WORCESTER, Mass. — In the biggest of a whopping six games this season between two perpetual archrivals, Boston College finally came away with a big win against Boston University, winning the NCAA Northeast Regional Championship and a trip to the Frozen Four in Milwaukee.
After losing four straight games to their Commonwealth Avenue counterparts — including the Beanpot Championship in February and the Hockey East Championship just one week ago — the fifth time proved to be the charm for the Eagles.
Joe Rooney scored two shorthanded goals in a span of just 2:38 in the second period and Cory Schneider made 28 saves to lead BC to a 5-0 victory in front of 8,742 at the DCU Center in Worcester. The Eagles will face the winner of the North Dakota-Holy Cross game in the Frozen Four semi-finals in Milwaukee. Schneider was the unanimous tournament MVP after posting consecutive shutouts for the first time in NCAA Regional history.
“I thought the ability for our team to get off the start that we did kind of set the tone for the game,” BC coach Jerry York said. “The first ten minutes we had a lot of jump, a lot of pop in our legs: We attacked and set the tone for the remainder of the game.
York also cited the two shorthanded goals as crucial momentum shifters for his team. Meanwhile, Terrier coach Jack Parker was left to mull the apparent power outage for his team one night after lighting up Nebraska-Omaha for nine goals.
“I thought we were dominated tonight,” Parker said. “From the opening faceoff, we were a step slow and a dollar short. We didn’t have any jump to us; we didn’t seem to have the necessary quickness to get by them. We were getting beat to a lot of pucks.
“We picked a bad night to have a not-so-good evening for ourselves. We were playing great hockey: Last night the puck was jumping in the net for us. Maybe we’ve had too good a run, and it was our turn to have a bad night. We weren’t awful out there, but we didn’t have a good evening, and you couple that with BC really jacking it up a notch or two versus the last time we played them … We didn’t have what we needed to turn it around.”
“I’m flabbergasted that we came out — I don’t know if it was flat, but it was certainly with nowhere near the intensity that we needed.”
The teams felt each other out in the early going before Mike Brennan and Brian McGuirk traded hits at 5:20, the upshot being that McGuirk hit himself trying to make the retaliatory hit. He looked woozy but was back on the ice within minutes.
After few scoring chances to speak of, BC suddenly took a 1-0 lead on a terrible turnover by the Terriers. With Eagle senior Chris Collins hovering around him behind the net, BU defenseman Kevin Schaeffer moved out from behind his net with the puck and promptly handed it over to Brian Boyle for a one-timer and a goal. Terrier netminder John Curry had no chance. Curiously, it was the fourth straight game in which BU surrendered the first goal as well, and the fifth time in six games versus BC this year in which the Eagles scored first.
“Collins just chased him behind the net, and our defenseman made a bad decision where he put the next pass,” Parker said. “All he had to do was put it to the other side or carry it himself. Tried to flip it to his partner, and Boyle cheated down, anticipated the pass.”
At one point well into the period, BU had been outshot 9-3 and was struggling to get their legs going in the BC end. Then a few BC penalties gave them some momentum, and they ended up with six straight shots before the period ended.
As one power play waned, a slapper by BU freshman defenseman Matt Gilroy zoomed through the slot and hit the crossbar before bouncing down and away. A BU stick or two were raised in the air momentarily, but play continued. Seconds later, Kenny Roche was alone on the doorstep with the puck on his backhand for a great opportunity, but Cory Schneider made the save. When a whistle finally came, there was a video review of Gilroy’s shot, but it clearly was no goal.
The Terriers had another strong power-play bid at 18:20, when Sean Sullivan fired a cross-ice, far-post pass to Roche crashing the net, but the winger couldn’t quite redirect it on net. With the momentum swing, the teams ended tied in shots, seemingly giving BU some hope for the second frame.
That did not turn out to be justified. Although Pete MacArthur came close one minute into the period — popping the rebound of a Roche shot off of Schneider’s pad and just over the crossbar, rolling off the top of the netting — BC came up with three huge goals.
At 4:40, Matt Greene got the puck in the right-wing faceoff circle and drove to the net, flipping a soft shot that somehow got through Curry and into the net. It stood up under review, presumably due to the possibility of a BC man in the crease.
At 13:22, BU looked to be on the brink of a great chance with a two-on-one for MacArthur and Sean Sullivan with Brian Boyle defending. However, Boyle poked the pass away, and the Eagles flew off the other direction with Benn Ferriero feeding Joe Rooney for the shorthanded breakaway. He buried it five-hole for a 3-0 BC lead.
“Ferriero made an unbelievably strong play on the first goal,” Rooney said. “He had two guys on him and I started to cheat up the middle. He chipped the puck to me and I was gone. I tried to get Curry moving and went five-hole.”
The shorthanded breakaway turned out to be a recurring theme: Less than three minutes later, Stephen Gionta sprung Rooney with a long cross-ice pass for another shorthanded breakaway. Curry stopped this one, only to have his own defender barrel into him, sending both players into the net, which came off its moorings. The play was not immediately ruled a goal, but that happened after yet another video review.
“Give Rooney a lot of credit: He’s been struggling to put the puck in the net, and he gets a couple of big ones tonight and makes the all-tournament team,” Parker said. “Good for him.”
That was basically the ballgame, although the Terriers showed signs of life in the third period with a handful of chances. But BC rounded out the scoring at 14:26 when Benn Ferriero stepped out of the penalty box and promptly received a pass and went in for the Eagles’ third breakaway goal of the net.
The game degenerated in the last few minutes with considerable chippy play. BU’s John Laliberte hammered Matt Greene with a big hit that injured Greene’s knee. York promptly called a timeout. “It’s a tough pill for BU to swallow,” York said. “I just said, ‘Let’s keep our composure.’”
The only remaining drama was whether Schneider would pull off the historic shutout. Mighty mite Brad Zancanaro very nearly put a sharp-angle shot through the goalie’s five-hole with 2.7 seconds left, but Schneider just barely squeezed it for the save.
“To have back-to-back shutouts in regional play shows you what kind of nerves he has, what kind of composure he has on the big stage,” York said. “I’m really excited about that.”
BC (25-12-3) now prepares for the national semifinal a week from Thursday, while BU (26-10-4) must content itself with another Beanpot and its first Hockey East championship since 1997.
“There’s been a lot of talk about how we needed to beat BC five times,” Parker said. “No, we didn’t; we needed to beat them once tonight … but maybe that crept in. More than anything else, they had a hard time with what we did to them this year, and they came much more ready to play than we did.”