BOSTON — With a 3-1 win over Providence College, Boston College guaranteed that Hockey East will crown a new champion tomorrow.
In the three year history of Hockey East, only one team — Providence — has won the postseason tournament. But a combination of good goaltending, timely goal scoring and a gutsy defensive effort on the part of the Eagles finally ended the Friars reign. The Eagles (20-10-4) will face New Hampshire in the title game.
“BC is a very opportunistic team, because of their intensity,” said Bob Deraney, Providence coach. “They are a much imporved team [from last year]. We knew we would need a near perfect game to beat them, and we made some mistakes with the puck.”
The reference to last year is relevant because these same two teams faced off last season in the league’s semifinal, with a much different outcome — a 9-1 PC win.
The appearance in the league championship game is a first for the Eagles, but it is just the latest in a season of firsts. This is the first BC team to reach 20 wins, the first to capture the Beanpot, and the first to be voted into the top 10 in the USCHO.com Division I Women’s Poll.
“It’s been a great experience,” said freshman Eagle Becky Zavisza, who had a goal and an assist. “This has been a great program to step into.”
Two first period goals would be all that the Eagles needed, but only after weathering an early flurry from the Friars (17-14-4).
“The first seven minutes of the game, [BC goalie Alison] Quandt made some unbelievable saves,” said Tom Mutch, BC coach. “If she doesn’t make those saves, it gets the Providence bench worked up and makes this a different game. That allowed us to work out some of our nerves.”
The nerves were pretty well invisible by the midpoint of the first period, when BC got on the board with a fluttering wrist shot from Erin Blood that eluded PC netminder Jana Bugden.
Just minutes later the Eagles struck again as senior forward Nancy Gillis knocked the puck loose from a Providence defender and rushed in to score her first goal of the season. The goal was later reversed, as the referee Dean Gilbert ruled the net was off its moorings when the puck actually crossed the goal line.
It didn’t matter, though, as Sarah Feldman scored on a rebound off a Deborah Spillane shot soon afterward.
“To comeback and score that goal right after the disallowed goal just shows the rebound this team has,” said Mutch.
After a scoreless second period, the teams traded goals in the third to reach the final score. Zavisza took a short pass right in the slot to bang the puck past Bugden.
Throughout the game, Providence failed to generate much offense, and the only goal of the game for the Friars came off the stick of defender Kathleen Smith with a two man advantage.
The lack of offensive punch was attributed to the stingy BC defense, but to make things more difficult for Providence, the team was playing without Kristin Gigliotti, the team’s third leading scorer. Gigliotti is recovering from an appendectomy performed Tuesday night. While she is expected to make a full recovery, she was unavailable for the tournament.
“We really need to have everyone going at a million miles an hour all the time to be successful,” said Deraney. “To lose the country’s top scoring defenseman really took a toll on us.”
Although he was also quick to point out that Boston College deserved the win.
“BC and UNH are the top two teams in the league, and they deserve to be playing in the championship game,” he added. “They are two of the top two teams in the country, and they deserve to be playing in the NCAAs.”
Conventional wisdom says that should all the conference favorites win their respective tournaments, Boston College and Harvard would be fighting it out for the final at-large bid in the NCAA tournament.
“If you look at my transcript, you’ll see that I was never very good in math,” Mutch said. “We’re trying to give ourselves the best chance to get in [the NCAAs]. We need to do it the right way — through the autobid from winning the league tournament.”
Facing off against a 31-2-1 New Hampshire team would seem like a tall order, but one of UNH’s two losses came at the hands of the Eagles.
“I think we can do it,” said Zavisza. “I think we have the power to do it. I think we have the confidence to do it. And I think we have the team to do it.”