CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — It was billed as a battle of Hockey East heavyweights, and Friday’s contest, the first of two this weekend between No. 5 Vermont and No. 2 Boston College, met expectations of a hard-fought prize fight.
In the end, the Eagles came out on top thanks to two goals off faceoff plays and outstanding goaltending from Cory Schenider (22 saves) in a 2-0 BC win.
Entering the game, the top prize fighters for each team were the goaltenders. Schneider had allowed just two goals in his last three starts, while Vermont’s Joe Fallon (20 saves) had done the same but impressively had posted back-to-back shutouts last weekend over Northeastern.
Neither tender disappointed as each, though seeing limited numbers of shots overall, made dazzling saves when players were sent in alone.
“They’re two of the best [goaltenders] in Hockey East, if not two of the best in the country,” said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon of the match up. “Neither of the two goals were Joe’s fault and I thought Cory was great. We had our some great opportunities and he made [the saves] look pretty easy.”
Besides the two BC goals, the key to the game was a five-on-three power play that Vermont could not capitalize on in the third period. The BC defense was able to pack things in low in front of the BC net, taking away goal-mouth passes and limiting Vermont to shots from the point.
“We had a couple of rebound opportunities and our low flank guys couldn’t get to those rebounds,” said Sneddon. “But you’ve gotta score on the five-on-three, even though it was only 34 seconds. You have to find a way to put it behind them.”
The game featured a high level of intensity and hard-hitting physical play, particularly on the part of the Eagles. Senior Chris Collins, who finished the night with a goal and an assist, said that’s always part of BC’s game plan, but Friday was a night that the team was able to execute and take the physical game to the Catamounts.
“They played real strong up at UVM (a 2-1 BC win in November) and we knew it was going to be a fast game. They’re a real quick team,” said Collins. “So the important thing was to get the body on them and slow them down from the beginning.”
“[The physical play] was what I was disappointed in in our first period,” said Sneddon. “I thought we played a little bit on egg shells. BC came out great and finished their checks and that kind of put us back on our heels.”
The game began just like any classic prize fight, with both teams felling one another out and few solid scoring chances.
In the late goings of the first period, though, both clubs traded quality scoring chances. Both Collins at 17:02 and Stephen Gionta at the 19-minute mark were able to turn Vermont defenders and break in alone on Fallon. The sophomore goalie followed the puck well on both chances and turned aside the scoring bids.
As the period’s final second ticked away, Vermont got its chance as Torrey Mitchell was alone on the doorstep for a rebound staring at a wide open net. Somehow though, defenseman Tim Filangieri dove across the crease to get just enough of the puck to deflect it into the stands, keeping the game scoreless through one.
The shots, though few, were in BC’s advantage, 8-3.
In the second, the Eagles finally broke through on the scoreboard. Off of an in-zone face off, Collins feathered a wrist shot from the left point that Brian Boyle deflected in the slot. The puck went directly to a wide open Gionta at the right post who tipped it past Fallon at 4:02 for the 1-0 BC lead.
Vermont managed one of its best opportunities immediately after when Brady Leisenring was sent in alone at 4:45. Schneider barely got his left toe on the puck to stop the senior and keep the game at 1-0.
Late in the period, BC doubled its lead when the top line again converted off of an offensive-zone draw. This time it was Collins, picking up a loose puck behind the net and firing a wrap around shot that hit Fallon and bounced up and over him at 15:37.
In the third period, the Eagles were able to drop into a defensive set, which paid off most on the Catamounts five-on-three.
The Eagles defense was able to force Vermont to collapse its power play unit to closer to the goal line, taking away passing angles and limiting the Vermont shots. The best bid was a Sifers one-timer from the point that led to a Mitchell rebound chance. Schneider was able to flash his glove and grab the shot keep the Cats scoreless.
Schneider’s final test came with 5:39 to play when Leisenring broke in alone and pulled Schneider to his stomach. From his belly, Schneider again got his glove in front of the Leisenring bid to preserve the shutout and the victory for the Eagles.
“[Leisenring] snuck behind the defense and the puck bounced to him,” said Schneider describing his final test. “He cut across and he fanned on the initial try. I think he tried to go five-hole. But he picked it up and kept going so I just made a desperation move and fortunately it hit me.”
For Schneider, the shutout was his second straight and fourth of the season. It’s the first time a BC goaltender has posted back-to-back shutouts since Scott Clemmensen did so on February 7 and 11, 2000.
The victory helped preserve BC’s six point advantage for first place in the Hockey East standings, as both of its pursuers Providence and New Hampshire were victorious.
Vermont fell three points behind Boston University, a 5-3 winner over Merrimack on Friday, in the race for the final home ice spot.
BC and Vermont will look to once again entertain the Conte Forum faithful when they rematch Saturday night at 7 p.m.