CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — As a freshman, Jill McInnis was a defenseman for a Boston College team that had never won more than five league games in one season. On her senior day Sunday, Jill McInnis was the winger who scored a pivotal first goal against three-time defending Hockey East champion Providence in BC’s 15th league win. How’s that for a dream come true?
No. 10 Providence (16-12-4, 10-7-2 Hockey East) outplayed BC (18-9-4, 15-3-1) early on, but McInnis’ goal went against the run of play. The Friars came back to tie the game once, but the damage was already done.
The Eagles struck again late in the first period to regain the lead and never looked back in a 4-2 win — their 12th in 14 games and second of the weekend over Providence.
The win was the first ever for BC on a Senior Day, according to McInnis, and it kept the Eagles in the driver’s seat for an NCAA at-large berth.
“This win, it’s so special in so many ways, in Hockey East playoff ways, and national polls, and personally it’s just a big win for all of us,” McInnis said.
On McInnis’ goal at the 8:47 mark, her freshman linemate Becky Zavisza won the faceoff to her in neutral ice. McInnis chipped the puck off the boards to beat the defense and darted down the right wing. With defenders closing in and no one to pass to, she powered the puck on net expecting to get a rebound. Instead she got the top corner of the net.
“We’ve been working all week in practice to have girls drive to the net, and I just shot, and it went in,” McInnis said.
The goal was McInnis’ sixth of the season. Previously a defenseman who led the team in assists her freshman year, she had just four career goals entering this season. Deciding the team was deep enough defensively, BC coach Tom Mutch moved her to forward in November on a line with freshmen Zavisza and Shannon Webster. This second line provides power and usually creates off the forecheck, though McInnis found a different way to score.
“She gives up size up front, she gives us hands up front, she gives us a shot up front,” Mutch said. “She’s really starting to come into her own right now.”
Providence junior Sonny Watrous scored her first of two goals at 12:21 of the first on the power play. Quick, uncontested puck movement by defensemen Kathleen Smith and Erin Normore allowed the Friars to find Watrous wide open at the back door for an easy finish.
BC regained the lead with just 1:13 to go in the period. Just like the first goal, BC scored within seconds of walking into the offensive zone. This time defenseman Brie Baskin lobbed a shot that was deflected softly by Deb Spillane into the net.
“We weathered the storm for half a period, it’s been a long week for us, and to come out of that period 2-1 is huge,” Mutch said.
That BC scored two goals with so little work in the offensive zone was doubly frustrating for Providence, who had fallen behind 2-0 on a shorthanded goal late in the first period of yesterday’s 4-1 loss. Providence coach Bob Deraney swapped in goalie Stacey Scott in place of Jana Bugden at the intermission.
“You can’t give them the gifts,” Deraney said. “You can’t give up goals in the last minute of a period. You’re playing good teams, and it’s hard enough to beat them without giving them an advantage. BC’s playing very well right now, and they didn’t need any help from us.”
Providence did not give Scott much help in the opening minutes of the second period. The Friars struggled to clear the zone on an extended shift, and BC piled on before Lee Mirasolo finally put the puck in the net for the 3-1 lead with an assist by senior Sarah Courtney.
Providence responded with a sense of urgency, and Watrous earned her second goal on a setup by Katy Beach to cut the deficit to 3-2 six minutes into the second period. In addition, the Friars drew three consecutive penalties.
But the Providence comeback was averted because BC outscored the Friars 1-0 on those penalties. The Friars were helpless to move the puck as they had in the first period against the Eagles’ unrelenting pressure.
Just past the game’s halfway point, Meghan Fardelmann won the puck in the Providence zone along the boards and fired to Zavisza wide open in front. Zavisza saw an opening on Scott’s left blocker side and buried it with authority. Spillane also had a breakaway a few minutes later but could not get the shot she wanted.
“Keeping our sticks extended helps a lot, coach has been on us about that, being aggressive, using your body a little bit,” said Zavisza, describing the keys to BC’s penalty kill success.
Zavisza was proud to have done her part in bringing the seniors a win. Between Courtney’s assist, McInnis’ goal, forward Nancy Gillis’ effort, and captain Alison Quandt’s 19 saves, it could not have been a much better day for the four BC seniors.
“It meant so much, I love our seniors, they’re awesome,” Zavisza said. “They’ve built this program, coming up right behind them and helping them out is so good, to see them happy after a big win.”
The win capped a huge week for the seniors, who earned their first Beanpot title thanks to Tuesday’s 2-0 win over Harvard. In McInnis’ freshman year under coach Tom Babson, the Eagles lost to Harvard 17-2. Now her team is a legitimate NCAA contender in her third year under Mutch.
“Coach Mutch has been awesome,” McInnis said. “As soon as he came in, you knew the program was going to go in a whole new direction. And he has done a great job, and just for him to do it so quickly has been amazing, and it’s been fun to be a part of it.”
Even McInnis was surprised by the quickness and extent of the team’s success.
“I thought we were going to start to develop, and I never thought it would happen so fast,” she said. “We’ve gotten great players the last couple of years and four seniors who have worked so hard. This year has been very special, especially being a senior.”
Providence, now in third place, still has work to do next weekend against UConn to clinch a league playoff spot. Deraney said the team simply isn’t playing well. And unlike the Providence teams that have won titles in recent years, this team is loaded with youth.
“We’re missing glorious opportunities to score goals, and at the same time we’re failing to get the puck out of our own end,” he said. “That’s a bad combination.”
BC, meanwhile, has never been on a greater high. NCAA prospects are hardly the team’s focus, but the team is excited for this new opportunity.
“It’s such a good feeling because that means our season as seniors could go one week longer,” McInnis said of BC’s NCAA qualifying potential. “And you don’t want the season to end as a senior.”