Men's Hockey

Fast, Physical Game Ends in 3-3 Tie for Eagles, No. 16 Catamounts

Boston College men’s hockey is struggling. Losing or tying their last four consecutive games, the Eagles (18-12-3, 13-4-2 Hockey East) still hold a slim three-point margin over Boston University for first place in the conference, albeit only because BU was able to claw back from multiple two-goal leads against the University of New Hampshire Friday night. Both BU and BC play the same opponents tonight, with critical implications for the PairWise Rankings and Hockey East standings.

The overarching themes of Friday night’s game were often overshadowed by the result, which was that BC blew a 3-0 lead (3-1 in the third period, notably) to the also recently struggling Catamounts. The overall tenor of the game was fast, physical, and chippy, and there were flashes of brilliance marred by mental errors that ended up costing the Eagles a win. That said, here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly of last night’s bout with the No. 16 Catamounts.

The Good

Pressure on the Forecheck: The immediacy of the pressure on the forecheck was key to the Eagles’ early lead. It is no easy feat to score three goals in just over 10 minutes of hockey, especially in the first 10 minutes of the first period when everyone is fresh. This highlights the ability of BC’s forwards to bury the puck, but it also exemplifies the importance of pressure on the forecheck for a comparable undersized team like the Eagles. This pressure had UVM reeling in its defensive and neutral zones, giving up turnovers that would eventually lead to goal-scoring rushes, like this one:

And this one:
The pressure remained when men were taken to the penalty box for various offenses as well. UVM had six power plays on the night, unable to convert on any of them. Speedy forwards like sophomore Colin White and senior Austin Cangelosi gave the Catamounts fits in their own zone, meaning that even if they could set up a rush, it was haphazard and easily defendable.

Blue Line Passing: Like their female counterparts Makenna Newkirk and Megan Keller, the Eagles’ passing on the blue line was firm and deliberate. Whether even strength, down a man, on the power play, or 4-on-4, BC’s passing at the point created shooting lanes by spinning pressuring UVM forwards out of their skates. This also wears down defending players, meaning that UVM’s subsequent rushes resulted in a dump to get a change as opposed to a bull-rush on net. The Eagles’ defensemen poured in clappers from the point all night, one of which found its way to the twine via the tip of freshman forward David Cotton.
BC’s defensemen were also liberal with their shots, and although not all of them found their way to the net (an area of needed improvement), the likes of Michael Kim and Scott Savage hammered heavy shots from the point. On Fitzgerald’s eventual goal, Kim unleashed a howitzer off a drop-pass that, quite literally, blew UVM netminder Stefanos Lekkas backward when it hit his chest protector. Good passing and continued blue line offensive production will be critical to getting the Eagles back on their feet in the rush for the playoffs.

Joe Woll, Sometimes: The freshman goaltender showed flashes of brilliance on tough, situational saves. Woll was able to make some razor-close saves on account of his flexibility and pipe-to-pipe skating ability, like this one on the wraparound attempt from Derek Lodermeier:
He sees the puck, plants his skate, and stretches out to seal the whole crease with his pads. Woll’s ability to recognize the play and use every inch of his 6-foot-3 frame to mitigate the opportunity is what the Eagles need from him, but his occasional brilliance is often paired with skating errors that can leave the net completely unguarded.

It is tough to tell from this image, but Woll was caught floundering to get in front of the net after playing the shot on Chris Muscoby. When the puck was passed to Hamilton for the one-timer, Woll was nowhere near a position to make a save on the senior blue liner, who notched his second goal of the night. The other two goals really were not Woll’s fault. On the first, his forwards left Hamilton all alone in the slot with the rebound after Woll made a lunging pad save on an odd-man rush. The other was a breakaway. Both times the Eagles hung him out to dry, something that you cannot blame a goaltender for. UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said as much when asked why he didn’t pull Lekkas after three goals in the first period.

“[I didn’t pull Lekkas] because I didn’t feel like the goals were his fault,” he said. “That isn’t the right time to hit the panic button.”

The Bad

Pressure Breakdowns and Physicality: As mentioned earlier, the consistent forechecking pressure that the Eagles put on the Catamounts led to three goals early in the first period. Unfortunately for the Eagles, subsequent breakdowns in the defensive zone on account of this pressure are what allowed UVM to claw its way back. Its second goal, a breakaway backhander by sophomore forward Brian Bowen, was the result of a turnover in the neutral zone by Casey Fitzgerald. Because the other players were pressuring, there was nothing but Woll between Bowen and a goal, an opportunity he would convert into his ninth goal of the year.

Especially with the loss of Connor Moore early in the second period, leaving the Eagles with five defensemen, the early pressure began to show later in the game. Whereas in the first period BC seemed to get to every loose puck and win every physical battle, the Catamounts rebounded to do the same in the third period. In Jaromir Jagr-esque fashion, UVM used its size and strength to muscle BC defensemen off the puck, creating opportunities to test Woll.

The Eagles have shown that they are willing to be a physical team despite their usual size disadvantage. As the team did against BU in its first Beanpot game, BC came out swinging, throwing heavy hits at every opportunity. This worked well in conjunction with the forecheck pressure, but would eventually cost them goals both directly and indirectly. The Catamounts’ third goal saw the Eagles sitting in a box, unable to give chase to skating Catamount defensemen. Hoping to create an error on behalf of UVM, the Eagles were caught in the defensive zone, exhausted and looking to catch a breather. This didn’t happen, as Bowen whipped it out to an awaiting Hamilton who took advantage of an out-of-position Woll.

The Ugly

Discipline, Discipline, Discipline: There are three main areas in which the Eagles need to become more disciplined: getting shots on net, penalties, and post-whistle. Although there have been worse games, the Eagles need to understand that six penalties is not acceptable. Even after Hockey East officials called the team to apologize for the poor officiating, this is no excuse to take foolish penalties that can negatively affect the result of the game. No, UVM did not score on the power play. But the Eagles certainly didn’t score short-handed either.

The Eagles racked up 58 shot attempts, yet only walked away with 33 shots on goal. BC missed the mark 14 times (15, if you include one off the iron), which is simply too many. Blocked shots happen, but you can’t score if your shots aren’t on target.

In the last several games, the Eagles have been chippy and aggressive after the whistle has blown. Although is it necessary to protect your goaltender and stand up for your team, the unnecessary shoving after the whistle is buying the Eagles no favors with Hockey East’s infamous officiating crews. All of these areas are simply matters of discipline, which can easily be improved upon going forward.

Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor

February 18, 2017