CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — After suffering a four-game winless streak, its longest since the 1999-2000 season, Boston College was sorely due for a victory.
After a pair of hard-fought losses to Hockey East foes UMass Lowell and Northeastern last weekend, there was no better way for the Eagles to claim their first home victory of the season than with a win over Notre Dame, 4-1, after unveiling the 2001 national championship banner.
Although most sports fans concede that the on-ice competition between BC and Notre Dame pales in comparison to the rivalry between the Eagles and the Fighting Irish on the football field, a victory over Notre Dame at Conte Forum was the perfect panacea for this fledgling young squad.
Statistically speaking, history clearly favored BC In 22 appearances, the Eagles held the definitive edge over Notre Dame with a series record of 14-7-1. Furthermore, BC has never suffered a loss to the Fighting Irish since the inception of the annual Rivalry Weekend, posting an unbeaten record of 5-0-1.
“We’re obviously disappointed,” Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin said. “We didn’t do the things that they did. Their goaltender was very, very good and our best players were not our best players tonight.”
Despite the advantages the Eagles posited on paper, the reigning national champions did not get much of a honeymoon period in the early goings of this matchup. Notre Dame center Aaron Gill took advantage of heavy traffic low in the slow and surprised BC netminder Tim Kelleher to put the Fighting Irish ahead 1-0 at 4:21 in the opening stanza.
“We were lucky to be ahead 1-0 after two periods,” Poulin said. “And it was because of our goaltender.”
However, Gill’s goal was one of the few bright spots in Notre Dame’s otherwise lackluster offense. While the Eagles peppered the Fighting Irish’s goaltender Morgan Cey with 36 shots, Notre Dame was not able to muster even half as many, putting up only 17 shots in response.
Unfortunately, BC’s consistent ability to outshoot its opponents has not always propelled them to victory, having lost three of its four games with higher shot totals. The Eagle’s fought from behind during the first two periods of play, although they had posted 24 attempts to the Irish’s eight.
“We played very well for two periods tonight,” BC head coach Jerry York said. “Especially when we were down 1-0 and facing a pretty hot goaltender. But our two seniors were really strong in the locker room and we continued to pressure.”
By the start of the third period, however, BC was beginning to look a lot less like a team dominated by underclassmen and a lot more like the team that brought the gold home to Boston from Albany last season. It took the Eagles’ rookie forward Dave Spina less than two minutes to knot the score at one apiece. Senior forward Jeff Giuliano snapped off a low shot from the bottom of the left faceoff circle, and Spina redirected its path past Cey at 1:38 in the second period.
Spina’s tying tally unleashed the floodgates and the deadlock that had plagued the Eagles for over forty minutes of play was finally broken.
Less than two minutes later, veteran forward Ales Dolinar netted the eventual game-winner to propel BC to only its second win of the season. Dolinar skirted the Fighting Irish defensemen and walked right in on the doorstep and lifted a shot past Cey to make it 2-1 at 3:10 in the final frame.
BC senior forward Jeff Giuliano added an insurance tally at 10:34 with a hard slapshot from the point on a pass from sophomore blueliner J.D. Forrest to extend the Eagles’ lead to 3-1.
Sophomore center Ben Eaves, who recently returned to the lineup after a pair of injuries that kept him sidelined last weekend, netted an empty net goal with 10 seconds left to play to seal Notre Dame’s fate.
The Fighting Irish attempted to hang with the Eagles throughout the final two frames of play, but were unable to penetrate Kelleher’s fortress around the crease. After some shaky starts and an unimpressive 3.89 GAA to show for it, he suddenly adopted former teammate Scott Clemmensen’s cat-like reflexes in the third period to effortlessly handle an Irish onslaught.
“Kelleher was very, very good in goal tonight,” York said. “He didn’t play a lot of hockey last year, with mono and with Clemmensen’s run.”
Facing perennial mainstay Wisconsin in a doubleheader next weekend, a victory over the Fighting Irish was essential. Perhaps it’s no national championship team yet, but with Eaves back in the lineup and Kelleher hot between the pipes, BC will once again be a force to reckon with.
“We played tenacious and quick tonight,” York said. “We’re a smart hockey team, and this is a fresh start for all our players. We raised the banner tonight and acknowledged last year’s team, but we want this to be a great year for us too.”