It’s a gut-wrenching feeling to lose a lead: The team is on a high, looking as though nothing can stop it from winning the game. Then one goal goes by—nothing to worry about, there’s still plenty of hockey left to play. But scores start to pour in, and eventually, the players skate off the ice with their heads hung and a surprise tally in the loss column.
Sure, Jerry York has seen his fair share of lost leads—in over 40 years as a head coach, York has been on both sides of that same kind of heartbreak on the biggest stages in college hockey. But he’s never felt it like this.
It’s a completely different feeling when what’s ticking away isn’t the time on a game clock: It’s the team’s chances in the postseason. And with all of the precautions taken to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, York and his team watched their season disappear in stages before their eyes.
“The residue effect of the whole thing is still in my mind,” York said. “There’s no real closure. There was no banquet at the end of the season. There was no, you know, ‘win a championship, lose a championship.’ There were none of those feelings. It was almost surreal. And it’s still hard for me to swallow.”
When Vaughn Williams, the senior associate athletics director for administration, approached the team after practice last Thursday to tell the Eagles that the Hockey East Tournament had been canceled, York said he and the team didn’t know what to think.
“Myself and our players weren’t quite sure where it was gonna go,” York said over the phone on Friday. “But that really hit us hard that there would be no tournament.”
The Eagles’ stellar season had earned them a No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, and they were set to take on Providence the very next day in the first round. Before the cancellation of the tournament, York said he and the other coaches had even considered shortening it to a one-game elimination round rather than the typical best-of-three round that they were slated to tackle over the upcoming weekend.
But at that point, there was still hope: The end of the conference tournament wasn’t yet the end of the season for BC.
After racking up an overall record of 24-8-2 and ending the regular season on a nine-game unbeaten streak, BC was “the hottest team in our league, maybe the hottest team in the country,” according to Merrimack head coach Scott Borek after the Eagles beat his team in one of the final games of the season.
BC had earned itself an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as the No. 4 team in the country, and Jerry York said he believes the Eagles had a chance at their first national title since 2012.
“I think we had all the pieces in place to go into that whole [NCAA] tournament,” York said. “We were gonna be a No. 1 seed, we were gonna go for regions, but … I thought we were in a good position—from the goal, defense, the forwards, to experience and young kids coming in. We had a team that, you know, had a really good chance to win the national championship.”
But just an hour and a half after the Hockey East Tournament was called off, the NCAA put down the hammer: No one, not even the top-seeded Eagles, would play for a chance to hoist a trophy.
It’s a heartbreaking way to go out, especially for seniors such as David Cotton, Julius and Jesper Mattila, and Graham McPhee, among others. Their class helped create a turnaround of sorts from their freshman season.
After losing to UMass Lowell in the Hockey East Championship for the final game of their first year, the class of 2020 “took the brunt of a couple losing seasons,” according to Jerry York—though his definition of a “losing season” doesn’t fit the standard of more losses than wins as this year’s senior class only saw one season with a record below .500.
“They culminated in the best year of their four, so we’re really proud of them and thought they did an outstanding job,” York said. “We conveyed that to them, but they were still foggy listening to us. But once time settles down, they’ll understand what an impact they made.”
But the departure of senior leadership makes way a new crop of all-stars: the class of 2023.
Looking just at the third line alone—one made up of almost entirely freshmen—it was clear that York and the Eagles had set themselves up for a deep postseason run. Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, and Mike Hardman led the forward pack for the third line and combined for 40 goals and 53 assists.
Newhook, recently named Hockey East Rookie of the Year, is the first freshman Eagle to proclaim his return to the Heights despite his eligibility with the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche, according to a tweet from Ryan S. Clark of The Athletic.
Fellow first-year Spencer Knight was a force on the defensive end for the Eagles all season with the 11th-highest save percentage in the country at .931, including a season-high 47 saves in the Eagles’ final game of the season against UNH.
Even without a National Championship to show for it, BC’s 2019-2020 season was one for the ages. And York said he and his team have done everything they can to come to peace with a heartbreaking ending.
“There’s just no playbook for this,” he said. “This is way bigger than what’s happening in Conte Forum.”
Featured Image by Jess Rivilis / Heights Editor