Top Story, Men's Hockey

Men’s Hockey Falls to Quinnipiac in National Semifinal

TAMPA, Fla. — Colin White took one look at the snapped stick in front of him and slapped it away. He knew what it represented: a broken opportunity in the game’s waning moments.

It was a miracle glove save by Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig on a blast from Ian McCoshen that ended Boston College men’s hockey’s season. A desperation shot from a dangerous defenseman from deep around the circles. It was the perfect setup for a memorable moment.

It should never have come to that.

A hockey team is not defined by its worst 10-minute stretch. But in a single game—especially one of such importance as a national semifinal—play out of your element for even the shortest amount of time, and you’re doomed.

The Eagles picked the worst time for their poorest 10-minute stretch of the season.

Against all odds, BC—the youngest team in the nation with several freshmen as the cornerstones, little defensive depth, rare flashes of consistency, and a goaltender coming off double-hip surgery—found a way to make it to the Frozen Four. Yet, under the brightest lights of the season, the Eagles (28-8-5) couldn’t keep the momentum that earned them a vacation to Florida. And Quinnipiac (32-3-7), the nation’s best team, exploited every weakness in a 3-2 victory.

BC’s defensive corps looked frazzled at the outset of the game. Off the opening draw, the Bobcats’ exceptional speed pressured Thatcher Demko to an alarming degree. With the heat coming, Casey Fitzgerald tried making a safe pass over to Michael Kim. But the first-semester freshman was double-covered, and, in a panic, the puck took a funny bounce and poked out to Kevin McKernan.The sophomore defenseman blasted it home to give Quinnipiac a 1-0 lead only 2:31 into the game.

Five minutes later, pandemonium ensued again. Strong work along the boards by QU’s Travis St. Denis after a turnover allowed Andrew Taverner to take advantage. Not even halfway through the first, BC found itself in a 2-0 hole, one that any team knows is too deep to dig out of.

“Two goals in the first 10 minutes is unacceptable,” team captain Teddy Doherty said. “And it cost us the game.”

Other teams would’ve quit. A team coached by Jerry York isn’t one that quits.

BC needed to get some quick offensive production—the team only got seven shots on Garteig in the first period. Alex Tuch was happy to oblige.

Off the opening draw, White skated down the middle of the ice with a rocket that bounced off Garteig to the right. Tuch was there to eat up the rebound to cut Quinnipiac’s lead in half. All of a sudden, a strong attack led by Adam Gilmour and Zach Sanford appeared destined to end BC’s first-period woes.

Yet BC’s Achilles heel, along with some poor puck luck, struck again.

After Ian McCoshen took a seat for a cross-check, the Bobcats rushed Demko in net. The goaltender stifled their attack, but a stray puck flew in front of an open net. Landon Smith was there to make the Eagles pay. Any momentum BC would get in the second was quickly gone.

Rand Pecknold’s crew seemed determined to allow the Eagles back into the game. The Bobcats were peppered with penalties throughout—two in the first, one in the second, and two in the third, as well as the three by Tim Clifton—giving BC a consistent man advantage.

But every time the Eagles got the advantage, Quinnipiac was there. A strong forecheck kept BC off balance. Every time a forward had the puck and aimed toward Garteig, two Bobcats swarmed and mobbed him, whether with a stick or a body. They eliminated the Eagles’ passing lanes and tracked the puck wherever it went. And man, did it frustrate BC.

“I think they played within the structure well,” alternate captain Steve Santini said of Quinnipiac’s penalty kill. “They knew who our top guys were and what we were trying to do. So we’ve got to give a lot of credit to Quinnipiac.”

On the final one, BC solved Quinnipiac’s plan. Tanner MacMaster—a former BC commit—headed to the box for tripping Tuch. It looked like another failure after Austin Cangelosi’s blast was deflected by Alex Minor-Barron. But with time about to expire on a fifth power play, Ryan Fitzgerald pushed through QU defenseman Devon Toews to cut the lead to 3-2.

With the clock winding down, York pulled Demko for a final gasp. The Eagles did their best on the attack, with several great chances on Garteig that the goaltender turned away. And, of course, he saved his best for last.

Despite the loss, York and the Eagles will come out of Tampa with their heads held high. An immense amount of pressure was placed on the team as the year began—despite all of the freshmen and clear holes, BC was the preseason No. 1 team in the nation. But there were times the Eagles looked like a team destined for a one-and-done year, especially after an embarrassing 5-4 loss to Northeastern in the Hockey East Semifinals. The lack of confidence entering the big dance wasn’t lost on this team.

“I think a lot of people underestimated us coming into this tournament,” Doherty said.

Underestimate they did. The Eagles righted every wrong and came back strong against Harvard and Duluth. They nearly did the same against Quinnipiac.

“I liked the way we rebounded,” York said. “Even though it was 3-1, I thought we had the capability of coming back, and came within a fraction of it. I mentioned to our team maybe another minute there in the game, we might have. But you only play 60 minutes.”

Now it comes down to a waiting game. Doherty, the team’s leader and key senior, will depart. In an emotional final press conference, Doherty praised how much it means to him to be a Boston College hockey player and represent the players, coaches, and University in the way that he did. BC will also await the fates of several of its highly-drafted players, such as Tuch, White, McCoshen, Sanford, and Santini. The most important to watch is Demko, a Hobey Baker and Mike Richter Award finalist, whose NHL team—the Vancouver Canucks—is anxiously awaiting his decision.

At their best, the Eagles mobbed Garteig with an onslaught of shots that came from all directions. At their worst, they scuffled in their own zone, allowed Quinnipiac to get off easy attempts on Demko, couldn’t control the puck off the draw—their best skill—and failed on the power play.

“We just took a little too long to get our feet under us, and by the time we started playing as a team and playing BC hockey, it was a little too late,” Fitzgerald said. “We knew what type of team they were. We did our homework. We didn’t execute early enough.”

When it mattered most, the Eagles’ Cinderella run turned back into a pumpkin. And throughout the rest of the game, they looked poised to continue the fairytale, fighting back in a way only a York-coached team knows how to do.

But it came down to a desperation heave. And it never should have come to that.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

April 7, 2016