BOSTON — Three out of four of the bases have now been touched in Boston College’s quest for college hockey’s grand slam. Having already won the Boston-based Beanpot tournament and the Hockey East regular season title, the Eagles fought off a pesky Providence College team on Saturday night for a 5-3 victory to capture the Hockey East tournament title.
The Eagles, who fell behind early, 1-0, rallied for a 4-1 lead early in the second, but watched Providence climb back into the game with two goals, leaving the game 4-3 through two periods.
But as the Eagles did a night earlier in their 5-1 win over Lowell, they shut down Providence in the third period, outshooting them 13-4, and dominating play.
“You look up and it’s a 4-3 hockey game and shots on goal [which finished 47-15] don’t always tell the story,” said Eagles coach Jerry York.
“But when it comes down to the two top teams in Hockey East, you’re going to have one play well and push the other team back on their heels. And then it’s going to be vice versa.”
The fact that the Friars were able to come back in the middle period was a positive sign for Providence coach Paul Pooley.
“I’m happy that we were able to make this a hockey game,” said Pooley, whose team will qualify for the NCAA tournament, but could be sent to the West due to its seeding. “I thought maybe that [goaltender] Nolan Schaefer was going to steal this one.”
BC rookie winger Tony Voce, who entered the playoffs with only eight goals, notched two in the victory, including the eventual game-winning tally early in the first. Voce also scored the game-winners in both quarterfinal games against Merrimack.
Voce is only one rookie on a team that boasts five freshmen with more than 20 points, including Chuck Kobasew, who was named Hockey East rookie of the year and was presented the William J. Flynn trophy on Saturday as the tournament MVP.
“We knew that if we were going to be a championship team and a successful team, we’d need the freshman class to step in get their feet wet pretty quickly,” said senior captain Mike Lephart, part of an Eagles team that lost a Hobey Baker winner as well as two 50-point scorers.
“To have 30 wins in a season takes consistency and you can’t depend on just one player to do that,” said York. “We talk a lot about the freshmen and their improvement during year is a direct reflection on the senior class
Unsurprisingly for a championship game, both teams seemed tentative early, trying to feel one another out. The early scoring chances were slim, until Providence’s Drew Omicioli took advantage of an Eagles mistake.
Peter Zingoni fired what seemed like a harmless shot on Clemmensen (12 saves), but the senior goalie was unable to control the rebound, forcing defenseman J.D. Forrest to clear. When Forrest fanned on the clearing attempt, Omicioli pushed the puck into the open net to give the Friars the early advantage at 2:29.
Omicioli was a late addition to the Providence lineup, with the coaches unsure whether an injured elbow suffered last weekend was heeled enough to play. After skating through warm-ups, though, Omicioli was added.
That goal gave the Friars momentum and territorial advantage. As part of a flurry that ended with Clemmensen making a spectacular blocker save on Adam Lee, BC’s Brooks Orpik was sent off for interference, giving PC the power play and potentially more momentum.
Until BC’s Lephart singlehandedly changed that.
On a shorthanded rush, Lephart entered the BC zone even-up with the Providence defender. Switching to the backhand, Lephart moved around the net to the right of Providence goalie Nolan Schaefer (42 saves), shook the Providence defender and, wheeling around the net, buried the puck on the opposite side to even the game at 14:34.
Advantage Boston College, as less than two minutes later, the Eagles struck again. It was Voce who picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and accelerated past the Providence defense for a breakaway. Closing in on Schaefer, Voce moved from his backhand to his forehand and returned to his backhand as he roofed a perfect shot into the upper right-hand corner.
At that point the Friars hoped to get out of the period trailing by just a goal, but a late penalty killed that thought. With 38.3 seconds remaining, Krys Kolanos fired a rebound of an Orpik shot that caromed off Schaefer, then off the right post and into the net to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead through one.
Early in the second, another PC penalty led to the Eagles extending the lead. Voce beat Schaefer with a shot from the right faceoff circle at 6:23 to put the Eagles up 4-1, forcing Pooley to spend his team’s timeout.
Said Pooley: “I told [the players during the timeout] that we started to win the one-on-one battles, and that everything mattered. Faceoffs mattered, as did getting the puck out and just competing and wanting it.”
Those words of wisdom seemed to work. Just 28 seconds later, fourth-liner Mike Lucci fired home the rebound of an Omicioli bid. And at 13:08, Adam Lee closed the gap to one. Skating from behind the right side of the net, Lee wristed a seemingly harmless shot from the right faceoff dot. The puck, though bounced off the inside of Clemmensen’s right leg and in at 13:08.
At that point, Providence had scored three goals on its first nine shots, two of them pretty much of the soft variety. But Clemmensen rebounded with less than three minutes remaining in the second, stopping PC defensemen Shawn Weiman and a partial breakaway to preserve the lead.
Regardless, the period, which saw BC outshot Providence 22-6, still ended with only a 4-3 Eagles advantage.
In the third, Boston College continued dominance, at one point outshooting Providence 8-2 in the frame and 42-13 in the game. As BC tried to look for some insurance, Schaefer persistently kept the Friars in the game.
But at 11:54, the man who has been the hardest to stop all year in Hockey East, broke through. Senior captain Brian Gionta, parked in the slot, finished off a Ben Eaves feed from behind the net with a shot over the glove of Schaefer, giving BC the two-goal cushion, and killing the Friars’ hopes.
With a 30-8-2 record, Boston College will most likely receive the top seed in the East when the NCAA selection committee announces tournament seedings on Sunday. That would mean watching next Friday when the regionals begin, and standing one game away from their fourth straight NCAA Frozen Four appearance.
Providence (22-12-5) has a more unsure future in the NCAA tournament. The Friars could be seeded anywhere from four to six, which translate to either placement in the East Regional in Worcester, Mass., or in Grand Rapids, Mich., for the West Regional.