BOSTON — Some may say that Boston College’s cup has runneth over. It might be better said after Saturday night’s 3-1 win in the Hockey East championship game that it has “Boyled” over.
Sophomore Brian Boyle scored two goals, including the game winner on the power play late in the second period that broke a 1-1 tie as BC skated past New Hampshire to capture its first championship since 2001 and record sixth overall.
Combined with Boyle’s goal in Friday’s 2-1 double-overtime semifinal win over Maine, the second-year center’s performance earned him the William J. Flynn trophy as the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
“I almost didn’t even think I should be MVP,” said a humble Boyle, who has scored 14 of his 18 goals since head coach Jerry York challenged him to step up his game for the Eagles at Christmastime. “It was a hard time for me at the beginning of the year. I had to convince myself. There were a lot of prayers trying to get that confidence back.”
Those prayers were more than answered on Saturday, as were the prayers of the Boston College senior class that will skate in its third NCAA tournament, but entered Saturday without a Hockey East tournament title.
“It does feel a little bit like a monkey off of our back,” said senior captain Ryan Shannon of the championship. “This group of players is different. Everybody knows their roles and everyone knows how to pull their weight.”
To understand BC’s roles Saturday likely required a crib sheet. The Eagles were once again without Patrick Eaves, who was injured last weekend in the quarterfinals, defenseman Peter Harrold, out with mononucleosis, and Stephen Gionta, who separated his shoulder in Friday’s semifinal win.
That forced York to play every player available to him and, for the first time all season, shorten his bench to skate only three lines.
“They’re young kids so their resiliency and their bounceback is good when there’s a championship to be won,” said York of the difficulty of a short bench, particularly after double-overtime Friday. “Towards the end of the game I thought we were tired, but mentally we were very focused and sometimes that drives you past being tired.”
Both coaches were forced to make difficult decisions before the game on goaltending. York chose rookie Cory Schneider (26 saves), who stonewalled Maine in Friday’s semifinal, over senior Matti Kaltiainen. New Hampshire coach Dick Umile decided to go with a fresh Jeff Pietrasiak (31 saves) over rookie Kevin Regan, who had paced UNH to a 5-2 win in Friday’s win over Boston University.
Some undoubtedly questioned one or both moves, but both netminders put forth exceptional performances throughout.
In the opening period, BC came out with the early jump and skated to a 12-8 advantage in shots and a 1-0 lead.
Boyle netted his first of the night at 13:59 on an offensive-zone faceoff. Boyle, taking the faceoff, pushed the puck forward and used his 6-foot-7 frame to battle past UNH center Matt Fornataro. Boyle’s shot squeaked through the legs of Pietrasiak and barely over the goal line to give BC the 1-0 lead. Ironically, it was one of only two faceoffs in 12 attempts that Fornataro lost all night.
Early in the second, UNH drew even. Its power play, which has been potent throughout the tournament, struck again as Preston Callander worked a give-and-go perfectly with Sean Collins to bury Collins’ pass over the right pad of an outstretched Schneider to draw even at 3:19.
Before the end of the second, though, BC regained the lead. Boyle pushed home the rebound of a Shannon shot from the point on the power play at 16:02 to give BC a 2-1 edge.
That, alone, was a good omen for the Eagles. BC is undefeated all season (15-0-2) when leading after two periods.
In the third, UNH applied plenty of pressure, not allowing a BC shot until the 11-minute mark. Over that span, UNH created chances, particularly early in the third when it was the beneficiary of two power plays, but couldn’t sneak one past Schneider, who stood tall all the way.
Late in the period, snakebitten Chris Collins finally got on the scoreboard when he made a highlight-reel move on UNH defenseman Craig Switzer and walked in alone on Pietrasiak, beating the goaltender five-hole with 2:27 remaining. That sent the BC portion of the record 17,565 fans at the FleetCenter into pandemonium with a championship close at hand.
As BC held off the final UNH charge, the celebration began, one that’s been long awaited for this BC senior class.
“The odds were against us with the [injured] guys,” said defenseman Andrew Alberts. “It says a lot for our team, the character, especially with the seniors leading it.”
UNH lost for the fourth time in six championship-game appearances, but the good news for the Wildcats is that the season is far from over. UNH will join BC, Maine and BU in the NCAA tournament when it gets under way next weekend.
“I think that we are a better team having played in this tournament,” said Umile, who felt that the bounces didn’t go his team’s way Saturday. “It wasn’t for a lack of effort [that we lost]. Our bounces will come. Who knows? Maybe in the [NCAAs].”
The win is the sixth title for BC, pulling it out of a three-way tie with Maine and Boston University for most all-time. It also guarantees BC a number-one seed in the NCAA tournament and the likelihood of the top seed overall.
“My fondest wish here is that when the teams are announced tomorrow morning that our four [Hockey East] teams that will make it that we’re assigned to different regions,” said York. “I really feel that our league is so strong this year that if we could get to [the four regions] we could have the same thing we had here [in the Hockey East tournament] at the Frozen Four in Columbus.”