MILWAUKEE — Call it crazy, call it unexpected. For Boston College, it’s a win.
In an unexpected offensive outburst by both clubs, Boston College outlasted North Dakota, 6-5, in the opening semifinal of the 2006 Frozen Four to advance to the NCAA title game for the seventh time in school history and fourth time in nine years.
The game saw BC jump out to a 3-0 first-period lead, only to see North Dakota rally for two early in the second and then each club trade goals the remainder of the game.
“I was expecting a much more tight-checking game,” said BC head coach Jerry York. “The early lead really built our confidence but [North Dakota] never quit.”
The win was paced offensively for the Eagles by their leading scorer, Chris Collins. His hat trick included two first-period goals, the first of which came shorthanded. For Collins, the offensive success was personally important; he had suffered a hip pointer injury in mid-March and, until this weekend, had been playing below full strength.
“I had to play the Hockey East [tournament] and the regional and couldn’t go full up, and that was so frustrating,” said Collins, who is also a member of the Hobey Baker “Hat Trick” finalist group. “To be 100 percent tonight and to have that jump, when I got the puck I was just looking to score and I did.”
Besides advancing Boston College to the championship game, the victory also gave the Eagles a bit of revenge. Last year, North Dakota ended BC’s season in the regional championship.
“It was on our mind,” said BC goaltender Cory Schneider, who didn’t have what he’d call his best outing of the season, yet still made 36 saves. “They ended our season last year, and it’s always nice to repay the favor.”
Special teams played a major role in the offensive affair, though not the way one might think. Each team did score a power-play goal, but North Dakota also added two shorthanded tallies and BC chipped in one. Overall, though, the BC penalty kill may have been the biggest difference.
The Eagles stopped North Dakota on seven of eight power plays, including an extended five-on-three in the second when the Sioux were attempting to get back into the game.
“Anytime you can kill that penalty, you don’t even have to score a shorthanded goal. It’s going to give you momentum,” said Collins, whose shorthander Thursday was his team-leading sixth of the season. “It’s a good feeling when you kill penalties. The whole bench erupts and the next line goes out all fired up.”
Boston College pulled in front, 3-0, in the opening period, despite being outshot, 12-5.
Rookie defenseman Brett Motherwell got the Eagles on the board at 7:43, firing a shot through a screen that beat North Dakota goaltender Jordan Parise (25 saves) over the left shoulder to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
Collins then buried his first two goals on the afternoon, at 12:34 and 18:18.
The quick start for the Eagles shocked many of the 17,637 in attendance at the Bradley Center, perhaps none more than North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol. Still, his team wouldn’t quit.
North Dakota finally struck early in the second scoring its first of two shorthanded markers at 4:23. Sophomore Rastislav Spirko buried a loose puck just inside the left post with Schneider down and out.
It was the first goal allowed by Schneider in this year’s NCAA tournament.
The Sioux had a chance to pull closer at 6:44 with a 51-second 5-on-3 advantage. The Eagles’ penalty-kill, though, stood tough, allowing just two shots on the two power plays combined.
At 13:26, North Dakota did draw within one. As a penalty to BC’s Andrew Orpik expired, Rylan Kaip buried a pass at the left post between the legs of Schneider to pull the Sioux within 3-2.
This time, BC would answer. As a penalty expired to North Dakota’s Chris Porter, rookie defenseman Anthony Aiello fired a bad-angle shot through the five-hole of Parise at 15:38 to give BC a 4-2 lead. It was Aiello’s first goal of the season.
Collins completed the hat trick and when he scored on a breakaway with 22.7 seconds remaining in the frame, and the three-goal lead seemed insurmountable.
But again, North Dakota wouldn’t give up. The Sioux pulled back within two at 8:11 when rookie Jonathan Toews wheeled from the blueline down to the right faceoff dot and wristed a shot off the glove of Schneider to cut the BC lead to 5-3.
And even after Nathan Gerbe’s highlight-reel goal at 10:33 gave BC a 6-3 lead, the Sioux climbed back with a Travis Zajac shorthanded strike with 4:18 to play, and a Brian Lee wrister through traffic screen with the goaltender pulled and 12.1 seconds left.
That made for an exciting ending, but it was still too little, too late for the Sioux. A casual glove stop by Schneider as the buzzer sounded was enough to advance to the national title game.
For North Dakota, the ending was disappointing, but Hakstol took solace that his team battled right to the buzzer.
“There’s only one team every year where your season ends the way you want it to,” said Hakstol. “But the one thing we did was continue to battle. There wasn’t one ounce of quit to this team.
For the Eagles, it’s the first time they have advanced to the championship game since winning the title in 2001 — that victory coming against none other than North Dakota.
It also puts a Hockey East team in the title game for the ninth time in 10 seasons, and may quiet critics who said the league didn’t deserve four bids to this year’s NCAA tournament.
Whatever the case may be, York and his team are happy to have lived another day.
“The best practice of the year is tomorrow (the day before the national title game),” said York. “It means you get to play on the last day of the season.”