ALBANY, N.Y. — For practically the entire last three minutes of the game, Spencer Knight sat dejected on the corner of his bench, having been pulled for an extra attacker.
Even without seeing his face, it was clear his heart had broken.
Boston College men’s hockey’s dream season has come to an end. If you couldn’t tell from Knight’s sinking shoulders, you could see it in captain Marc McLaughlin slamming his stick into the plexiglass behind Knight’s net. Or, you could see it in Michael Karow, BC’s only remaining senior, staying on the ice just a couple extra seconds, taking in what were likely his last moments as a collegiate player.
BC’s road stops in Albany, as the Eagles jumped to a 1-0 first-period lead in the NCAA Tournament Regional Final, but St. Cloud State (19-10) responded with four unanswered goals—including one on an empty net, prompting McLaughlin’s frustration. Ending a near-perfect season on a broken-down second period is heartbreak in its purest form.
“We were all fighting [the] pandemic, and it was such an unusual year for all college teams, but for us to get to our regional final, you know, one step away from going to Pittsburgh, it’s frustrating for us right now, so we’re very disappointed,” BC head coach Jerry York said.
BC (17-6-1) strung together a miracle of a season in beyond difficult circumstances, spending over one full month atop the national polls. The Eagles lost one of their 2019-20 leading scorers to injury, they never played a non-conference game, and the vast majority of BC’s roster is made up of freshmen and sophomores.
“Tonight, after tonight’s game, you know, for a young team, I think [we] matured a lot playing a game like this,” York said.
With such a young group, including a sophomore class that has never seen postseason action before this season, the Eagles were forced to jump to a new level without much preparation.
Youth, however, has not been an obstacle for BC this season, particularly in its standout sophomore class of Matt Boldy, Alex Newhook, Mike Hardman, Marshall Warren, Drew Helleson, and Knight.
Boldy opened the Eagles’ scoring with his 11th goal of the season with just over five minutes left in the first. After a pileup on the wall in BC’s offensive zone, the sophomore took the puck at his stick and buried a backhander behind St. Cloud State goaltender David Hrenak.
But the narrow lead didn’t last.
In high-pressure situations this year, BC has frequently fallen apart, and Sunday’s game was no different. The wheels fell off for the Eagles in the second period, starting with a goal from Luke Jaycox around the middle of the period.
Jaycox’s score to tie it up was a rare misstep for Knight, as he made the initial save before Jaycox fired it over his left shoulder. In the second frame, St. Cloud State outshot BC 20-7, most of which Knight turned away or gloved with little issue.
It was two fluke goals that sent the Huskies into the final break ahead by two. The first came on a wild scramble in front of Knight’s net when Will Hammer fired one from the top of the crease that snuck by Knight.
The second of the two was even more of an enigma, as it underwent a seven-minute-long review. Nolan Walker crashed the net with the puck at his stick, and the puck crossed the goal line mere seconds before Walker slammed into Knight and dislodged the net. Walker went to the box for charging the goaltender, but the officials returned to the ice signaling a goal for St. Cloud State.
“They said that the goal was scored one frame before the penalty was taken, so it was clear to the referee,” York said. “But that was a big play for us because we were going to go on a power play and wondering—we didn’t think it was a goal.”
The three second-period goals marred an otherwise stellar performance for the Hobey Baker finalist. Though Knight had struggled on his blocker side in the Hockey East Tournament semifinals against UMass Lowell, he looked much improved against St. Cloud State. Especially considering St. Cloud State’s offensive barrage in the second period, Knight put on a stunning performance.
With 9:11 left in the second period and the game still tied at one apiece, the Eagles found themselves a man down on the power play. In typical BC fashion—the Eagles led the nation in shorthanded goals for the second year in a row this season—BC spent more time in its offensive zone on the penalty kill than St. Cloud State did.
As the power-play clock wound down, however, the Huskies showed signs of life and put pressure on Knight, the sophomore goaltender made back-to-back saves as BC returned to even strength, including one diving save with his left pad to finish off the kill.
The Huskies effectively shut down every chance BC had at cracking the offensive zone. The few times the Eagles got within striking distance of Hrenak, the Huskies threw themselves in front of the puck, finishing the game with 26 blocks. St. Cloud State was a defensive force to be reckoned with in the neutral zone as well.
“We just did the same thing we normally do, but we did better than we normally do,” St. Cloud State head coach Brett Larson said in his postgame press conference.
Perhaps the greatest turning point in the game came less than a minute into the second period, as Easton Brodzinski went down with an apparent leg injury. Larson said he does not know Brodzinski’s status.
“The guys wanted to play for Easton [Brodzinski],” Larson said. “He’s a guy that’s been here for four years and been a huge part of this program.”
BC locked back down in the third period and fought to claw its way back in, but St. Cloud State was practically impenetrable. The Eagles tested Hrenak nine times in the second period, but the Huskies were the only ones to find the net, as Knight had vacated it in favor of a 6-on-5 chance.
“Well I think that it’s gonna be a while before they can reflect back on it, you know, talk about the year they had and some of the significant accomplishments they have,” York said.
The road may have hit a dead end two games earlier than BC had hoped, and though the Eagles hung their heads as they departed the ice in Albany, for all but Karow, there is plenty more collegiate hockey to be played.
Featured Image Courtesy of Rob Simmons