BOSTON — On the strength of a 35-save performance from goaltender Cory Schneider, Boston College defeated Maine by a 4-1 score, advancing to the Hockey East championship game in the process. The Eagles (23-11-3) will face Boston University in the title game.
Boston College weathered an early storm from Maine’s first line of Michel Leveille, Hobey Baker Finalist Greg Moore, and Josh Soares. Despite serving out the only two penalties of the first period, Maine outshot BC 16-7 in the first period. Take away the power-play shots from BC, and the margin was more than 3-1 in the Black Bears’ favor.
Enter BC netminder Cory Schneider, who was recently named a Hockey East second team All-Star.
“We relied on Cory Schneider to make some saves early that kept us in the game,” said BC coach Jerry York. “The puck was like a hot potato for us in the first 10 to 12 minutes. But as the game went on, we got better and better as we got our nerves under control.
“As the season goes on, the games get bigger and bigger,” continued York, whose team featured 14 dressed freshman or sophomore players. “As the game went on, our nerves settled. But Cory really kept us in it at the beginning.”
“We missed some early opportunities to get some goals and it cost us,” echoed Tim Whitehead, Maine coach. “We weren’t able to draw any penalties in the first period and that hurt us. On the power play, I think we could have gotten to the net and created some chances.”
“Up in Maine, they really came at us hard in the first period,” said Schneider. “So we knew they would try and get some by us early to try to get us to pack it in.”
Schneider’s heroics kept the game scoreless until the second period, when BC flashed a little offensive muscle while shorthanded. With defenseman Anthony Aiello in the penalty box for high sticking, Eagle freshman Benn Ferriero gained control of the puck and started a breakout with junior Joe Rooney. After Rooney drew off the defender, he passed the puck back to a wide open Ferriero, who deposited a perfectly placed shot over the shoulder of Maine goalie Ben Bishop (25 saves) in the upper corner of the net.
BC struck again just over two minutes later, as an injured Chris Collins managed to hold the offensive zone by pushing the puck forward to freshman Brock Bradford along the boards. Bradford passed cross ice to Brian Boyle, whose 6-foot-7 figure was camped in front of the net. Boyle’s back was to the goal, but he fired a quick backhander that caught Bishop by surprise.
Maine’s lone goal of the evening came at the end of the second period, on the power play. Josh Soares dug the puck out of a pack of players along the boards, skated in alone on net and finally managed to get one past Schneider with a wrist shot that went short side on the netminder.
The power-play tally brought the Black Bears within a single goal, and set the table for a third period surge from the Maine players. But despite the increasingly desperate flurry of shots, Schneider was up to the task.
“They had some good sustained pressure in the third,” said Schneider. “But our defensemen did a good job of keeping the shots to the outside.”
In the final minute of play, Maine pulled Bishop for an extra attacker, and two empty-net goals followed, first from Stephen Gionta and then from Nathan Gerbe, made a final score that didn’t accurately reflect the goaltender duel that occurred throughout the game’s first 58 minutes.
“I thought Bishop played great,” said Schneider. “It’s tough playing in this environment as a freshman, but he held his team in the game late. His play helped me elevate my game and made me want to compete harder and answer him at the other end.”
With the loss, Maine (26-11-2) is now forced to await the outcome of other conference tournaments around the country, as upsets in those tournaments by lower-ranked teams might cost the Black Bears an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. Boston College will be playing for the Hockey East automatic qualifier, which is awarded to the tournament champion.