GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Special teams proved to be Boston College’s salvation and North Dakota’s undoing as the Eagles defeated the Sioux 2-1 to split a nonconference series at Ralph Engelstad Arena.
Despite losing senior captain Ben Eaves less than three minutes into the game, the Eagles used a power-play goal by Ryan Shannon and a shorthanded goal by Stephen Gionta to defeat UND 2-1. The physical, low-scoring game was in stark contrast to the wild 6-4 Friday night shootout won by UND.
Eaves was involved in a collision as several players pursued the puck behind UND’s net and crashed into the end boards. He left the game with an undisclosed head injury and did not return.
After the game, BC coach Jerry York said he was hopeful the Eagle captain would return to the lineup soon.
“We were kind of down after Ben went out,” said BC junior wing Ryan Shannon. “He’s an unbelievable leader. When you lose a guy like that, you need a lot of other guys to step up and take the reins.”
Shannon was one of the guys who stepped up. Following five consecutive Sioux power plays he scored the first goal of the game at 18:24 of the first period.
With BC on the power play, sophomore defenseman Peter Harold came down the slot and dished the puck to Shannon, who was alone at the side of the net. His shot went over a sprawling Sioux goalie Jake Brandt to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
BC’s second goal came at 15:51 of the second period. With the Sioux on the power play and in the middle of a line change, UND junior defenseman Nick Fuher fell down while battling along the boards in the Sioux zone with Eagle wing Ryan Murphy.
Murphy passed the puck to Gionta, who was all alone in front of Brandt. The Sioux goalie stopped Gionta’s first shot, but the Eagle forward slammed home the rebound to give BC a 2-0 lead.
At 17:27 of the second period, the Sioux cut BC’s lead to 2-1. Sophomore defenseman Matt Greene threaded a shot from the blue line through traffic that was tipped past BC goalie Matti Kaltiainen by junior center Colby Genoway.
UND’s last chance to tie the game came with 36 seconds left when BC sophomore wing Chris Collins was called for tripping. The Sioux pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage, but BCs penalty killers came up big and denied UND for the tenth and final time.
Sioux coach Dean Blais credited BC’s experienced defensive corps with limiting the Sioux to 18 shots on goal and rendering UND’s power play ineffective.
“We had a hard time cycling and we had a hard time — obviously — on the power play,” he said. “They just pursued the puck everywhere. They didn’t allow us a chance to set up. We didn’t get shots off quick enough. They always got into our shooting lanes. There always seemed to be a leg or a body in front of the guys when they teed it up. That’s quickness, anticipation and experience.”
York thought one of the biggest differences between the Friday and Saturday games was the play of Kaltiainen.
“I thought Matti really stepped up his play tonight. He was sharp and it was a great bounce-back game for him,” he said.
The Sioux have played three regular-season games and are now 0-20 on the power play.
“There’s a lot of work to do on the power play,” Blais acknowledged, “but we knew that coming in.”
In splitting on the road with UND, York felt that the Eagles accomplished what they set out to do.
“It was a significant weekend for us. We wanted to get better as a team. I think we achieved that. We feel good about ourselves,” he said.
UND, 2-1 on the year, is idle next weekend and plays another nonconference series at home with Yale Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. BC improves to 3-1-1 and next weekend plays a single nonconference game Oct. 24 at home against Notre Dame.