Sports, Winter, Hockey, Men's Hockey

No. 1 Eagles Earn Seventh-Straight Win with 5–3 Victory Over No. 17 UNH

Boston College men’s hockey’s power play usually features four first-round NHL draft picks and converts power plays into goals at a clip of 28.4 percent, good for third in the country. Keeping that power play off the ice seems to be a priority for squads facing off against BC, and for good reason. 

New Hampshire did just that for the entire game against the Eagles, until Liam Devlin was called for slashing with 4:07 left in the game. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, one chance was all BC needed. Even without fellow first-rounder Gabe Perreault, Ryan Leonard hammered home the game-winning goal on the ensuing power play that washed away a valiant effort from the Wildcats, in which they tied the game up three separate times.

No. 1 BC (26–5–1, 18–3–1 Hockey East) potted its final goal with less than 1:00 remaining in the game and defeated No. 17 UNH (17–3–1, 10–10–1) 5–3 thanks to two-goal performances from Cutter Gauthier and Leonard. The Eagles took four leads in the game, but the Wildcats tied the game up three times, with each response coming less than three minutes after BC’s goals.

“You have to find all different ways to score,” BC head coach Greg Brown said of BC having one power-play opportunity. “We had a faceoff goal and a power-play goal. When you get those then you give yourself a chance.”

Leonard got the game started for BC, silencing a packed crowd at the Whittemore Center Arena, when he rifled a wrister past Jakob Hellsten off a drop pass from Oskar Jellvik 4:05 into the game.

The Wildcats responded, though, which would be a theme throughout the game. Kristaps Skrastins tied the game up 3:16 after Leonard opened the scoring, reinvigorating the crowd.

The second period featured another blow from each team, with Gauthier scoring on a wraparound 2:51 into the period. Nikolai Jenson responded for the Wildcats 1:40 later.

“Those shifts right after a goal are so critical,” Brown said. “They were persistent all night. They worked very hard. They were playing very well. And you know, we always talk about those shifts after a goal either way, those are critical shifts, and they were able to swing the momentum right back in their favor, so we have to be better at that.”

Each team had several chances to break the tie after those first two goals. Hellsten just barely denied Will Traeger his first collegiate goal, stopping the shot with his facemask with 2:10 left in the second.

UNH had what looked to be a sure-fire tally when Devlin beat Jacob Fowler and attempted to throw the puck into an empty net, but he missed the open net and hit the side of the goal 10:01 into the third.

It wouldn’t be until there was 8:37 left in the contest that either team would break the tie, and it was BC that did it as Gauthier fired a rocket past Hellsten directly off a faceoff win by Will Smith for his nation-leading 31st goal of the season.

“Especially when things aren’t going your way, you know, we didn’t have a lot of momentum,” Brown said. “To get just a quick strike faceoff goal like that is huge. It was a great face off win by Smith and Cutter got it in the net in a hurry.”

Just as they had the previous two times, however, the Wildcats responded, this time with Colton Huard coming right back at BC, evening the score 2:01 after Gauthier’s goal.

Leonard broke the tie on the power play, beating Hellsten on a cross-ice feed from Gauthier. This goal was the difference, as the Wildcats could not find a response this time. Jamie Armstrong put the game away, finding an empty netter with 46 seconds remaining.

“I mean, we like to win by big scores,” Brown said, “But yes, you have to learn how to win close games. At the end of the season, almost all the games are going to be one-goal games, two-goal games at the most, so if you practice and you learn how to close games out and manufacture wins from ties then you have that little bit of confidence.”

March 3, 2024