Hockey, Men's Hockey

Non-Conference Struggles Continue as Eagles Fall to Quinnipiac

Out of every team in the Hockey East, Boston College men’s hockey is second all-time in NCAA Tournament appearances with 35. Trailing only rival Boston University, the Eagles under Jerry York have set a precedent of consistently appearing on the sport’s biggest stage. With York, BC has been able to claim at least a share of the last three Hockey East regular season titles and nine overall. It’s a remarkable run of success within the conference.

The last two years and the start of this season, though, have revealed a troubling flaw that poses a pivotal question—how good can a team truly be if they can’t win non-conference games? On Friday night in Hamden, Conn., that flaw was on full display, as the 18th-ranked Eagles allowed a first-period goal and never recovered, dropping a 1-0 decision to Quinnipiac, a team they’ve failed to beat in four historical meetings.

The non-conference struggles have been well documented, but the Bobcats (3-0) were a team coming off their first losing season since 1995-96 and also welcomed in a freshman class of 12 players, meaning that almost half their roster was playing at the collegiate level for the first time. Yes, Quinnipiac returned seven of its top 10 scorers, but BC (0-3) did one better—it entered this season with the second-most returning production in the country. It hasn’t translated yet, though, as through three games, the Eagles haven’t recorded a win, and a chunk of the goodwill BC has in the polls—which was good enough to climb to 12th in the preseason—has started to erode.

The Eagles were outshot and committed two more penalties than their hosts, and those two infractions proved to cost them. After a back-and-forth first 17 minutes, BC defenseman Marc McLaughlin and Michael Kim were called for slashing in consecutive minutes. The Eagles were likely confident, as despite the 5-on-3 disadvantage, they’d successfully killed off all six penalties they’d faced thus far—while Quinnipiac was 0-for-6 in their chances.

However, a minute into the two-man power play, the Bobcats broke through. With Connor Moore, David Cotton, and Michael Karow on the ice for BC, Quinnipiac started cycling the puck around in the Eagles defensive zone. Chase Priskie, who scored a team-high eight power play goals last season, played it to Brandon Fortunato in the corner, then on the ensuing pass back, loaded up a hard right-handed one-timer. It flew into the top shelf past BC goaltender Joe Woll for Priskie’s second goal of the season, one that secured the Bobcats first 3-0 start since the 2015-16 team that won the ECAC and made a run to the national championship.

Priskie’s goal held up on the strength of a career day from Keith Petruzzelli, a sophomore netminder who displayed marked growth from last season. Petruzzelli played in just 11 games in his freshman year on campus, conceding 28 goals for a woeful 3.06 goals against average. That version of the Wilbraham, Mass. native was nowhere to be found on Friday night, however, as he turned away 21 shots for his first career save.

Petruzzelli was largely protected well by the Quinnipiac defense, who played cleanly and avoided giving the Eagles much of a chance to find the equalizer. The Bobcats committed a pair of penalties in the first period to give BC consecutive power-play chances, but the first featured a lone shot that was denied by Petruzzelli, and the second was more balanced, with looks for both teams. An offsetting roughing penalty in the third was the only other trouble Quinnipiac got into—the same couldn’t be said for the Eagles. BC nearly allowed the game to really get out of reach twice, as penalties at the end of the second and third from Cotton and Logan Hutsko saw a combined three shots on net—and two more were blocked.

BC’s first big chance came in the second period, when Hutsko took a pass near center ice and made a strong move to dance up the right boards. He skated in on Petruzzelli and attempted to beat the fellow sophomore with a point-blank wrister, but it was batted away to preserve the one-goal advantage. The next was almost 30 minutes of game time later, when the Eagles turned in arguably their best offensive shift. Oliver Wahlstrom was denied at the right post, though, and the failure to convert good looks would haunt BC.

The loss was particularly jarring for the Eagles, who were hoping to erase some of the lingering effects of being shut out and then losing a shootout to start the year in Wisconsin. The Bobcats were picked to finish seventh in the ECAC and are far from the powerhouse they were when they knocked off BC in the Frozen Four, but many still expected the Eagles to bounce back and win. BC is winless through three games for the first time since 2001-02, a season that ended in disappointment—they went just 18-18-2 and bowed out in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

It’s early to even think about writing off the Eagles, but the truth is that BC haven’t been able to find success out of conference in two-plus years, and that means postseason play hinges entirely on winning the conference tournament, which is no easy task, as the last two years have revealed.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Senior Staff

October 21, 2018