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Defensive Effort Leads BC Past No. 3 Massachusetts, into Hockey East Tournament Final

With just under 12 minutes to play in Boston College men’s hockey’s Hockey East Tournament semifinal against No. 3 Massachusetts, Minutemen fans erupted with cheers. Joseph Woll caught a routine shot from Mitchell Chaffee and seemed to briefly have control, but dropped the puck. It sat behind the junior goaltender for a moment before being shoved into the net by a combination of a UMass and BC sticks. It appeared the Minutemen had a momentum-changing equalizer.

The UMass joy was short-lived, however, as a referee behind the goal signaled demonstratively that the goal did not count. He had already blown his whistle. The Minutemen cheers instantly morphed into a flurry of boos. The UMass misery was compounded just moments later, as Christopher Grando finished off a beautiful passing play to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. From there, BC’s defense, which turned in its best performance of the year, held strong and an empty-net goal sealed a 3-0 win.

From the outset, it was clear that what the offensive strategy was going to be for the Eagles (14-21-3, 11-11-3 Hockey East). Just 75 seconds into the game, BC dumped a puck onto the end boards and tried to pick up a rebound in the crease. Unfortunately for head coach Jerry York’s team, Filip Lindberg—starting in place of usual UMass goaltender Matt Murray—was alert to the strategy, covering the puck to prevent a clear look for BC. The Eagles were unfazed, though, and kept trying. Christopher Brown saw a weak-angle attempt from near the goal-line bounce off the pad of Lindberg, and two scrums in front of the net amounted to nothing.

It looked like a good first period for BC was about to go to waste, but with a few seconds left, the puck finally bounced the Eagles’ way in the crease. Logan Hutsko—fresh off two game-winning goals in the quarterfinal series against Providence—picked up a dump-off behind the Minutemen (28-9, 18-7) net, and slid it onto the doorstep for a waiting David Cotton. The junior forward, who finished the regular season with a team-high 21 goals, managed to stuff the puck past Forsberg and into the net with just 12.3 seconds remaining in the period. For the third straight game against UMass, BC scored first.

The Eagles held the slimmest of advantages, but luckily also had a goalkeeper on top form to try and protect the lead. Woll—who finished with 36 saves—stopped the Minutemen’s best chance of the first period, turning aside a shot from newly-elected Hockey East Player of the Year Cale Makar before lunging to cover up a rebound attempt from Chaffee. Then, with five minutes to play in the second period, the junior dove to force Niko Hildenbrand wide and block his shot. Connor Moore took a penalty for holding in the aftermath, but Woll stoned a shot from Trivigno, as BC killed the penalty without too much incident.

An equalizing goal would have been a gut punch for an Eagles team that played excellent offensive hockey in the second period, but simply couldn’t find a way past Lindberg. Hutsko’s shot deflected into the path of Cotton, but the junior couldn’t direct his follow-up on target. Six minutes later, Jake Gaudet was penalized for tripping, and Brett Boeing joined him in the box just 45 seconds later to give BC over a minute of 5-on-3 play. Yet extended puck time and pressure in the UMass zone couldn’t buy the Eagles a goal. Lindberg made the save of the game, extending to his left to deny Julius Mattila on a rebound, and the teams moved back to 5-on-5 with the score still at 1-0.

The rest of the period passed without incident, setting up the drama of the third period. After the Minutemen goal was waved off, a long pass ahead from Casey Fitzgerald fell to J.D. Dudek, and the senior carried the puck across neutral ice before centering for Grando, who tapped it home to double the BC advantage.

This was pretty.— BC Hockey (@BCHockey) March 23, 2019

UMass was visibly deflated after that, failing to generate many chances until Lindberg was pulled with just over two minutes to play. Dudek blocked what seemed like a sure goal with his skate, before Woll managed to get his glove to the puck, prior to a massive pileup in the crease. Eventually, though, the Eagles won a face off in its defensive zone, Julius Mattila skated clear with the puck, and sent it the length of the ice to kill any last vestiges of hope that the Minutemen had.

It was the finishing touches of BC’s best defensive performance all season. UMass entered the game averaging 3.86 goals per contest and had only been shut out twice all season, but the Eagles played excellently in its own zone, flying to the puck and winning battles along the boards all night long.

“I just thought we played in sync and very cohesive through all three zones,” York said of the defensive effort after the game. “It took that to advance to the championship tomorrow night.,”

The win sends BC to the Hockey East Tournament final Saturday, and gives them a chance at an NCAA Tournament berth that seemed lost as soon as last Friday, when the Eagles dropped the first game of their quarterfinal to Providence. BC is the first-ever No. 7 seed to play in the tournament final, a fitting fact to describe the improbability of what the Eagles has accomplished during the tournament.

“We’re tight as a club, we’re more of a team now than we were earlier in the year,” York remarked after the game.

It remains to be seen whether or not BC’s newfound chemistry will be able to complete the job Saturday night against Northeastern. If they play as they did tonight, however, it would be dangerous to bet against them.  

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

March 23, 2019