CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — “G-I-O-N-T-A”
That, along with the chant of “Hobey Baker,” was all that the Conte Forum sellout crowd needed to yell to sum up the night.
The senior captain of Boston College, a night after being held off the scoreboard by the Black Bears, exploded for five goals in the first period, as the Eagles cruised to a 7-2 victory over Maine on Saturday night.
“Five shots, five goals,” was all Maine coach Shawn walsh needed to say to sum up the night. “That was the game. It was a nice scrimmage after that.
“[Gionta's] a credit to college hockey and our league. He’s been a warrior for four years.”
“This is a special moment in my coaching career,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “Most players would think, ‘I’ve got the fifth goal, let me get the sixth and seventh goal,’ but he was thinking, ‘I have five, so let’s sweep the series.”
BC did complete the sweep in fashion. The Eagles defeated Maine, 4-1, in the series opener on Friday night.
Gionta, talking about his performance, admitted that he, himself, at one point couldn’t believe what was going on.
Describing his fifth and final goal of the game, Gionta said, “I was just coming down and saw six seconds left on the clock, and I kind of shot it off the wrong foot. I was just wanting to get a shot with about a second left. It was pure luck. I just shook my head not knowing what was going on.”
Numerous times throughout the night, Gionta looked a bit stunned. As the fans yelled his name throughout the night, his looks to the crowd proved he was as shocked as anyone, shrugging his shoulders.
“I guess it was just weird,” Gionta said. “[Friday] I had five or six shots [without scoring a point], and tonight they were just going in.”
Gionta’s opening-frame performance embedded his name in both league and team record books. The five goals not only set what appears to be an all-time modern record for goals in a period, but also tied the Hockey East record for goals in a game.
Having entered the night with 107 goals, Gionta surpassed Eagle great Joe Mullen’s 111 goals, and then tied the all-time school record of 112 career goals held by David Emma.
Five goals, though, falls one shy of the all-time Boston College record of six in a game held by John Pryor. You actually have to go all the way back to 1939 to find that record; Pryor accomplished it in a 24-1 win over Cornell.
And coincidentally, the hat trick was the ninth of Gionta’s career, another BC record.
About the records, Gionta said, “It’s a great honor to be considered among one of the top people in this school’s history.”
The classic period began, if you’ll believe it, with the Black Bears putting all of the pressure on the Eagles. In fact, Maine held a 13-11 lead in shots despite trailing, 5-0, at the end of the first.
But the inability to control Gionta, allowing him to be a perfect 5-for-5 in shooting on the period, killed the Black Bears.
“He only had five shots?” said York, who could barely believe that Gionta was perfect on the period. In fact, Gionta never had a shot for the rest of the game, ending the night with a 100 percent shooting performance. Something that is good in basketball, but remarkable in hockey.
Gionta’s first tally came at 7:57 when Bobby Allen’s shot from the point trickled to Ben Eaves. With Eaves and Gionta in back of the Maine defense, Eaves quickly fed the BC captain, who buried it for a 1-0 lead.
At 10:21, Gionta used his speed and the aggressiveness of the Maine power play to his advantage, scoring shorthanded on a breakaway. With the Maine defender closing, Gionta unleashed a perfectly-placed wrist shot that beat Maine goalie Matt Yeats (six saves) over the left shoulder, banked off the post and crossbar and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
The goal led Walsh to replace Yeats with Mike Morrison, only to put Yeats back in exactly one minute later after the goalie re-grouped a bit. But that didn’t help.
The Conte Forum crowd of 7,770 was electrified when Gionta banged home the rebound of a Brooks Orpik shot from the point at 14:37. The power-play tally gave Gionta one goal of each variety — even strength, power play and shorthanded, for the natural hat trick. Still, the fun was just beginning.
A second power-play goal gave Gionta the Hockey East record for goals in a period, surpassing a large group of players all with three. Again Gionta found his way in back of the defense, allowing Ales Dolinar to feed him for his fourth goal in 9:26.
With Maine controlling the play late in the period, there didn’t look to be much chance of a fifth, but when Gionta got the puck with six seconds left, the Conte faithful held its breath. Gionta speeded down the left wing and unleashed a rocket of a shot that beat Yeats over the shoulder with 1.1 seconds remaining to close out the historic period.
Though most paying fans probably felt they got their money worth in the first 20 minutes, the Eagles offense was nowhere near finished.
On its third power play of the game, Boston College stayed perfect, thanks to some help from Morrison (12 saves), who once again replaced Yeats as the second period began. Morrison, having trouble controlling a rebound of a Chuck Kobesew shot, pushed the puck into the corner of the net for a 6-0 Eagles lead.
Krys Kolonos extended the lead to 7-0 at 10:27 of the second before Maine finally struck. Rookie Francis Nault blasted home a feed from Chris Heisten to give the contingent of Maine fans making the trip from Orono some reason to cheer.
The Bears notched one more goal late in the third off the blade of Michael Schutte with 8:31 remaining.
The weekend sweep knocks the Black Bears (10-9-6, 5-6-4 Hockey East) into fifth place, behind Boston University, which completed a sweep of UNH on Saturday with a 4-2 win on the road.
That BU win gives Boston College (19-6-1, 12-3-1) ample breathing room over UNH, which, with 18 points, sits seven points behind the high-flying Eagles.
Maine, needing to regroup from the weekend, will have plenty of time. The Black Bears play in eight days, when they host UNH. Boston College hosts UMass-Lowell next Friday in its only game before its opening Beanpot Tournament game on Feb. 5.