CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — College hockey’s rivalry weekend kicked off Friday night in fine fashion as the game’s ultimate rivals, Boston College and Boston University, squared at BC’s Conte Forum for what amounted to a classic college hockey battle.
A two-goal outburst for the Eagles midway through the game – and a little puck luck – was all they would need as goaltender Cory Schneider made 28 saves to take the first game of a two-game weekend set 2-1.
The game-winning goal, which came midway through the second, came about when BU stalwart netminder John Curry (24 saves) bobbled a harmless looking shot. The puck lay untouched in the crease until BC’s Pat Gannon dove through two Terrier defensemen to poke home what amounted to the winning goal.
“We had bad luck in that John [Curry] lost the puck off his shoulder,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “But Gannon just kept coming hard to get there.
“You make your breaks and you make your breaks count. They got a break and they made it count.”
Said Curry, “I don’t know what to say except I thought I had [the puck]. I should’ve cradled it a little more. It’s just a fluky bounce in front.”
Besides the bounce, BC was able to separate itself from the Terriers on special teams. Both teams had extended 5-on-3 power plays, but only the Eagles took advantage with a Stephan Gionta goal at 4:47 of the second, his first goal of the season, giving the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
“The difference in the game is they score on their 5-on-3 and we don’t,” said Parker.
BC kept the Terriers off the board on the power play by defensively getting in front of pucks. The Eagles’ penalty kill, which has been the Achilles’ heel for the team, particularly on 5-on-3, was bolstered by the play of Brian Boyle, who moved from forward to defense in shorthanded situations.
The opening period proved just how strong the rivalry is between the clubs. The back-and-forth chants from each team’s student section, part of a sellout crowd of 7,884, were met with both clubs matching one another hit for hit on the ice. At the end, though, the game remained scoreless.
BC had the best opportunity of the frame when Nathan Gerbe and Dan Bertram broke in shorthanded. Drawing the goaltender, Gerbe centered the puck to Bertram, who had a wide-open net but, under pressure from the BU defense, pushed the puck wide.
The second period was penalty-filled, creating plenty of scoring chances both ways. Only BC capitalized, with Gionta and Gannon recording BC’s only goals of the game in a 2:25 span.
Gionta would later leave the game later in the period after a hit in the defensive corner left him with a sprained left ankle. He was taken to St. Elizabeth’s hospital for x-rays which came back negative.
The Terriers had ample opportunities to get back into the game, the most obvious on back-to-back 5-on-3 power play chances. BU, partially because of the play of the Eagles defense, had trouble making crisp passes in the zone, and the Eagles penalty kill stood tall, holding the BC lead at 2-0 through two.
In the third, BU climbed back into the game. After both teams seemed lulled asleep by back and forth play in the neutral zone, fourth-line center John McCarthy popped free in the slot, taking a pass from defenseman Matt Gilroy, and one-timing it far side on Schneider at 10:44 to pull BU within a goal at 2-1. It was McCarthy’s first collegiate goal.
That, though, was as close as the Terriers would get. Bryan ‘Boomer’ Ewing would have a bid in front at 17:50, and a Gilroy blast from the point was stopped by Schneider in the final minute of play.
As far as BC-BU games go, Friday’s was one of the better, according to BC coach Jerry York.
“This was one of the quicker, more entertaining games that we’ve had recently with BU,” said York. “There was a lot of jump to both teams.”
Friday night’s game perfectly sets up Saturday’s rematch, as both teams will move two miles down Commonwealth Avenue to once again do battle. It will be meeting number 229 all-time between the clubs, with BC looking for its 100th all-time win in the series. The Terriers lead the all-time series, 114-99-15.