BOSTON — Boston College men’s hockey was 9.8 seconds away from a trip to its conference-best 17th Hockey East championship game. Up 3-2 against crosstown-rival Boston University, all the Eagles needed to do was to protect the puck. Ryan Fitzgerald did just that.
After winning the game’s final face off, the senior forward took to his knees and shielded the puck from Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and the surrounding Terriers, drawing out the clock. Time expired, but the contest was far from over.
As soon as the horn blared, all hell broke loose. Following the scrummage of the face off, Graham McPhee wrestled with Jordan Greenway, shaking the helmet off of the freshman forward.
Meanwhile, Brandon Hickey shoved Casey Fitzgerald from the back, sending the North Reading, Mass. native to the ice. Casey got to his feet and immediately fought back. Then, his brother, Ryan, came to his side, attempting to tackle Hickey. But Fitzgerald went high, only scraping the helmet off of his enemy. As a result, Hickey escaped, pulling Casey with him. Hickey placed Casey in a headlock and threw him to the ground twice, before officials finally broke up the fight.
Something like this was bound to happen. After all, it was the fourth meeting of the season between the two—but unlike the other three, BC prevailed, 3-2.
1) First on the Board
In each of the No. 14 Eagles’ (21-14-4, 13-6-3) first three games versus No. 6 BU (23-11-3, 13-6-3) this season, they found themselves trailing. Back on Jan. 13, Forsbacka-Karlsson lit the lamp less than four minutes into the second period to take the lead. A day later, Patrick Curry lit the lamp close to the eight-minute mark in the second. It was even worse in the first round of the Beanpot. Once again, it was Forsbacka-Karlsson who struck first, but this time a mere four and a half minutes into the opening frame.
On Friday night, head coach Jerry York’s group flipped the script. About one and a half minutes into the second period, Julius Mattila split two Terrier defenders down the left side of the ice and launched a wrist shot past Jake Oettinger.
For Oettinger, it was only the third goal he had conceded all year to BC. While this was atypical for the Eagles, it has become more of a norm for BU in recent play. The Terriers have now allowed the first goal in each of their last nine games.
Except this time, it wasn’t just the first goal, it was the first three goals. Mattila’s goal jumpstarted the BC offense, as the Eagles would go on to score two more in the next 19 minutes of play.
2) Joseph Woll
Joseph Woll was on the verge of his second career shutout—exactly one week removed from his first, which came in the Eagles’ Hockey East quarterfinal victory over Vermont. But in the last five minutes, BU pulled Oettinger and went full desperation mode.
And it worked. Woll was greeted with a flurry of shots, two of which found the back of the net. The Terrier deficit was cut to one, keeping everyone in TD Garden on edge. Nevertheless, BC would close out the game, albeit controversially.
Aside from BU’s pair of late-game scoring plays, the freshman netminder was nearly perfect. Woll faced 44 shots, including 22 in the final period. He saved a multitude of shots, at times even using his body to cover the length of the goal line, as the Terriers tried to push the puck through crowds of defenders. None of his saves were more dramatic than the one he made toward the end of the second period.
McPhee accidentally plummeted into his goalie, as Charlie McAvoy sent a shot toward Woll. Consequently, Woll fell to the ice, but from his back, stretched far enough to prevent a mosh pit of Clayton Keller, Patrick Curry, and Ryan Cloonan from scoring.
In the postgame press conference, Terriers head coach David Quinn was quick to applaud Woll, not just for Friday’s performance, but for the season of work he has put in.
“Joe Woll is a hell of a goalie,” Quinn said. “And he has been for a long time.”
Nearly two months ago, Woll recorded an identical save total against Connecticut: 42.
3) Penalty Kill
Entering the game, BU was ranked 16th in the nation in power-play scoring, converting 20.5 percent of its chances. Not to mention that the Terriers went 4-of-7 on the power play in their quarterfinal series win over Northeastern. And when facing the Eagles this season, BU had already put up four man-up goals.
Yet its success came to a screeching halt on Friday. The Terriers had five power-play opportunities and could not cash in on a single one. Quinn’s crew even had a 5-on-3 for 20-plus seconds in the tail end of the first period, but still failed to lit the lamp. In total, the Terriers whipped up 13 shots on the power play. But it was BC’s 26th ranked penalty kill that stood tall.
Like the first semifinal game of the night, neither team scored a power-play goal—the first time all four teams failed to do so since 2004.
Granted that half of them came after the final horn, 18 penalties were called on Friday. As expected, it was a chippy game between the Green Line rivals, but each penalty came with a cost, even though it may not show in the box score.
The Eagles killed each of BU’s five power plays, but Woll was on the receiving end of an array of Terrier shots. BC’s two penalties during the third period largely contributed the Terriers’ bombardment on Woll.
Yes, the St. Louis native handled the aggressive attack reasonably well, but a period like that takes a toll on a goaltender. Especially when the team has to play a game the next night.
2) Late-Game Near Collapse
The game appeared to be all but over. For 55 minutes, the Eagles had played, debatably, their best game of the season. But it looked as if BC was perhaps too comfortable with that 55 minutes of play—it seemed like the players were already thinking about the ensuing championship game against Massachusetts Lowell.
On the other hand, BU was still very much in the game. And it let BC know. First it was Greenway, who received an accidental feed from Keller in front of the net, and subsequently shuffled it in, ruining Woll’s shutout.
One minute later, Bobo Carpenter split the Eagle defense, located Greenway, who then found Forsbacka-Karlsson. The sophomore’s shot was saved, but Keller swooped in for the rebound and score.
All momentum that BC had going into the final no longer existed. For the last minute or so, the team had to hold on to both the game and its season.
3) The Fight
BC played the last minute and 22 seconds scared. Not too long before, the Eagles were leading by three goals. All of a sudden, their season was in jeopardy. It all came down to one last face off.
Fitzgerald won the bout, but instead of clearing the puck, he smothered it with his body, effectively cheating the system and barring the Terriers from a chance to tie the game. What appeared to be an interesting tactic to run out the clock, really served as the instigator for a fight that was to come.
For college hockey, the brawl was as intense as it gets. Gloves were thrown, helmets were tossed, and players were being dropped to the ice. From the entertainment standpoint, it was exciting. On the other hand, from the hockey perspective, it was nonsensical. Both BC and BU’s seasons are still alive. And they did not help themselves by picking up an assortment of penalties that were distributed following the fight, including game misconducts for Fitzgerald and Hickey.
Even more telling was Fitzgerald’s face off. The senior was obviously not confident enough in himself or the rest of his line to hold the Terrier offense scoreless for 10 more seconds of play. That lack of certainty may very well carry over to Saturday night’s final.
Featured Image by Lizzy Barrett / Heights Editor