Top Story, Men's Hockey

Ryan Fitzgerald’s Overtime Winner Sends Eagles Back to TD Garden

Once upon a time, Boston College men’s hockey owned March.

Through the heart of their dynasty in the 2000s, head coach Jerry York led the Eagles to nine consecutive semifinals at TD Garden. In his 22 seasons at the helm, York has lifted the Lamoriello Trophy nine times as well.

But in back-to-back seasons, he has spent March thoroughly disappointed despite the gift of home ice. In Johnny Gaudreau’s Hobey Baker season of 2013-14, the Eagles fell to Notre Dame in the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Last season, the same result: a best-of-three series loss to Vermont after an expert relief job by goaltender Brody Hoffman.

“When you don’t go for two years in a row, it seems like a decade,” York said.

Luckily for York, junior Ryan Fitzgerald was tired of spending March on the Heights.

With his goal past Packy Munson at 9:47 in overtime, Fitzgerald lifted the Eagles (26-6-5, 15-2-5 Hockey East) to a 4-3 victory over the team that knocked them out last year, Vermont (15-22-3, 6-13-3). BC will play Northeastern in TD Garden at 8 p.m. this Friday evening for the chance to continue the hunt for the program’s third trophy of the season thus far.

Once again, the Catamounts didn’t give BC an easy time. Kevin Sneddon’s crew matched the Eagles shot for shot throughout regulation. For much of the game, Vermont exemplified Sneddon’s hard-nosed philosophy by using an aggressive forecheck to keep the more skill-oriented Eagles off balance. After trading goals in the first—a Zach Sanford backhand matched by a Craig Puffer redirection—the Catamounts had BC on its toes entering the next frame.

Colin White, who has been battling an upper-body injury for the last few weeks, appeared to swing the momentum back in BC’s favor for good. The freshman took advantage of a juicy rebound off the stick of J.D. Dudek while falling to the ice because of a trip by Rob Hamilton, ricocheting the puck off the left post and into the net.

Not long after, a divine force intervened. An odd-man rush on a 4-on-4 gave Vermont the neutralizer. After a lengthy review, the zebras determined that team captain Yvan Pattyn performed a kicking motion that drove the puck into the net, waving the goal off. After the game, Sneddon wasn’t convinced—the head coach believed it skirted just under his skate. Yet, of course, there’s not much he can do.

“When there’s a review, you have to just trust the officials,” Sneddon said. “They spent the appropriate amount of time to look at it, for sure.”

Instead of capitalizing on its good fortune, BC fell flat for the next 20 minutes. The team looked lost in the neutral zone, especially after Adam Gilmour limped back to the locker room in the third with an injury. Meanwhile, Conor O’Neil pushed the Catamounts into full gear. The freshman rocketed two goals off rebounds amid the roar of U-V-M chants from the Burlington faithful who made the trip to Kelley Rink. Just like that, the Eagles were on the brink of another crushing disappointment with only 15 minutes to spare in a game they looked utterly helpless in.

An unlikely contributor, a familiar face, and a little luck prevented that from happening.

With 10 minutes remaining in the frame, Dudek earned his first career goal on a blast from between the circles. The young man jumped into uproarious celebration, hugging both Ryan and Casey Fitzgerald, the two players who got the assists. After the game, York credited Dudek’s strong play over the last few weeks as to why he shook up the lines. The head coach felt confident that his freshman’s play and the healthy return of Chris Calnan could allow Teddy Doherty to move back to defense. Dudek’s blast, combined with some excellent saves by Thatcher Demko, helped push BC into an always-stressful overtime frame.

That’s when the magic happened, the kind you’d only find in a playoff hockey game in March.

Four minutes into the OT, Vermont appeared to get the game-winner. A bull rush at Demko ended up with the puck spinning and dancing along the goal line. Immediately, the referees waved it off, much to the dismay of the UVM fans. At the next whistle, they went to the replay booth. The video determined that the puck didn’t ever fully cross the line.

Sneddon lamented that his team was a mere inch away from winning the series. York, on the other hand, swore that the madness ended his chances for a 10th Hockey East title. Well, thanks to Gilmour, who, when he returned to the bench looking for a Willis Reed moment, convinced everyone that the puck crossed the line. When he heard the call, York just looked to the sky.

“Maybe when you have home ice, you get the hockey gods with you,” York said.

If the hockey gods were around, they came in the form of Ryan Fitzgerald.

Eyeing that elusive first trip to the Garden, Fitzgerald lofted a shot at Munson. As the puck flew in, Fitzgerald said a quick prayer. And on its path, the puck tipped off a couple of Vermont defensemen. The final one, a redirection on Pattyn’s stick, did the job.

“He can add a knuckleball to his repertoire,” York said of the goal, recalling former Boston Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield and his famously unpredictable signature pitch.

Despite the positive result, York knows his team has a lot of work to do. Though he lauded the work that Sneddon has done with this scrappy Vermont crew, the facts can’t be denied. The Catamounts are mediocre offensively compared to the Eagles’ typically sharp attack. Vermont exposed some of BC’s weaknesses, especially when it comes to physicality. And the Huskies, BC’s Friday night opponent, are the hottest team in college hockey—they have a stellar 18-1-2 record since BC defeated them on Dec. 6, and they’re coming off an impressive two-game sweep of Notre Dame in South Bend.

But right now, York is living up the fact that his Eagles get to play an extra week in March. In fact, his only regret was not calling the game-winning goal correctly.

“We’re always thinking of that #bucciovertimechallenge,” York said in reference to ESPN’s John Buccigross, who gives out t-shirts and hats to his Twitter followers if they correctly guess the goal scorer in an overtime hockey game. “After regulation, the coaches were trying to pick their players and I picked the wrong Fitzgerald. But I should get a half a hat or something.”

Featured Image by Savanna Kiefer / Heights Editor

March 13, 2016