BOSTON — The question of the night was whether Boston College would have the depth to withstand the attack of Boston University. Simple answer: yes.
Still, the Eagles attack didn’t have enough to steam or puck luck to move past the favored Terriers as BU knocked off the defending Beanpot champion, 5-3, to advance to the championship game for the 41st time in 50 years.
Boston College entered the game as the underdog partly thanks to injuries to key players, such as forward Ben Eaves and defenseman John Adams, combined with rookie Davis Spina’s 11th-hour flu that sidelined the second-line winger, BC came into the night dressing only 10 forwards and five defensemen. Within the first six minutes, BC would lose another forward as A.J. Walker sprained the MCL in his right leg.
Nonetheless, BC grabbed an early lead and held momentum for much of the game. It wasn’t until the six-minute mark in the third period that matters turned around, as the Terriers broke a 2-2 tie by scoring twice in 1:50.
“We were trying not to lose the game in the first period,” said BU head coach Jack Parker, whose Terriers will look to collect their 24th championship in the half-century history of the tournament next Monday. “I told my team that you can’t go out and try not to lose. You have to go out and make sure you win.”
The Terriers responded to Parker’s first-intermission words, scoring twice in the second period and three times in the third.
Offensively for BU, the hero was a bit unlikely. Junior John Sabo, once a highly-touted recruit from the U.S. National Development Program, entered the game with just five goals on the season. On Monday night, Sabo scored twice, including a highlight-reel goal that became the game-winner, propelling the Terriers to the finals.
“[Sabo] has come out of his scoring slump a little bit,” said Parker. “He’s been moving the puck real well. I told him a couple of games ago that he’s starting to play like he was his freshman year.”
BC tallied the only goal of the opening period when Tony Voce, one of the few weapons left in the barren BC arsenal, picked up a loose puck off an offensive-zone draw and fired it short side, beating Sean Fields (23 saves).
With 3:11 remaining, though, BC defenseman Brett Peterson took an ill-advised double-minor penalty for interference and roughing. The play sent BU center Gregg Johnson out of the game with bruised ribs and BU onto the power play through the remainder of the period.
The Terriers could not capitalize, though, and upon expiration of both penalties, Peterson was sprung from the box with a good scoring opportunity. Fields made a stellar toe save that resulted in BU’s transition.
Jack Baker skated the loose puck end-to-end and had his pass attempt blocked in front of the BC net, but found his own rebound to fire it past BC tender Matti Kaltiainen (20 saves) to even the score just 64 seconds in.
Before the second period ended, though, both teams surrendered shorthanded goals. BC’s Andrew Alberts was first, blasting a one-timer for his first collegiate goal. Sabo answered with his first of the night, picking up the rebound of a Mike Pandolfo shot to even the game at two.
BU took its first lead of the game at 6:05 of the third on what at best could be described as a fluke goal. After rookie Ryan Whitney carried the puck end-to-end, his shot was saved by Kaltiainen. Petersen picked up the puck in front of the net; but while he was attempting to clear the puck behind the goal, Whitney got just enough of his stick onto Petersen’s to send the puck off the post and into the net.
Looking like the hockey equivalent of an own goal in soccer, the tally — credited to Whitney — turned momentum around completely.
“At that point in the game, I thought we had BU running around in their own zone,” said Eagles forward Ales Dolinar. “It was a bad bounce and we really needed to just suck it up.”
“The [goal] that went off their own player really took the momentum away from their team,” said Pandolfo. “That got them down a little bit and we got another goal shortly thereafter.”
Just 1:50 later, BU opened up the two-goal lead as Sabo scored his second of the game on a nifty move after taking a give-and-go pass from Brian McConnell. Sabo moved in on the BC net and stickhandled around Kaltiainen, burying the puck as he got checked into the net from behind.
A two-goal lead against a depleted BC lineup seemed plenty for the Terriers to wrap up the game, but the fight in the Eagles late in the game proved they weren’t going away easily. A J.D. Forrest power-play goal with 15:22 remaining got BC within a goal and gave the Eagles the chance to pull Kaltiainen in the final minute.
The Eagles won a draw in the offensive zone, getting the chance they hoped for, yet couldn’t beat Fields. Pandolfo collected an empty-netter with 10.5 seconds remaining to account for the final.
The win propels BU to its 41st Beanpot championship game, its 18th in the last 19 years and its 35th in 39 years. BU will meet Northeastern, a 5-2 winner in the opening game over Harvard, in next Monday’s title tilt.
It will be only the ninth time those two clubs have met for the championship, with BU holding a 5-3 advantage to date. The last time they met was 1999, when BU found itself a 4-2 victor, capturing its fifth of six straight Beanpot titles.
BC’s loss will keep the defending Beanpot and national champion from repeating as tournament champs. The Eagles have won 12 titles in 50 years, but have not put together back-to-back titles since 1964-65.