ORONO, Maine — There will be a new Hockey East and NCAA Division I champion in 2002.
That was assured Friday night as the 2001 National Champion Boston College Eagles lost their second Hockey East Quarterfinal game to the Maine Black Bears, 4-2, at Alfond Arena. The two-game sweep makes the Black Bears the first team to advance to the FleetCenter in Boston for the Hockey East Championships.
“Our focus was exceptional this weekend,” Maine interim head coach Tim Whitehead said. “The guys wanted to win for each other, and they came out hungry and got it done.”
It was by no means easy, as the scrappy and shorthanded Eagles gave it everything they had to keep their season alive. Besides missing J.D. Forrest and John Adams for the second night in a row, freshman forward Dave Spina was also out of the lineup with a sprained ankle.
“Injuries really hurt us this weekend,” BC coach Jerry York said. “We played very well under the circumstances, but Maine has got a very good club and they played well this weekend.”
Though undermanned, the Eagles showed resiliency all night, especially the teams’ two talented sophomores, Ben Eaves and Tony Voce.
The two hooked up to take advantage of a turnover to put BC on top only 2:23 into the game. A Maine defensive zone turnover sprung the two on a two-on-one. Eaves slid the puck across the slot to Voce, who buried the backhander past sprawling netminder Matt Yeats.
The Black Bears got the game tied on a lucky break. Niko Dimitrakos passed the puck back to Prestin Ryan at the right point from the half boards. Ryan unloaded a rocket slapshot that deflected off of a BC player’s leg in front of goalie Matti Kaltiainen, going up and over the goaltender’s left shoulder top-shelf to tie the score at 5:59 of the first period.
The score remained tied until Michael Schutte found himself in a great shooting area in front of the net, complete with a rebound.
“[Ben] Murphy passed it to [Colin] Shields,” Schutte said, “and Shieldsy took a shot. When the goalie stopped it, it went up in the air. It landed in the slot and I had pretty good shooting lane. I was able to put it to his stick side.”
It was Schutte’s 10th of the season and it gave the Bears the lead for good.
It didn’t look like that would be the case, though. Voce had appeared to score his second goal of the game at around the eight-minute mark of the second.
BC defenseman Anthony D’Arpino slapped the puck from the left point to Voce at the side of the right slot. The puck hit his skate and deflected into the goal. Referee Conrad Hache originally let the goal stand, but after talking it over with one of his assistants, he waved off the tying goal.
“I hit it with the toe of my skate,” Voce said after the game. “It missed by stick and it just hit my skate. It wasn’t on purpose, but that’s the ref’s call.”
Maine extended its lead to 3-1 at 10:50 on a slight defensive lapse by BC.
Colin Shields made a blue line-to-blue line, cross-ice pass to Chris Heisten. Heisten was able to get the puck because his man gave him lots of space to receive it, space he used to break down the left wing and score on a wrister from the top of the circle. It beat Kaltiainen five-hole.
The Eagles called a timeout with 2:13 left in the period to set up strategy for the closing minutes and pull Kaltiainen. Only eight seconds later, senior assistant captain Ales Dolinar took a roughing minor, forcing BC to put Kaltiainen back in net for the upcoming Maine power play.
The Eagles forechecked and well and Eaves and Voce were able to make things interesting.
“Ben made some nice moves and was able to set me up back-door,” Voce said of his 26th goal of the year. It was a one-timer that Yeats couldn’t get to, cutting the Maine lead to one goal with only 1:28 left.
Just when BC was pressuring again, though, Voce took a 10-minute misconduct and was forced to leave the ice.
After the Eagles pulled their goalie again, Lucas Lawson forced a turnover in his own zone, and then played the puck up ice to himself. He chased it down and then put it into the empty net to ice the sweep with 42 ticks left. Lawson now has an eight-game goal-scoring streak.
“He looked like a freight train coming down the ice,” Whitehead said. “He played great tonight.”
Matt Yeats made an impressive 26 saves for his first win since November 21. He is now 4-6-3 on the season.
“The team played awesome tonight,” Yeats said. “They were letting me see the shots and they cleared rebounds. We put out a good effort tonight.”
“We were expecting them to come at us hard,” Whitehead said. “They’ve been a great champion. I really admire how played this weekend with the injuries. They matched our intensity.”
Voce feels that BC could have forced a third game.
“We outshot them tonight,” he said. The Eagles had the 28-23 advantage in shots on goal. “We outplayed them tonight. The difference was that Yeats made some big saves in the second and third and that did us in.”
York says that the season ended about how it should have for his team.
“With the all the injuries this year, I think we were a sixth-place team,” he said. “If we had been healthier this year, we could have challenged for home ice, but our guys were played the best that they could.”
Voce feels this year will help down in future.
“Our young guys have gotten a lot of experience. That will help for next year,” he said.
The Eagles end their season at 18-18-2.
Schutte, on the other hand, is excited about heading to the semifinals.
“It’s awesome at the FleetCenter,” Schutte said. “We’ve been there all five years of my career. It’s always a sellout, and Maine always gets a lot of support down there.”
Maine will bring its 22-9-7 mark into the Hockey East Semifinal. The Black Bears’ opponent may be determined by tomorrow, if all three of the other series wrap up. Northeastern and UMass-Lowell will be playing a third game, while Boston University and New Hampshire go for sweeps in their series.