CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Last Friday night, worries permeated the Boston College hockey community when it was believed that BC captain Ben Eaves was headed for the shelf with a fractured hip.
That would have translated to Eaves joining his brother Patrick on the injured list, taking two of BC’s top four scorers out of the lineup.
Some Massachusetts-Lowell fans might have wished that prognosis were accurate.
After further X-rays were negative on the hip of the Eagles’ leading scorer, the elder Eaves returned to practice and to the lineup against UMass-Lowell. For good measure, he scored a goal and added three assists as six different Eagles lit the lamp in a 6-3 victory over the River Hawks on Friday in front of 5,509 at BC’s Conte Forum.
“It was a day-to-day thing and I didn’t think I was going to be able to play this weekend,” said Eaves, who became the 59th player in BC history to reach 100 points when he recorded his second point of the night. “Every day I woke up and it kept feeling better and better.”
Who knows what the miracle was — an excellent training staff, divine intervention, or maybe Eaves’ opportunity to return to his roots. That came on Wednesday afternoon when the Eagles held practice outdoors at nearby Larz Andersen Rink. Hailing from the Land of 10,000 Lakes and a native to outdoor hockey, Eaves was happy to return that day for practice.
“It’s sure fun to get outside and skate with the sun in your eyes going down one end of the ice,” laughed Eaves, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn. “All the guys were hooting and hollering during practice and I think that was good for us.”
Certainly, anything that could loosen up BC was a good thing for the Eagles coming into the weekend. After wasting a 2-0 lead last weekend against Massachusetts in a 3-2 loss, the Eagles had dropped three consecutive games at home and were threatening to lose four straight at the Heights for the first time since 1970-71.
The problems of the past month-and-a-half, though, ended early. Just 79 seconds into the game and just five seconds after Lowell’s Josh Reed was sent off for holding, Andrew Alberts got BC on the board. A set play saw the Eagles work a D-to-D one-timer that Alberts blasted past a slow-moving Chris Davidson (22 saves).
That was a welcome sight for Eagles head coach Jerry York.
“Andrew Alberts on his shot early, he got a lot of wood on that,” said York, who won his 655th game on Friday, moving him into a tie for fifth on the all-time list with Jeff Sauer. “It was good not only to get an early goal, but also power-play goal because we’ve been struggling lately [with the man advantage].”
On the other side, Lowell’s Blaise MacDonald was equally as displeased with his club — and particularly his goaltender’s — start to the game.
MacDonald pulled Davidson immediately but put him back 54 seconds later. The move gave MacDonald just enough time to tersely make his point.
“You can’t give up a goal in the middle of the net with no screen to start a game,” said MacDonald, who has had his share of frustration with his club’s goaltending this season. “We can’t have that. It’s unacceptable.”
It looked as if the talk might have settled Davidson down, as he was able to make several key stops throughout the period.
But at 15:34, he was caught moving slowly across on a two-on-one pass from Stephen Gionta to Tony Voce that the junior winger fired past him at 15:34 for his eighth goal of the season, though only his second since November 15.
The opening period ended with a 2-0 Eagle lead but even that wasn’t indicative of how the Eagles dominated. Lowell was limited to only six shot attempts, with only three reaching the BC net and nothing of high quality.
BC extended its lead in the second thanks to a series of Lowell defensive miscues.
At 5:29, Voce and Ryan Shannon were given a two-on-zero in front of Davidson after Lowell looked to be off to the races shorthanded only to forget the puck. Voce fed Shannon for his for his seventh goal of the year and his first since returning from the World Junior tournament.
Though Lowell answered that goal 25 seconds later when a Jerramie Domish shot from the right point was deflected by a BC player in front of Eagles goaltender Matti Kaltiainen (14 saves), BC would receive another gift from the River Hawk defense late in the period.
A miscommunication between defensemen resulted in a clean steal for Ned Havern, who made a quick feed to Chris Collins in front. The rookie buried his sixth goal of the season between the wide-spread legs of Davidson.
Defensive woes continued in the third period for the Hawks. Rookie Danny O’Brien fed a perfect pass to the opposition, leaving A.J. Walker alone in the high slot to rifle a wrister over the shoulder of Davidson for the 5-1 Eagle lead.
A redeeming side to the night came shortly after as rookie Bobby Robins scored his third career goal — all coming in the last two games. Robins, who hails from Peshtigo, Wis., scored two goals on Tuesday night against Merrimack in Lowell’s first Hockey East win of the season.
Before the night was out, Eaves got in the goal column, pushing a rebound of an Alberts shot past Davidson. The quick view made it appear that Voce might have been the scorer, but replay showed that both he and Eaves swung simultaneously at the loose puck, with Eaves making the final touch.
O’Brien scored the game’s final goal at 10:09 to account for the 6-3 tally.
Said MacDonald of his disappointment with his club’s performance: “It was the worst game we played all year by a long shot. [BC] did everything that a hockey team that aspires to win championship would do.”
Lowell will have its chance to bounce back Saturday night when the two teams rematch at Lowell’s Tsongas Arena.