Last season, Boston College men’s hockey missed out on the NCAA Tournament for the first time in eight years. The Eagles’ road back to the dance started with none other than Quinnipiac—the team that ended BC’s most recent postseason run. Back in 2016, it was the Bobcats who edged the Eagles in the Frozen Four, crushing their national championship dreams.
The two met again last year at the Three Rivers Classic. Once again, Quinnipiac came out on top, this time winning a bit more handedly. So when Quinnipiac ventured to Chestnut Hill for the season opener on Friday, there was no doubt that the game would be highly contested. And it was just that.
In what BC head coach Jerry York called a “good battle of goaltenders,” both teams struggled offensively for much of the night. They created numerous chances, but had little to no luck scoring. After three periods and an extra five minutes of overtime, the match ended in a 1-1 draw. As far as York was concerned, the game—the first non-neutral bout of the series—marked the start of a newfound rivalry.
“They’re going to be more of a staple on our schedule from now on…I envision that as one of our non-conference rivalry type games as we go through the stretch here,” York said.
No. 14 Quinnipiac (0-0-1) served as a litmus test of sorts for the No. 13 Eagles (0-0-1). As expected, BC—one of the youngest teams in the country—had its ups and downs, but for the most part, York’s guys held their own.
1) The Brick Woll
After somewhat of a shaky start to last season, Joseph Woll molded into one of the Hockey East’s best goalkeepers by the tail end of conference play. When all was said and done, the freshman finished with a 2.64 goals against average and a .913 save percentage—good enough to earn a spot on the All-Hockey East Team. Now in Year Two, Woll looks even better. Right from the get-go, the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect’s reflexes and mobility were on full display. Woll made his first eye-catching save toward the end of the first period. Bobcats forward Bo Pieper flung a wrist shot from the top of the right zone. The puck was heading for the far post, but before it could get there, Woll extended his glove to make the stop, just like a catcher adjusting to a pitch off the outside of the plate. This was just the start of the sophomore’s highlight-reel performance.
Woll was particularly impressive in the second period. BC failed to possess the puck for much of the frame, and, as a result, Quinnipiac was almost always on the attack. Woll single-handedly kept the Eagles in the game, making save after save in a variety of different ways. Midway through the period, a Michael Karow holding penalty gifted the Bobcats with a power play. Craig Martin sifted through the BC defense, and as soon as reached the circles, faked left and tried to sneak a backhanded shot near post. Woll was all over it. He used his 6-foot-4 frame to sprawl on the ice, covering the right corner of the cage.
Minutes later, Woll made the most acrobatic save of the night. With an incoming Bobcat on the right flank, the sophomore had to leave the far post open. But before he knew it, the puck was dished to Landon Smith in the left zone. Smith immediately fired a one-timer toward the bottom left-corner of the net, but Woll hurled his body across the crease to block the puck.
Even though, he ended up giving up a goal later in the period, Woll was clearly BC’s most valuable player in this one.
2) Tortora and Hutsko’s Immediate Impact
The Eagles lost all five of last year’s leading scorers—four to graduation and one to the pros. Heading into the season, everyone was asking the same question: Who is going to produce on the offensive end? David Cotton and J.D. Dudek could very well end up leading the team in points. But after that, it’s anyone’s game. Freshmen Jacob Tortora and Logan Hutsko are well aware.
Throughout the game, the two forwards created a handful of scoring opportunities. Nearing the end of the first period, Tortora and Hutsko executed a perfect give-and-go. Approaching center ice, Tortora slid the puck between two Quinnipiac defenders to his fellow classmate. After drawing the Bobcats’ attention, Hutsko passed it right back to Tortora. Wide-open, Tortora ripped a wrist shot toward the cage. Quinnipiac netminder Andrew Shortridge was there for the stop, but the play was promising to say the least.
Hutsko almost connected on another beautiful feed in the latter portion of the second period. The freshman intercepted a Bobcats’ pass behind the blue line and sped down the left side of the ice. Eyeing Zach Walker the whole way, Hutsko attempted to slip the puck across the ice to the forward, a feet away from the goal. But his pass was stuffed by a diving Brogan Rafferty.
