, gradually gaining speed as it rose higher off the ice surface. It had a clear path straight to the net, with only goaltender Brody Hoffman standing between the puck and the twine.
As the puck neared Hoffman, he had no time to do anything but shrug his shoulders and embrace for impact as the puck collided with the side of his helmet. As it skittered away into the corner, Hoffman lost his balance and collapsed in a heap. He looked dazed and confused as the action momentarily continued around him. When the goaltender didn’t get up, the referees blew the whistle and allowed trainers to inspect the damage done to the junior.
Hoffman was battered, but he was not beaten and remained in the game. For the Catamounts, it’s a good thing he did.
BC threw everything it had at Hoffman, but the goalie shut down the Eagles offense to regain his early season form. Hoffman served as the anchor for Vermont (21-14-4, 10-9-3 Hockey East) in a 3-1 victory over BC (21-12-3, 12-7-3 HEA).
Following the game, BC head coach Jerry York had high praise for Hoffman, noting him as the difference-maker in the contest.
“Hoffman played very well for them—I think he had 40 saves,” York said. “It’s awfully difficult to win a game by scoring only one goal.”
Despite jumping out to a quick start in the very first minutes of the game, BC fell flat for the rest of the period. Catamount forward Brady Shaw capitalized on two first period penalties by Michael Matheson and Quinn Smith, sneaking nearly identical wrist shots from the right circle past BC goaltender Thatcher Demko’s glove side.
Special teams ended up being the difference in the game for both teams, as three of the four goals were scored on the man-advantage—the final goal was an empty-netter by UVM in the final minute. Vermont’s dynamic power play and BC’s strong penalty kill were destined to face off a few times, and UVM’s scorers had the upper hand for most of the game.
Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon credited the power play with setting the tone for the Catamounts, giving Hoffman some confidence early in the game.
“Certainly, our power play got us off to a good start, going perfect in the first period,” Sneddon said. “Our backs were against the wall and we didn’t want our season to end, and I’m just very proud of how we played tonight.”
Sneddon also noted that Hoffman has faced his fair share of adversity this season, but has rebounded nicely for the Catamounts.
Earlier in the year, the goaltender was suspended one game for conduct not meeting team values and expectations, according to The Burlington Free Press. Hoffman was reportedly frustrated after being pulled in a 3-0 game against Boston University, and his actions cost him.
Santaguida overtook Hoffman for a portion of the season, but after he struggled in the first two periods of Friday’s game, Hoffman’s number was called. He has been stellar in roughly 85 minutes on the weekend, only allowing a single goal past him.
For the Eagles, a strong effort in the second and third periods was not enough to make up for a lackadaisical showing in the first stanza. Ryan Fitzgerald netted his 16th goal of the season on a power play wrist shot, but that goal was the only one that BC scored on the night.
BC worked the puck around well on its power play chances, but couldn’t find the back of the net more than once. Noah Hanifin, McCoshen and Fitzgerald were especially effective in rotating the puck and getting Vermont’s penalty kill out of position, but Hoffman was there to thwart nearly every BC scoring chance.
York pointed out the fact that three of the four Hockey East quarterfinal series went to a third game, representing the difficulty of playing in the league. Even teams in the middle of the pack present an immense challenge when faced with the task of trying to beat it twice in three games, back-to-back-to-back.
“Our league is a tight, hard league to play in,” York said. “We’re excited to start the series again, and we can’t wait to get on the ice.”
So it comes down to this for the Eagles—a rubber match with a team that has given them trouble all season, against a goalie who is arguably the hottest he’s ever been. If Hoffman comes out as strong on Sunday night as he did on Friday and Saturday, the Eagles might be in trouble.
Hoffman has been knocked down, but he gets back up. One more outstanding performance from him might spell the end for BC in the conference tournament.
Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor