Sports, Hockey

Notebook: Will Smith and Special Teams Drive Eagles Past BU

The last time Boston College men’s hockey and Boston University met at TD Garden, it didn’t end well for BC superfans. Since BC’s 4–3 loss to the Terriers in the first round of the Beanpot, the Eagles haven’t lost another game, and they continued that winning streak in their TD Garden rematch with BU. 

This time, it was all BC superfans could have hoped for. 

No. 1-seed BC knocked off No. 2-seed BU by a score of 6–2 to win the Hockey East Tournament Championship for the first time since 2012. 

The Eagles knocking off their archrivals gives them significant momentum going into the NCAA Tournament, as head coach Greg Brown said after the game. Not only does this win give them that momentum and the Hockey East Tournament title, it also may make up for the Beanpot loss—one of the only true blemishes thus far on what has been a truly special season for BC.

Here are a few reasons why BC was able to pull off the victory.

Four for the No. 4 Pick   

Will Smith is the highest-ranked draft pick to ever play for BC, and he has shown all season why he was worthy of that selection, leading the country with 66 points

In the championship game, things were no different. The freshman from Lexington, Mass. came through with four goals, the first time a rookie has ever scored a hat trick in the Hockey East Championship, throwing in an empty netter at the end to boot.

He picked up two in the first period, both on power plays. One came off the skate of a BU defenseman and one after he went top shelf on a cross-ice feed from Gabe Perreault. His third came in the final period 5-on-5 off a pass from Ryan Leonard.

Smith earned tournament MVP for his efforts as he continues to dominate every level of hockey he has played. 

A Lethal Man Advantage

BC’s power play, ranked fourth in the nation, has dominated all season, but the unit was on another level against BU. The Eagles converted on all four of their first four attempts, only missing out on a power play at the end of the game that didn’t expire even when the final buzzer sounded.

Smith tallied his two in the first, but Perreault and Cutter Gauthier each chipped in with one apiece as they dismantled BU’s penalty kill every time they stepped on the ice.

Perreault’s return in the semifinal definitely helped out BC’s power play, as he plays his netfront bumper role as good as just about anyone. When healthy, BC has the luxury of putting four first-round picks on its power play, and that seemed to be simply too much for BU to handle.

Iron Man in Net

Playing goaltender is tough. Playing goaltender against your school’s archrival in front of nearly 18,000 fans in an NHL arena as a 19-year-old freshman is really, really tough. 

Nothing seemed to faze Jacob Fowler on Saturday, though.

The freshman netminder was a brick wall in net, making 34 saves and only allowing two goals in a game in which BU had plenty of opportunities to score more than that. He was tasked with stopping many shots from in close, as well as many otherworldly wristers from Macklin Celebrini and Lane Hutson, but he stood tall.

The nation’s winningest 2024 goaltender added another win to his resume, but this one counts for a lot more than any of the other ones he has notched thus far. Fowler was clutch, allowing only three goals across the semifinal and final games at TD Garden, racking up a save percentage of .955 across those two games.

His clutch gene was highly touted coming into BC, having won the Clark Cup MVP last season for the Youngstown Phantoms of the USHL, and he showed that again in the Hockey East Tournament.

Putting the Terriers on a Leash

BU came into the game with America’s second most effective power play, so limiting its scoring chances on the man advantage was a crucial part of why BC was able to hold BU to only two goals. The Terriers received five power plays, the same number as BC, but they were only able to score once, coming on a five-minute power play after a mental lapse by BC forward and former Terrier Jamie Armstrong, who was called for checking to the head on star Terrier freshman Celebrini.

Although Armstrong’s penalty with 7:33 left could have been an opportunity for the Terriers to claw their way back into the game, BC was able to hold the Terriers to just one goal, hardly coming close to BC’s four-goal lead.

It’s often said that your goaltender needs to be your best penalty killer, and that was certainly true of Fowler. He made five saves on the Armstrong penalty alone, and he was locked in during BU’s four other power plays.

The Eagles have had the best penalty kill in the nation for most of the season, running over 90 percent at some points, and they showed their dominance again in their biggest game of the season up to this point.

March 24, 2024