But Tortora stole the show in the third period. With about four minutes to go in the game, the shifty 5-foot-8 forward positioned himself in front of Shortridge. Dudek located Fitzgerald behind the right circle. Skating backwards, the junior lasered a pass to Tortora. Shortridge, who was still facing the right flank, was caught off guard. Before he could get his glove up, Tortora went top shelf, tying the game at one and earning some praise from his head man.
“I think he’s got qualities that’ll really show as the season goes on—his skating, his good hockey sense,” York said. “And he’s a goal scorer. He wants to score goals. He’s one of our real good additions to our team.”
After Friday night’s performance, Hutsko and Tortora could see an increased role in York’s offense next week against Wisconsin.
3) Third Period Comeback
BC was sluggish offensively through the first two periods of play. The Eagles totaled just 14 shots in the opening 40 minutes. Their passing inaccuracies and lack of puck control peaked in the second frame. Not only couldn’t BC score, but it also couldn’t maintain possession, which ultimately left Quinnipiac with ample scoring opportunities, and eventually a one-goal lead.
But in the third period, the Eagles flipped a switch. All of a sudden, they looked like they had an extra step in them. BC recorded nine shots in the final period—many of which were inches away from finding the back of the net. All it took was one to tie the game. Tortora’s late-game goal staved off a home-opening loss, and a shutout at that. York has to be pleased with the way his team responded to being down.
1) Power Play
It’s not that hard to pinpoint the Eagles’ Achilles heel. Just look at the numbers. BC was 41st on the power play (28-of-172) last year. The Eagles’ inefficiency on special teams proved costly in the Hockey East Tournament. In their final two games of the season, BC cashed in on just 1-of-8 power plays. Without Austin Cangelosi, Ryan Fitzgerald, and Colin White, things haven’t gotten any easier.
After Friday’s game, the Eagles are now 0-of-8 on the power play this year, if you include their scrimmage against New Brunswick (0-of-4). Despite being a man up, and sometimes two, BC has had a difficult time materializing offense. Last year, the Eagles had a tendency to milk precious penalty minutes, as they would simply move the puck around the perimeter before putting all their marbles into one basket for one shot on goal. But at times on Friday, BC couldn’t even keep the puck in the Quinnipiac zone. Passing and stickhandling were subpar to say the least.
The Eagles averaged 5.6 penalties and 15.1 minutes in the box per game last season. All in all, they were the 10th-most penalized team in the country. They looked the part against the Bobcats. Michael Kim’s tripping call just five minutes into the first period set the precedent for what was to come.
BC was called for three penalties in the frame, and committed another in the second. Fortunately for York and Co., the Eagles stood on the kill, shutting down all four of Quinnipiac’s power plays. But that’s not to say that the Bobcats were ineffective on special teams. Quinnipiac racked up four shots on the power play. And their lone goal came just minutes after the fourth and final advantage in the second period. While BC’s penalties might not have directly led to goals, they certainly added to the wear and tear of Woll.
3) Inability to Finish
In the postgame press conference, York mentioned that Cotton approached him at the end of the game and said that he had three or four chances to score, none of which panned out. He wasn’t wrong. The 6-foot-5 forward was in the right place at the right time on multiple occasions, but still couldn’t put one past Shortridge.
Close to the halfway point in the first period, Walker whipped up a slapshot from the left zone. The puck hit Shortridge in chest and bounced back out. Cotton corralled the rebound within feet of the net, but was denied on the putback.
But because of a delay of game penalty on Quinnipiac’s Brandon Fortunato, Cotton was awarded a penalty shot. With the opportunity to give his team an early lead, the Parker, Texas native slowly skated toward the cage. Cotton showed left, but in doing so, lost a hold of the puck. So when he pulled back to the right, he had no shot on net.
But he wasn’t the only one with scoring troubles. Walker couldn’t capitalize on shots in open space. Casey Fitzgerald was off on a couple of long-range strikes. And Kim failed to net either of his two overtime shots. For the sake of Woll, and the team as a whole, BC will need to finish on the offensive end if it wants to make any noise this year.
Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor