WORCESTER, Mass. — It was a Good Friday indeed.
Forget everything you saw against Northeastern at TD Garden last Friday. This is what the opposition should expect from Boston College men’s hockey. One week after playing their worst game of the season, the Eagles put up perhaps their best performance at the expense of Jimmy Vesey and Harvard University.
Led by two goals apiece from Alex Tuch and Austin Cangelosi, No. 6 BC (27-7-5) downed No. 9 Harvard (19-11-4) 4-1 in the opening game of the NCAA Northeast Regional at the DCU Center. With the victory, the Eagles advance to the Regional Final against Minnesota Duluth on Saturday at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Despite another late start from Duluth’s 2-1 double-overtime win against Providence, the first period couldn’t have gone better for the Eagles—it was so good, you’d be surprised to know that Harvard actually outshot them, 12-8. After tossing it around in the neutral zone for the first seven minutes, Tuch got BC on the board first. The sophomore single-handedly pounded the puck through a mass of Crimson defensemen, pushing goaltender Merrick Madsen onto his backside and into the net. With a little push from behind, Tuch used every bit of his 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame to will the Eagles to a 1-0 lead.
Late in the period, the team hitched a ride onto the Wood Wagon. After a Lewis Zerter-Gossage hooking penalty, Miles Wood knocked two pucks off the post. The freshman then reeled in his own rebound off a block by defenseman Desmond Bergin. Skating around the back of the net and to the right of Madsen, Wood lined up between the circles before launching one toward the scrum at the goal line. Cangelosi was there, as he has been all season. His tip gave BC a 2-0 lead.
Once again, Cangelosi’s contributions on the draw paid huge dividends for the Eagles. The center won 15 of his 20 faceoffs—and BC won 38 of 59 overall against Harvard—to set up prime offensive chances.
“I don’t win the puck cleanly every time, but I count on [my wingers] to help get the job done,” Cangelosi said of his prowess off the draw.
That masterful offensive jolt can also be credited to head coach Jerry York. With Matthew Gaudreau sidelined with an undisclosed injury, York shuffled his lineups. Teddy Doherty and Zach Sanford moved up with Adam Gilmour in the top line, while Tuch played alongside White and Ryan Fitzgerald. In addition, he kept his most successful line—Wood, Cangelosi, and Christopher Brown—fully intact. For his players, York’s gamble was a worthwhile, albeit expected one.
“The lines don’t matter, we’re all best friends on the team,” Doherty, the team captain, said. “But Coach made the right decision. Alex had a big game, Cange had a big game, sticking with Miles, so we’re looking to build off that and move forward and keep those lines similar.”
But BC’s strength didn’t just come from its offense. Remember all those turnovers last week? Casey Fitzgerald, Ian McCoshen, and Steve Santini definitely do. The Eagles’ trio of star defensemen helped Thatcher Demko stand on his head as Harvard’s top line of Vesey, Alexander Kerfoot, and Kyle Criscuolo rarely let up.
Some of these were your typical body blocks or sprawling Demko saves. One may have changed the momentum of the entire game.
With the Crimson bearing in after controlling the boards, Criscuolo lifted a shot toward Demko. The puck bounced off the post before deflecting off the BC goaltender and trickling toward the net, reviving shades of last week’s late first period goal by Northeastern’s Adam Gaudette. But Fitzgerald was luckily in position to use his skate to poke the puck away from Vesey, the Hobey Baker Award finalist, who was eyeing an easy goal.
In the second, Tuch kept up that energy that carried BC through the first. He received an excellent feed from Scott Savage across the DCU Center logo at center ice. While along the sidelines, Tuch flamed Brayden Jaw, blazing past the Harvard defenseman for an open look at Madsen. The Minnesota Wild prospect wound and fired the puck past Madsen’s left shoulder to give BC a dominating 3-0 lead. Instead of his normal one leg up and screaming celebration, Tuch remained subdued and confident.
Once again, BC’s stellar defense took control. Save for a goal by Seb Lloyd that beat McCoshen in the slot, the Eagles’ defense was impenetrable for the final 30 minutes. Every time Vesey came at the net, BC’s Shaka Smart-esque havoc defense collapsed on him. The superstar senior, who will be courted by several NHL teams if he turns down the team that drafted him—the Nashville Predators—never looked comfortable when putting up attempts on Demko.
And when the defensemen weren’t getting the job done blocking shots, the forwards got into the game, especially Ryan Fitzgerald. The elder Fitzgerald routinely threw his body in front of the Crimson’s forwards to prevent any pressure. York praised one play in particular, in which Fitzgerald slid out underneath the stick of a Harvard player and used his pads to stuff a Crimson threat.
“The bench got so excited on that play right there,” York said.
Even the special teams was back in prime form, most notably the penalty kill crew. Last week, Greg Brown’s defensive unit was burned by Northeastern for two power-play goals. This time around, the Eagles weathered the storm, particularly a 6-on-4 late in the third with Madsen on the bench. BC swarmed around that dangerous top line to keep the Crimson unsettled. And with one swift movement, Cangelosi used his small frame to poke the puck away from a Harvard forward to dash down the ice for an empty netter to seal the game for BC.
The win marks the departure of one of Harvard’s all-time great players in Vesey. After the game, he shared some touching final words about the future of head coach Ted Donato’s program, which has seen a revival in the last two seasons.
“Harvard hockey’s not going anywhere,” Vesey said. “I won’t be surprised to see a national championship any time soon.”
But, as the great North Carolina State head coach Jim Valvano once said, it’s the Eagles who will survive and advance. Sixty minutes on Saturday against a bruising Bulldogs club will help determine if BC can survive and advance the path for a sixth star to Tampa, Fla. And teams across the country should point to Harvard to blame for allowing the Eagles to get back into the rhythm that makes them the best team in the nation.
“I didn’t think we were playing great hockey the last four weeks of the season, and it was good to see us bounce back with one of our better games all year,” York said. “But tonight, we were excited about playing a crosstown rival, excited about playing in a regional, so there’s a lot of good and positive vibes in our locker room.”
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor