AMHERST, Mass — The outcome of Saturday night’s Hockey East contest between Boston College and UMass-Amherst was heavily based on one crucial aspect of the game — the ability to finish off breakaways.
Both teams had a pair of isolated opportunities during the course of the evening. Fortunately for the Eagles, claiming the advantage in that department, 2-0 — on third-period goals from Brian Gionta and Ben Eaves — translated over to the final score, a 6-3 BC victory.
UMass had its chances in the opening 10 minutes of the game, yet failed to slip one past Eagles goaltender Scott Clemmensen on either occasion. Then, with BC clinging to a one-goal lead late in the final stanza, Eaves and Gionta finished off the Minutemen with markers in a span of 31 seconds.
“We had a couple of breakaways early in the game and I don’t even think we put the puck on net,” UMass coach Don Cahoon said. “Trade that off with a couple of breakaways that they had at the end of the game. They get two goals out of their breakaways and we don’t, and that tells the difference in the game — their ability to capitalize and our inability to capitalize.”
A night after scratching and clawing their way to a 3-3 tie in Chestnut Hill, the Minutemen bounced back from a shaky first period on Saturday to give themselves a chance to earn at least one point. Instead, the Hockey East leaders utilized their advantage in the talent department to squash any UMass hopes for points on consecutive nights.
Early on, it looked like the Eagles might cruise to an easy victory. Chuck Kobasew put the Eagles on the board with a goal at 15:23 of the first period before BC caught a break just over two minutes later. In his attempt to clear the puck out of the zone, UMass netminder Markus Helanen fired it right off Gionta and into the cage for a two-goal lead.
“I was forechecking the puck and trying to stay out own his way so I didn’t run into him, and it hit off my shaft and bounced in the net,” Gionta said. “But I’ll take it.”
Added York: “One of the things that we talk about as Hockey East coaches is the balance in our league. Players like Brian Gionta separate teams. I think that he’s the best player in college hockey at this stage of his career. We’re very fortunate to have him at BC and that’s probably been the difference [reason for being in first place].”
Senior forward R.J. Gates stemmed the BC tide with his second goal of the year early in the middle frame. Clemmensen stopped the original shot from Jeff Turner, but couldn’t corral the rebound in time, as Gates was waiting at the side of the net to poke the puck home.
Helanen’s night ended 35 seconds later when Bobby Allen’s floater from the left circle eluded the UMass netminder. Cahoon pulled his senior in favor of junior Mike Johnson, who made 60 stops on Friday night against the Eagles.
Shaken, but not crushed by Allen’s goal, the Minutemen responded quickly. Scott Horvath cashed in on another Clemmensen rebound to trim the Eagles lead back to a goal at 12:51.
Later in the period, Boston College doubled its lead with a power-play goal. After Tim Turner was whistled for tripping at 14:27, Marty Hughes finally broke his string of bad luck against the Minutemen with the game-winning goal on a shot from the point. Hughes had been snake bitten against UMass in recent years, but picked a nice time to record his fifth goal of the season.
Tim Turner scored at the 3:58 mark of the third period to cut the Boston College advantage to one goal for the third time during the night. However, the Eagles closed out the Minutemen with the breakaway tallies from Gionta and Eaves.
Both coaches were able to walk away with positives from the weekend series. With the win, the Eagles went 2-0-1 against the Minutemen this season. However, if UMass can leapfrog Merrimack — which pushed its way back into eighth place with a 1-1 tie against Maine — then these two teams will likely see each other again in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East playoffs in two weeks.
“We push each other as a league, and sometimes, it’s the teams who don’t get there [the Frozen Four] who are just as important,” York said. “If we can get out of our own league, then we should compete well on the national level.”
In order for that to happen, though, UMass will need at least one point next weekend against New Hampshire — and maybe more depending on what the Warriors do in their season finale against Boston University on Friday night.
“We gave a great effort this weekend and played a very, very good team,” said Tim Turner, who matched his season output [26 points] from a year ago with his two points. “We came ready to play both nights and that shows something for our team. If we play as well as we did against the No. 2 team in the country, then we can play like that against UNH.”
Said Cahoon: “You look at what we did the last couple of weekends, where one night we’d play really well … and the next night play not nearly as well. We survived last night, but played with a lot of passion. Now we can piggyback that with a fairly solid effort, so that’s a step in the right direction.”