MADISON, Wis. — Trying to stave off a 5-on-3 Wisconsin power play for 90 seconds, Boston College was just hoping to kill off the Badger attack.
What happened was more than the Eagles bargained for: an improbable goal and a quiet Kohl Center for the rest of the evening.
Early in the first period, Boston College left winger Nathan Gerbe beat a sluggish Badger defense and managed to get the puck over Badger goalie Brian Elliott’s right shoulder for his first of two goals on the night as the Eagles sucked the momentum out of Wisconsin and shut out the Badgers 3-0 in Madison.
“It’s been a long, long time [since I saw a 3-on-5 goal],” Boston College head coach Jerry York said. “That was quite an oddity, that’s for sure. It was an outstanding effort by Nathan Gerbe, to cut back and wrist the shot.”
With Boston College already down a man due to senior Joe Rooney’s hooking penalty, Eagles defenseman Mike Brennan was whistled for slashing just 27 seconds into the power play, leaving Boston College the near-impossible task of killing off the revved-up Badgers without two key veterans on the ice.
However, poor offensive execution and sluggish passing became the death knell for Wisconsin all night long. Trying to set up a set play, the Badgers dumped the puck into the zone. Boston College goalie Cory Schneider corralled the puck and flung it to freshman Carl Sneep. In the meantime, Gerbe had snuck through the Badger defense and Sneep found him for a 2-on-1 break for the Eagles. Gerbe got the puck past Elliott and the Eagles never looked back.
“I can’t remember the last time I saw a 3-on-5 goal, let alone be a part of one,” Schneider said. “Every time you kill off a 5-on-3 is big and scoring one [shorthanded] is huge. It was a great job by Carl to get the puck out and Nate to put it in.”
“It definitely turned the momentum of the game,” Gerbe said. “I just shot threw the middle and Sneep banked it off the boards. It was a great play by him. I just collected it and stepped to the middle and shot real quick.”
Wisconsin looked out of sync throughout the first period, only getting eight shots on Schneider and failing to fire any attempts on its two-man advantage.
“Just because you have a 5-on-3 doesn’t mean you can slack off,” Elliott said. “They came out prepared and banging. That’s a good team and another lesson learned for us tonight.”
With Wisconsin coming out slacking in the first period for the seventh game in a row, the Badgers are still looking for answers as to why they can’t get momentum on their side early in games.
“They were ready to play, plain and simple,” UW captain Andrew Joudrey said. We’ve been home for three weeks in a row and you think we would have learned by now. They have good experience, but so do we. Shame on us for not playing better.”
While the second period brought 14 shots from the Badgers, the Eagles’ defense forced Wisconsin to take long-range shots and Schneider was there to pounce on the rebounds. Schneider was all over the puck in the second period for the Eagles, including stopping a 2-on-1 break for Wisconsin late in the second, which proved to be the Badgers’ best scoring chance the entire game.
It was a bit of redemption for Boston College, which was embarrassed last weekend at home by a 7-1 onslaught at the hands of Notre Dame.
“[Our defense] is something that we have been working on all week,” Schneider said. “We really struggled last week and our defense was a mess. We worked real hard on playing the body, playing tough and working the boards. Our guys did a great job tonight.”
Any thought of a comeback were silenced late in the third when Gerbe struck again with help from senior Brian Boyle. Boyle acted as a decoy for Gerbe and drew two Wisconsin defensemen from the play. Gerbe received the puck from senior Joe Rooney, who now leads the team with six assists, and buried it past Elliott at 17:44 in the third.
Boston College capped the scoring when sophomore Brock Bradford scored on an empty net in the final minute to complete the Eagles’ shutout win.
“I thought [our experience advantage] helped us during the course of the game, especially our poise being down 5-on-3 early,” York said. “That’s a difficult situation to be put in considering their club and the atmosphere in the building. We weren’t complaining or yelling at the referees. We just said kill the penalty … That’s the sign of an experienced team.”
The shutout was a big game for Schneider, whose numbers had taken a hit early this season with the blowout against Notre Dame. Coming in with a 3.11 GAA and an .888 save percentage, Schneider never lost his composure, stopping all 28 Wisconsin shots and registering an assist, while never looking out of place.
“It’s always fun playing against a premier goaltender like Brian,” Schneider said. “You come into the night knowing that we aren’t going to get more than one or two goals, and that makes me step up my play even more. I knew if I gave them up, that we probably weren’t going to give them back. We were fortunate to get two good shots on him tonight.”
In addition to Schneider, it was the Eagles’ first line, particularly Gerbe, which earned the kudos. Outskating Wisconsin’s top line, the Eagles first line of Gerbe, Boyle and Bertram scored two goals and an assist in their big opening series win against Wisconsin.
“I am definitely happy with how things are going,” Gerbe said. “Our team is definitely headed in the right direction and to have Boyle and Schneider, two fantastic players, lead you, is a factor. I am totally happy being here and how I am playing now.”
Boston College and Wisconsin wrap up their two-game set Saturday at the Kohl Center in Madison, with the puck scheduled to drop at 7:07 CDT.