DETROIT — Take two starts, the first two career victories, mix in MVP honors, and you have the improbable story of Boston College freshman goaltender Joe Pearce.
Making just the third start of his college career, Pearce backstopped the Eagles to their first-ever Great Lakes Invitational championship over Michigan State, 4-3. BC captain Ben Eaves scored two goals, the second the game winner.
With stories like Pearce’s and matchups between powerhouses like BC and MSU, it’s little wonder why the GLI is one of the most prestigious holiday tournaments in the nation.
“I feel really fortunate to be a part of Boston College,” said Pearce. “I really thank them (the coaches) for having the trust in me, they gave me the shot and I just had to take it and go with it.”
For Pearce, starting both games in the tournament simply because the coaches felt he deserved the opportunity would have been story enough, but not quite enough for the GLI.
Pearce’s appearance was not planned, but rather became a necessity following the suspension of BC junior goaltender Matti Kaltiainen for violation of team rules. Prior to the tournament Kaltiainen had started every game in goal for BC but one. And Pearce had only started and played in one, a game he’d probably rather forget, in which he surrendered three goals in just over a period and was pulled against Merrimack — a 3-3 tie.
Luckily for Pearce, when you have a team like the Eagles playing in front of you, things seem a bit easier.
“I knew I could do it. The team played wonderful in front of me, especially tonight — no letdowns from them,” said Pearce.
Pearce played the entire tournament with the composure of a seasoned veteran and while the Spartans did not provide much work for the young goalie, posting just 18 shots, the shots he did face were quality scoring chances.
The Spartans’ first goal, at least, was the result of rookie overaggression. Jim Slater chipped the puck over the sprawling goaltender as Pearce attempted a pokecheck, but the young goalie was not fazed.
“Just one of the goals, whatever, no big deal. You just need to get right back in it,” he said.
Meanwhile, it would have been easy for Rick Comley’s club to fold the tents after falling into a 3-0 deficit after the first period, in which the Spartans recorded four shots on goal compared to BC’s 18.
Late in the frame, the Eagles notched goals from Ned Havern, Eaves and David Spina less than three minutes apart to take command.
“We were in big trouble at that point,” said Comley.
Comley’s team didn’t quit, though, battling back in the second — on goals by Slater and Chris Snavely — despite being outshot 30-9 through two periods.
“I though we battled back hard and had a couple chances to tie it, though they don’t give you very much,” said Comley. “I was happy to get back in the game and to have competed in the last two periods.”
Eaves’ second goal of the game, at 12:42 of the third period, made it 4-2, insurance that BC turned out to need when Mike Lalonde scored for MSU, skating six-on-five, in the final seconds.
“They’re a good team, a very, very good team,” said Comley of Jerry York’s club. “If that’s not the best team in the country, they’re right there.
“I enjoyed seeing some of things they did — some of those players are very good.”
Comley was disappointed with his own club’s play.
“You’ve got to play with passion, you have to play with emotion and those are two ingredients that we are not very good at it,” he said. “There’s no credit for reacting to the challenge and playing hard. We’ve played with passion and emotion before, but we don’t see it night after night.”
The victory for the Eagles marked the third consecutive year that a non-Michigan team has claimed the tournament title. The loss for the Spartans was a missed opportunity for a 10th GLI title; the Spartans were the last Michigan team to win the title.