BOSTON — For the second time in 17 days, the Boston College hockey class of 2001 had something unique to celebrate.
Fittingly, on senior night at Conte Forum, the BC Eagles beat crosstown rival Northeastern, 6-3, to clinch the Hockey East regular-season championship, the first for the Eagles since 1991.
The win comes just over two weeks since the Eagles clinched the Beanpot title for the first time since 1994.
“We all talked [before the game] about what a night it would be if on senior night and we could win a championship,” said head coach Jerry York, who won his first regular-season title since coming to BC in 1994. “None of us wanted to wait and see how Providence did against the University of Maine [on Friday and Saturday]. We wanted to go through the finish line by charging through and not waiting for the result.”
Save for the performances of seniors Brian Gionta (two goals), Marty Hughes, (two assists) and Scott Clemmensen (21 saves for his 23rd win of the year), one might have thought Thursday was freshman night. Half of BC’s goals were netted by rookies, with the class of 2004 contributing seven points on the night.
The Eagles knocked off a Huskies squad trying to right the ship since falling apart in early November, turning a 5-1-0 start into a 13-16-4 record after Thursday’s loss. The Huskies remain in seventh place, three points ahead of Merrimack, but could fall as far as the eighth and final playoff seed, which would mean a rematch at Boston College in the first round of the tourney.
Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder summed up the loss simply, citing an inability to clear the puck in key situations.
“We had a couple of costly turnovers late in the second period in a 2-2 game that BC capitalized on,” said Crowder. “We’re trying to improve ourselves and become a better team for the playoffs. But we took a step back tonight.”
Early on, the Huskies took some of the senior-night magic out of the Conte crowd of 6,812, scoring just 3:51 into the game. Huskies scoring leader Graig Mischler banged home the rebound of a Mike Ryan shot from the high slot to give the Huskies a 1-0 lead.
At 8:25, BC looked to draw even, as Jeff Giuliano hit the right post on successive shots with what seemed to be an open net. After that Gionta was stopped on the other side of the net, first by Northeastern netminder Jason Braun (39 saves) and then by a diving Scott Selig, to main the NU lead.
But as the period drew to a close, BC got on the board. Giuliano deflected a Bobby Allen slapshot from the left point over the shoulder of Braun for a power play tally with 30.6 seconds left in the period.
NU started the second the same as the first, scoring early. At 1:30 Chris Lynch’s shot on the rush from just over the blue line somehow squeaked through Clemmensen’s pads and trickled into the net to restore the Huskies’ lead.
This time BC answered immediately. In a flurry in front of Braun, Gionta picked up the rebound of Ben Eaves’ shot and lifted his first goal of the night just under the crossbar while skating past the net on the left side at 2:41
That goal evened the game, and began the domination for Boston College over the remainder of the frame. The Eagles, after outshooting NU 15-8 in the first, held a 34-12 lead in shots through two.
And, thanks to two late goals, a 4-2 lead on the scoreboard.
Fourth-line rookie Ty Hennes gave the Eagles their first lead of the night at 15:48, pushing the rebound of Brett Pedersen between the legs of Braun. And 2:01 later, rookie Chuck Kobesew stole a Huskies clearing attempt, walked in untouched on Braun and sniped a shot inside the left post for the 4-2 lead.
The third period continued BC’s dominance with Gionta adding to his Hockey East and NCAA-leading goal totals. Lifting a feed over Braun gave Gionta his 29th goal of the season. Gionta began the night tied with North Dakota’s Bryan Lundbohm with 27 tallies. At 8:45, Pedersen scored his first career goal to give BC a 6-2 lead, wristing a shot from the left faceoff dot past Braun.
NU would answer at 12:18 with Trevor Rescnhy burying a feed that Eric Ortlip sent to the slot from behind the goal. But that was all the Huskies would muster for a comeback, as Clemmensen and the BC defense shut the door.
The Eagles have won 12 of their last 16 games, and take a 25-8-2 mark into Boston University on Sunday night, when the Terriers will be fighting for playoff positioning and potentially home ice.
Northeastern, too, is fighting for positioning in the playoffs with the ability to finish in seventh or eighth place with one game remaining — a Saturday night home contest against UMass-Lowell when the Huskies will celebrate a senior night of their own.
Clinching the top seed in Hockey East, Boston College will open its best-of-three quarterfinal playoffs series one week from Friday. BC will play Friday, Saturday and, if necessary, on Sunday against either the Huskies, Merrimack or UMass-Amherst.
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