(See also: Day One Notebook)
MINNEAPOLIS — It was billed as a teacher versus student matchup, as Bowling Green head coach Scott Paluch took on his old mentor in Boston College head coach Jerry York Friday in the opening game of the Dodge Holiday Classic.
Paluch served as associate coach under York until this season, and with Bowling Green entering at 3-10-1 and Boston College ranked sixth in the country, most in the know wrote the opening semifinal off as a potential blowaway.
Problem was, Paluch and his club were not among those “in the know,” and the Falcons gave BC absolutely every ounce it could handle and nearly upset the Eagles, only to fall, 6-5, to a late three-goal BC rally.
Leading 4-3 in the third, Bowling Green’s Steve Brudzewski scored what looked like the backbreaking goal, giving the Falcons a two-goal edge with 10:57 to play.
But the Eagles, through what you could call either divine intervention or simply puck luck, rallied for three goals in 3:40 to complete a miracle comeback.
It began just 38 seconds after Brudzewski’s score, when Peter Harrold’s blast from just inside the blue line broke off the glove of Falcon goaltender Jordan Sigalet (37 saves) and landed behind him to close the lead to one.
After a penalty to Bowling Green captain D’Arcy McConvey for hooking at 12:37, the Eagles evened the score. Minnesota native Dave Spina, one of four Eagles in the lineup from the host state, benefited from a strong bounce off the backboards, gathering the rebound of Andrew Alberts’ shot from the right point at the opposite post and roofing it over Sigalet to even the score.
And with momentum, and a little luck, on its side BC finished the comeback. At 13:24, Ty Hennes battled Sigalet to a loose puck in the corner to the right of the Bowling Green net. Hennes came away the victor of the scrum and centered a pass to Ryan Murphy, who fired his second goal of the game into an open net.
York, whose Eagles had been victimized by similar misfortunes during an 0-3-1 stretch, attributed his club’s good fortune to a late gift from Santa.
“I think [the luck] was a late Christmas present for when you’ve been in the game a long time,” joked the veteran coach, who is now one win shy of catching legendary Wisconsin coach Jeff Sauer for fifth on the all-time wins list.
The Eagles’ rally in the third period followed the theme of the game. After digging themselves an early 3-0 hole, the Eagles were constantly trying to catch up with the underdog Falcons.
York called his club’s slow start “holiday hockey,” saying that everything that he had hoped wouldn’t happen, did, and early.
After withstanding an early Boston College barrage thanks mostly to strong play in net by Sigalet, the Falcons opened the scoring at 3:12. Mark Wires scored his sixth goal of the year, blasting a shot by BC starter Tim Kelleher (eight saves) for the 1-0 lead.
That goal, combined with a BC penalty to Anthony D’Arpino for holding shortly thereafter, seemed to give the Falcons a boost. On the ensuing power play, McConvey was allowed to walk from the right corner and fire two shots on Kelleher. The second rebound wasn’t handled cleanly and Tyler Knight was on the doorstep to push it home for the 2-0 lead at 6:53.
Less than two minutes later Knight scored his second of the game, finishing off a centering pass from the slot over a fallen Kelleher, giving the Falcons a 3-0 lead and leaving most of the sparse opening-game crowd in silence from shock.
The goal signaled the end of the night for Kelleher, who was replaced by Matti Kaltiainen (27 saves).
“Timmy [Kelleher] reflected our team play early and I thought we needed some sort of energy change,” said York.
The change did seem to give the BC offense a lift and in the second period, the Eagles took control of the offense, outshooting the Falcons 20-11 in the frame. Still, they remained frustrated by Sigalet in net. It wasn’t until Lady Luck made her first appearance of the night that the Eagles’ offense produced results on the scoreboard.
In a span of 2:39 the Eagles closed the gap to 3-2 thanks to not one, but two, passes that deflected off Bowling Green defenders into the net. Murphy was the first beneficiary, scoring his fourth of the year at 13:47 on the power play. At 16:26, Ben Eaves scored a carbon copy of Murphy’s goal for his seventh of the season.
The crazy third period began with Bowling Green extending its lead to 4-2 on a power-play goal by McConvey. But similar to what would happen later in the period, the Eagles answered less than a minute later when John Adams’ shot ripped off the glove of Sigalet and into the net to pull BC within a goal, setting up the wild finish.
For Paluch, losing the lead late made it hard to find consolation. But the fact that it happened not only against a team he knew and loved for such a long time in Boston College, but against such a potent offense, made the pill a bit easier to swallow.
“My friendship with Jerry was some treasured moments,” said Paluch. “The best part was knowing that we were going to play a very good hockey team. We certainly saw that.”
The victory guarantees Boston College a spot in Saturday’s championship game. But thanks to a quirky scheduling format, the Eagles won’t know when that game will be played until the conclusion of the nightcap. The host team, Minnesota, arranged the tournament so that it will play in the late game regardless whether it wins on Friday.
“I guess we’re rooting for Minnesota,” said York, referring to the fact that he wants as much rest as possible before Saturday’s final.
Bowling Green will meet the loser of Friday’s Minnesota-Yale contest for third place.