MANCHESTER, N.H. — The hockey life of Boston College’s Ben Eaves went from pure pain to amazing jubilation in the matter of 11 seconds, and with that sudden shift his Eagles are heading back to NCAA Frozen Four.
Just 11 seconds after returning to the ice after missing three shifts in overtime with dehydration cramps in his right quadriceps, Eaves knocked a rebound of his own shot past Michigan goaltender Al Montoya at 10:08 of overtime to give BC a 3-2 victory and send the Eagles to their fifth Frozen Four in seven years.
“[Ben] was lying down on the back part of the bench with [trainer] Bert [Lenz] trying to massage him,” said head coach Jerry York. “I was trying to call the referee over to get this kid to the dressing room. Then Ben says to me suddenly, ‘I can go.’
“He wasn’t on the ice for 15 seconds and he scores. It’s like a legend in the making.”
Eaves was having none of the locker room talk.
“[Coach York] said something about going to the locker room, but I wanted to be on the bench,” said Eaves who laid in back of the players bench in the area usually occupied by coaches and watched the game on the jumbotron while Lenz massaged his leg. “[Lenz] started rubbing ice on it and finally I got up and I could bend it.”
Eaves, who only this weekend returned to a regular shift after missing much of the second half recovering from a broken kneecap, returned at 9:57 of the first overtime and went to work. Off the ensuing faceoff, Peter Harrold made a move to drag the puck around a Michigan defender and get the initial shot on goal. Ben’s younger brother Patrick, the Northeast Regional Most Outstanding Player, fired a second shot on Montoya (42 saves). Ben Eaves was at the left faceoff circle to take a second shot that bounced in the air above Montoya, and showing no signs of injury, skated towards the net and batted the puck out of the air and across the goal line to send the 8,439 in attendance, mostly BC fans, into pandemonium.
“We were watching a Bobby Orr [highlight] video on the way up here,” said the younger of the two Eaves, Patrick. “He knocked a puck out of the air from behind the net and that’s exactly what Ben did tonight. I was standing the watching and was just like, ‘Wow!’”
The actual story of Eaves’ comeback goes far beyond Sunday’s overtime. He missed 15 games from early January through to the final regular season game on March 6th. After seeing limited action in the Hockey East playoffs, his first true test was this weekend’s regional in Manchester, N.H.
“Ben’s heart is too big, he’s not going to sit back on the bench [in a big game],” said Patrick. “When he came back out [after the injury in overtime] I knew that he was there. I can’t say enough about what he did. It’s the bravest thing in hockey I’ve ever seen.”
The goal propels BC to a Frozen Four date with Maine in the national semifinal, 6 p.m. (ET) on Thursday, April 8. Getting to that point, though, was a very difficult task against a good Michigan team and a great goalie in Montoya.
BC outshot the Wolverines, 45-17, on the game but thanks to Montoya’s play, had to fight back just to tie it and send it to overtime.
“Montoya is an unbelievable goalie,” said Pat Eaves, who was teammates with the Michigan sophomore on this year’s goal-medal winning U.S. Junior National Team. “I don’t know how to describe him, he’s just always there to make the save.”
The opening period featured Boston College outshooting the Wolverines, 9-4, but in essence it was a very balanced period territorially, despite the shot discrepancy.
Most importantly, the Wolverine scored the only goal of the period when rookie Mike Brown fired a shot from the right faceoff circle on the rush that squeaked between the right armpit and body on BC goalie Matti Kaltiainen (15 saves) at 12:09.
As much as the shot chart wasn’t a good representation in the first, it perfectly described the second. BC held a lopsided 15-3 advantage in shots, literally dominating Michigan in the frame. The story, though, was the fact that each team scored once to give Michigan the lead heading to the third.
After pinning Michigan in its defensive zone for the majority of the opening nine minutes, BC finally got on the board at 9:02 when Tony Voce scored his 29th goal of the year. Just seconds after Pat Eaves hit the post for BC from the left point, Voce, camped at the right post, found the puck on his stick and lifted it over a sprawled Montoya to finally give the BC faithful something to cheer about.
The BC dominance continued and Michigan was held without a shot until Jason Ryznar fired a grade ‘A’ one-timer that Kaltiainen got his left pad on at 12:13 of the second. As the struggles continued for the Wolverines, the game’s first major turning point put Michigan back on top.
As Dwight Helminen pursued a loose puck into the Michigan offensive zone, Kaltiainen came out of the net to push it away. He successfully got a piece of the puck but couldn’t clear it, meaning that he was stuck in the corner with the Michigan offense pressing. An original shot on net was stopped by BC defenseman J.D. Forrest, playing goaltender in the crease. Michigan’s only senior, Andy Burnes, though jumped into the action and one-timed a blast from the right point before Kaltiainen got back to the net, to give Michigan a 2-1 lead through two.
In the third, it was Michigan’s turn to come to life offensively. And it was Kaltiainen’s turn to come up big when challenged.
Back-to-back saves kept BC in the game, the first at 8:57, was a left post bid by T.J. Hensick, and the second, just seconds later came on David Moss, who broke in two-on-none but chose to shoot only to have Kaltiainen flash the glove to keep it a one-goal game.
Those shots were part of a 9:39 second burst by Michigan without a stoppage in play. With 4:51 remaining, Michigan was finally whistled for icing. And on the next faceoff, BC gave Michigan a taste of its medicine, scoring to steal back the game’s momentum, and more importantly, even the game.
Peter Harrold began the play, wristing a shot from the right point. Ben Eaves deflected the shot in front and Montoya placed the rebound right on brother Pat’s stick. With the net open, he deposited the puck at 15:16 to knot the game at two.
BC had one final burst in regulation as Harrold’s shot from the point caught Montoya by surprise and ended up on Ben Eaves’ stick. Somewhat out of position, Montoya still got a pad on the elder Eaves’ shot with 37.5 seconds left to keep the game even and send the game to overtime with BC holding an incredibly lop-sided 37-12 through 60 minutes.
In the overtime, Michigan had a flurry of chances, and one that sticks out that almost propelled the Maize and Blue to Boston. Kaltiainen made an initial save on T.J. Hensick, and then on a follow up attempt got his left toe on a shot that most thought was headed in the net.
“I saw it going in the net and all of a sudden he flashes his leg out there,” said J.D. Forrest, who then, without a stick threw the puck between his legs to get out of harm’s way.
After that flurry, BC began to take back momentum and finally Eaves’ goal at 10:08 ended the extremely entertaining regional final.
The loss ends a three-year streak of consecutive Frozen Four appearances for the Wolverines. Michigan has advanced to the Frozen Four 22 times, more than any other team.
BC, on the other hand, will make its 18th Frozen Four appearance, tying it with Minnesota for third all time. The Eagles will be looking for their third national championship, and first since 2001, when this year’s senior class — Ben Eaves included — captured the title.