Sports, Hockey, Men's Hockey

Notebook: Defense, Balanced Attack Lift Eagles to Hockey East Title Game

Just a week ago, after its loss to Providence in the first game of the best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinals, Boston College men’s hockey seemed to have little to no chance of making the NCAA Tournament. Despite high expectations in the preseason, the Eagles had underachieved all year, and it looked like they were headed for an early exit in the conference tournament.

Cue Logan Hutsko’s heroics in the last two games of the series against the Friars, and BC secured a trip to TD Garden to square off against Massachusetts, the conference’s regular season champion. Considering the fact that the Minutemen edged the Eagles twice in the regular season and rolled past the rest of the Hockey East, it certainly looked like the odds were stacked against BC. But head coach Jerry York’s squad was not fazed.

On the back of an incredible defensive performance, the Eagles upset the Minutemen, 3-0, on Friday to advance to the Hockey East Final against Northeastern. Even though BC entered the conference tournament nine games under .500, it is now just one game shy of an unlikely spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Here are seven takeaways from Friday night’s game:

1) Defense

Ultimately, it was an all-around impeccable defensive effort that carried the Eagles to victory. It started in goal with netminder Joseph Woll, who tallied 36 saves and notched a shutout against a UMass, a team that came in averaging a conference-best 3.86 goals per game. Woll was phenomenal all night, diving to cover up loose pucks and ensuring that the Minutemen couldn’t make the most of any limited shooting space. The rest of BC’s team deserves a lion’s share of credit as well, ranging from the blue line to forwards that made sure to get back on defense. Senior captains Casey Fitzgerald and Michael Kim anchored an Eagles defense that gave the Minutemen fits for the entire evening. J.D. Dudek also got involved in the action, saving what would have been a UMass goal by deflecting the puck out of the crease with his skate near the end of the third period.

2) Physicality

Right from the get-go, it was clear that BC and UMass were not afraid to level some giant hits. Not a minute went by without someone getting checked into the wall or shoved around in the middle of the ice. There were also several instances of commotion after a save by Woll or UMass netminder Filip Lindberg. Some minor scrums ensued, and while there were no penalties in the first period, five infractions were enforced in the second period, and an additional three were tallied in the final frame. It was very similar to the last two outings against the Minutemen—both hard-hitting affairs.  

3) Balanced Attack

The Eagles’ offense came together as a cohesive unit against the Minutemen. Despite UMass possessing a defense that only allowed 2.08 goals per game—third-best in the Hockey East—BC found a way to pepper Lindberg with shots. While the Finland native withstood the barrage for most of the night, the Eagles were able to punch through twice. With just 13 seconds left in the first period, Logan Hutsko fed David Cotton from behind the net, and the recently-named Hockey East First Team selection snuck it past Lindberg. In the third period, Casey Fitzgerald launched a long pass to J.D. Dudek. Seeing that the Minutemen defenders were slow in transition, Dudek charged down the ice, hesitated for a second, then pushed the puck across to Chris Grando, who hammered it home on a wide-open net. BC’s chemistry has largely fueled this tournament run, and the team is playing with a new offensive vigor.   

4) Missed Opportunities

As mentioned before, both teams combined for eight penalties, but neither of them successfully converted on the power play. The best opportunity came for BC when two UMass penalties overlapped, resulting in a 5-on-3 advantage for 1:15 of the second period. Unfortunately for the Eagles, their offense sputtered. BC took far too long to set up shots, cycling to no avail, and the Minutemen were able to disrupt the attack. UMass’s penalty kill unit—which killed 86.9 percent of the penalties before Friday night—successfully stymied the Eagles on the power play. It also worked the other way around, though. The Minutemen had three chances with a one-man advantage—but despite entering with the conference’s best power play, BC’s penalty kill unit completed its job.   

5) Controversy

A pivotal moment of the game came eight minutes into the third period, and it’s one that UMass will point to in frustration after the defeat. Woll turned away a shot from the point and the junior appeared to have control of the puck, but he dropped it, and it was eventually batted into the cage by a cluster of sticks. Luckily for the Eagles, the referee blew the whistle early before Woll established full control. This waved off the Minutemen goal, sending the crowd into a frenzy. Had UMass scored in this scenario, the game would be knotted at one goal apiece, and it would have possessed all of the momentum down the stretch, likely leading to a different outcome. But, as a result of this call, UMass sputtered in the final minutes, allowing two BC goals while looking dejected on both the offensive and defensive end of the ice.

6) Neutral Ice?

While this game was played at TD Garden—a neutral venue—it felt like another road game for BC. UMass fans have come in droves to support their team during its renaissance season, and that was apparent on Friday night. Minutemen supporters vastly outnumbered the BC faithful, and it certainly created a hostile atmosphere for the Eagles. Despite this, BC played its finest hockey of the season. UMass supporters certainly brought the noise, and they were not afraid to voice their displeasure with the referees after the questionable whistle killed the momentum that the Minutemen had possessed.

7) Redemption

With the win against UMass, the Eagles have the chance to claim their first Hockey East Championship since 2012, a year in which BC also won the National Championship. York’s squads over the years have never been short on talent, but ever since the Frozen Four run in 2015-16, the Eagles have noticeably stumbled, missing the NCAA Tournament and failing to win the conference tournament. Those struggles continued throughout the current season, as BC finished below .500 for the first since the 1996-97 season. But, over the final portion of the season, the Eagles have displayed much better chemistry and have strung together full-team efforts. This didn’t exactly translate to the win column, but this renewed play has fully materialized in the Hockey East Tournament and has fueled BC’s postseason run. A win against Northeastern on Saturday would turn a lost season into another banner year for the Eagles.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

March 23, 2019