For the second straight week, Boston College men’s hockey didn’t know its opponent for the upcoming weekend’s series until just days before it began. Originally scheduled to face off against No. 11 UMass Lowell for the River Hawks’ first game of the season, UMass Lowell was forced to further postpone the start of its 2020-21 campaign due to a positive COVID-19 test result within the program. Instead, No. 2 BC (3-0) took on No. 12 Providence (0-1) for another top-20 matchup to start the weekend.
This weekend’s opening matchup against the Friars was nowhere near the gongshow of the Eagles’ 6-3 victory over No. 7 UMass Amherst the weekend prior. Instead, it showed that securing the Hockey East regular season title for the second straight year wouldn’t be a cakewalk for the Eagles. And yet, BC continued to live up to its expectations and reputation, securing a definitive 3-0 shutout on home ice.
The first surprise of Friday night’s game came hours beforehand with the announcement of the line chart. Following last Saturday’s game, BC head coach Jerry York confirmed that junior Logan Hutsko had sustained a potential knee injury and had sat out the back half of the game as a precaution.
While the winger hadn’t required crutches to walk at the time, York stated that it was likely for Hutsko to miss a game or two to recover. But, that wasn’t the case, as Hutsko donned the new throwback golden jersey and skated on the first line alongside freshman winger Nikita Nesterenko and junior center Jack McBain.
Even with one of their star players back from a brief injury scare, the Eagles struggled to generate energy or sustain offensive force following the puck drop. The Friars, while they had yet to compete prior to this game, didn’t look rusty when they stepped on the ice opposite one of the top teams in the nation. While BC floundered, unable to keep Providence out of its offensive zone, sophomore goaltender Spencer Knight did what he does best: shut the door and bail out his teammates.
With the Friars’ 15 shots on the period to the Eagles’ six, any onlooker would assume that Providence was the superior team. For the first period, it was. While neither team scored in the first frame, the Friars came ready for a fight, dominating possession of the puck and battering Knight with shot after shot. It came as a relief to the Eagles when the clock wound down and they escaped tied at zero apiece.
One fault of the Friars in their first loss of the fall season was underestimating the abilities of BC’s loaded rookie class. While the majority of the period was spent skating back and forth with few real opportunities thrown either way, it was in the final minute of the frame that the magic started to happen.
A cross-ice pass from sophomore Matt Boldy landed soundly on the stick of freshman Trevor Kuntar who had planted himself directly in front of the net. With three Providence players between him and the goal, Kuntar dug in and stuck to the play, eventually putting the puck past senior goaltender Gabe Mollot-Hill to open up the scoring. Kuntar’s efforts not only gave him his first goal of the season, but also gave the Eagles a narrow edge heading into the final frame.
With the beginning of the final frame came rougher, scrappier play as the Friars fought to close the gap and the Eagles battled to defend and extend their narrow lead. But while Providence had been leading BC in shots on net and possession time in the first two periods, the Eagles took control in the final frame as they got more comfortable with their opponent.
Providence made a fatal mistake midway through the final frame by leaving Hutsko room to race down the ice into the Eagles’ offensive zone. Getting in close to the net, Hutsko appeared poised to take a shot against Mollot-Hill but passed backwards to McBain instead, leaving the goalie hanging. McBain, sensing an opportunity, made similar movements to get Mollot-Hill set before sending the puck to Nesterenko. The slick passing by Hutsko and McBain opened up Mollot-Hill just enough for Nesterenko to tip it home for his second goal of the season—and his first against a goalie, after he notched an empty-netter the weekend prior.
With two minutes remaining and a two-goal deficit, the Friars desperately pulled Mollot-Hill in an attempt to overpower the Eagles with 6-on-5 play. Despite showering shot after shot on Knight, it was the Eagles who scored in the dying seconds of the game. Sophomore Mike Hardman slid the puck into the empty net for the extra insurance with 11 seconds on the clock and the game already in the bag.
After having to bail out his teammates numerous times throughout the night’s matchup, Knight was rewarded with his first shutout of the season, an impressive feat against another top-20 opponent.
Featured Image by Molly Bankert / Heights Staff