CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Boston University has seen this David-Goliath story before. It’s better from David’s point of view.
The No. 8 seeded Terriers upset top seed Boston College 4-2, to win the best-of-three series and advance to the FleetCenter and the Hockey East semifinals for the 13th time in 20 seasons. BU needs to win the tournament to keep its season alive, as a single loss will end the year for the 12-16-9 team.
Back in 1998 BU played the role of Goliath, hosting eighth seed Merrimack and losing 5-4 in the deciding third game. The season continued for BU in the NCAA tournament, but the frustration of being knocked out so early took its toll.
“This feels way better,” quipped Jack Parker, BU coach.
Few thought that BU could win this series, and with good reason. BC won four straight regular-season games, outscoring the Terriers 15-6 in the process. That included a 2-1 overtime game in the Beanpot, which is usually referred to as the “BU Invitational.”
Plus, the Terriers squeaked into the Hockey East playoffs with a win over New Hampshire in overtime on the last day of the regular season, while BC wrapped up the regular-season title with a couple of weeks to go.
“It’s redemption for us,” emoted Parker. “Look what BC did to us during the regular season, and now we get them out of Hockey East. Last year they beat us all three times in the regular season, and we beat them in the Beanpot finals and the Hockey East playoffs. It’s nice that we can win the bigger games.
“Now we have a chance to play for a championship. We have a chance to show that we have a pretty good hockey team. If the season had ended with a whimper, it would have been sad.”
Parker tried not to let doubt creep into the locker room.
“We put that fear behind us, that we’ve had for BC in the past,” said David Van der Gulik. Van der Gulik, along with defenseman Sean Sullivan, was supposed to be watching this game from the sidelines, benched by injuries from last night’s 4-0 BC win. But Van der Gulik played through the pain of a sore thigh muscle, and Sullivan was able to suit up despite a separated shoulder.
“Most of the time they’ve played very hard,” Parker said, of his sub-.500 team that finished lower in the Hockey East standings than any team ever. “I’ve always liked my team and I like our individuals. They’ve just come together the last couple of weeks.”
The series comes as a blow to BC, but the season will continue into the NCAAs, with the seeds being announced next weekend. The Eagles started the day tied for first in the PairWise Rankings, an indicator of tournament selection, with North Dakota and Maine.
“Last night we felt so confident about our chances of going to the FleetCenter, and all of a sudden we got smacked in the face tonight,” said BC coach Jerry York. “It’s a hard pill to swallow for us.
“We’re healthy but we’re beat up mentally,” York said. He has seen his squad drop five of it’s last six games after being ranked No. 1 in the nation in the USCHO.com poll.
The team will have a long two week rest to ponder the missed opportunities and hear the clang of the four hit pipes struck in tonight’s game.
“This is going to stay with us. I hope we’ll learn from it, but it’s a little late in the season to be learnin’ stuff,” said a dejected Ben Eaves, who scored BC’s second goal on the power play.
Eaves will look forward to the rest to allow time for a weak knee to strengthen. The nagging injury kept the star forward from taking regular shifts during the weekend and kept him to spot duty, like on the power play.
Both coaches agreed that BU strong play early on was the difference.
“I thought BU played well, especially in the first ten to fifteen minutes of the game,” said York. “I thought they came out and got us back on our heels.”
“It was obvious eight minutes into the first period that we were not uptight,” echoed Parker. “That, to me, was the turning point.
“After getting hammered last night, to come back and play as thoroughly as we did, with as much poise as we did, was absolutely fabulous.”
Early BU goals came from recent heroes like Brad Zancanaro and Kenny Roche, who each scored a goal in the first game of this series, a 3-2 BU win. Zancanaro opened the scoring for the game, potting the power-play goal just seconds after teammate Bryan Miller bounced a shot off the crossbar. Roche flipped a bouncing puck on goal that eluded BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen.
The Roche goal gave BU the lead again, which had disappeared after BC’s Tony Voce scored the prettiest goal of the night, holding onto the puck while breaking in on net, until Fields, playing for the pass, was out of position. Voce roofed the shot to tie the game, until Roche’s tally.
But BU padded its lead with a pair of goals less than 90 seconds apart in the middle of the second frame, and which came from the unlikeliest of places: converted defenseman-to-forward Bryan Miller, who hadn’t scored since January 24 against Maine; and fourth line freshman Eric Thomassian, who notched his first career goal as a Terrier.
“Thomassian got his first goal, but he’s played pretty well,” Parker said. “He just hasn’t seen a lot of ice time. He’s a very clever player.”
His goal was particularly deflating for the Eagles, as Brett Peterson clanged a shot off the crossbar, just before the puck went all the way down the ice where Thomassian’s goal gave the Terriers a three goal cushion.
“At that point, I thought the game was up in the air, 3-2, and we’re close, but then they come right down and score a goal,” said York. “That was a significant part of the game.”
“It was pretty tough when we started to control the second period, and Brett came down,” agreed Ben Eaves. “We jumped up on the bench and thought he scored when he hit the crossbar. Then they come right back down and sneak one in on Matti.
“That’s tough when you have the big swings in momentum.”
This game followed previous BU-BC meetings in style if not in scope. After getting out to an early lead, the Terriers settled back into a more defensive style as the Eagles peppered BU goalie Sean Fields with shots.
In the Beanpot final with BU holding a 1-0 lead entering the third, BC outshot BU 13-2. On Thursday as the Terriers led 3-0 after two, the host Eagles outshot BU 10-2. Saturday, BU held a 4-1 lead to start the third, and BC fired 15 shots to BU’s 3.
But while BC won the Beanpot championship game in overtime, both Thursday and tonight the BU lead was too large to overcome.
With Maine and New Hampshire winning games Saturday, combined with Massachusetts’ quarterfinal win over UMass-Lowell, means the field is set for the Hockey East semifinals. BU faces Maine on Friday.
While the hill is a steep one for Boston University, fans can take heart — in the last six games against the three teams advancing to the FleetCenter, the Terriers are 3-1-2.
“This is a pretty good stretch we are on,” said Parker. “Games against UMass [1-0-1], games against UNH [1-0-1], games against BC [2-1]. We feel much better about ourselves now that we did a month ago.”
Boston College (27-8-4) will await the announcement of the NCAA seeding to find out when and where it will play next.
“It’s difficult for us now, to not play for a week and then go into regionals,” commented York. “That wasn’t our game plan.”
“This is one of the best BC teams ever,” said Parker, in praise of his opponents. “They will still have a chance to win a national championship in their own backyard,” he said, referring to the fact that the Frozen Four will be played in Boston at the FleetCenter this year.