Men's Hockey

Eagles Experience Post-JY1K Hangover in Tie With Connecticut

It must’ve been a fun party for Boston College men’s hockey Friday night. The Eagles didn’t have a typical drubbing—an 8-0 win over a weak UMass team. No, yesterday was a cause for celebration. The victory was the 1,000th in the career of legendary head coach Jerry York, extending his lead as the sport’s all-time wins leader. Many players cheered in the locker room afterward, and York’s friends and family all made the trek out to Amherst, Mass. to share in his special night.

But with every great party comes a little bit of a hangover.

The Eagles (16-4-4, 9-1-4 Hockey East) followed their excellent performance in the Mullins Center with a letdown back in the friendly confines of Kelley Rink. Mike Cavanaugh, a former longtime BC assistant, and the University of Connecticut (8-14-3, 4-8-3) prevented York from starting on his next 1,000 wins, forcing a 3-3 tie thanks to a late goal by Max Letunov. With the tie, BC drops into a second-place tie in Hockey East with Notre Dame after UMass Lowell’s 3-1 win over Providence at the Tsongas Center.

Throughout the game, the Eagles were plagued by their own streakiness. The first period commenced with a cold one. Huskies defenseman Joona Kunnas got called for elbowing on Steve Santini early, a hit that contributed to a rough game for the BC stalwart from the blue line. Santini was sent to the locker room later in the game to be evaluated—York couldn’t confirm in the post-game what exactly was hurting, but implied that it might be an upper body injury. With Casey Fitzgerald also sidelined, Santini’s injury forced Teddy Doherty to move back to defense.

Moments later, the #icebus struck first. Jesse Schwartz took advantage of a juicy rebound by Thatcher Demko, slapping it past the goaltender, high on the glove side, to give UConn a 1-0 lead. When the Eagles got another power play opportunity following a Johnny Austin hooking call, they still couldn’t deliver.

But then began one of BC’s hotter runs, thanks to its fourth line. Chris Calnan gobbled in the puck in the left corner, after it was sent deep in UConn’s own defensive zone. Calnan centered it, shooting the puck across the ice to senior Travis Jeke. The goal was the fifth of Jeke’s career and second of the season, as York lauded his and the entire fourth line’s performance.

“That has to be a huge boost to [Jeke’s] confidence,” York said.

Early in the second, the Eagles kept the pressure on sophomore goaltender Tanner Creel, who was filling in for sidelined UConn starter Rob Nichols (ankle). Alex Tuch blasted a similar snipe to last night’s, past Creel’s left side from the circle—the shot rattled the net and caused the pipes to ring out.

The goal, Tuch’s 10th of the season, represents his huge second-half turnaround. It appeared at the beginning of the season that the Minnesota Wild prospect was in the midst of an elongated sophomore slump. But since Thanksgiving, Tuch has amassed 10 points while becoming the dominating physical force York expects of the 6-foot-4 forward. In fact, York thinks that this might be the high point thus far for Tuch.

“I thought that’s the best game he’s played,” York said.

But, the Eagles couldn’t keep the momentum in the middle 10 minutes of the second. UConn captain Patrick Kirtland slotted a rocket that looked a lot like Tuch’s past Demko to knot up the game at two. It was the only one of an onslaught from the Huskies that attacked Demko during this time—at one point, defenseman Derek Pratt nearly trickled the puck slowly into the goal, but the San Diego, Calif. native sprawled out to pull the puck back.

In the final five of the second period, BC caught fire again. Tuch and Ryan Fitzgerald both rung shots off the posts to no avail. Zach Sanford’s clang off the crossbar, however, landed perfectly in Colin White’s lap to give BC the 3-2 lead. The goal came with an extra attacker after Johnny Austin was sent to the box for slashing.

When the Eagles couldn’t convert on that power play—despite a breakaway opportunity for Fitzgerald—their momentum ceased. And on a man advantage of their own in the third courtesy of an Austin Cangelosi high-sticking call, the Huskies made the sluggish Eagles pay. Letunov, the captain from Moscow, Russia, saw daylight from the middle of the crease, slotting the puck past Demko to knot the game up at three. Both teams had breakaway opportunities for the remainder of the third and overtime, but none were enough to give either team a win.

The Eagles still come away with a three-point weekend, their third in a row, and rose to No. 8 in the PairWise rankings. York, however, appeared disappointed that his team couldn’t build on its momentum from the UMass game. He left his press conference with a solemn reminder that his team has an even bigger one upcoming: a Friday night rematch with Jeff Jackson’s red-hot Fighting Irish at Compton Family Ice Arena, who are on a 9-0-3 streak. Last time out, BC squandered a third-period lead, allowing Notre Dame to steal two points at Kelley Rink. Although we are still weeks away from season’s end, York gave the impression that this may be a must-win situation for BC.

But as the head coach of a team on the other end of Hockey East’s spectrum, Cavanaugh was pleased with the effort of his men. Last season, their first in Hockey East, the Huskies often had to fight with conference opponents to earn points. Nowadays, Cavanaugh believes his team can compete with anyone.  He was especially impressed with Creel. Entering today, the sophomore had only played nine games in his career, amassing a 1-3 record with an .878 save percentage and a 4.03 goals against average. But he gave Creel a key piece of advice prior today’s game.

“I told [Creel] before the game that even Tom Brady was a backup,” Cavanaugh said.

And while he’s happy for the great accomplishment of York, his longtime friend and confidant, Cavanaugh was more pleased with his own team. After all, Cavanaugh conceded, York needed his help to get to 1,000, too.

“I’m glad he got it last night,” Cavanaugh said. “I helped him get enough.”

Featured Image by Lucius Xuan / Heights Staff

January 23, 2016