BOSTON — To become one of the hottest teams in college hockey, skill, discipline and solid play will help get you there. So will a little puck luck.
Boston College, riding the backs of two picture perfect four-on-four markers along with two fortuitous bounces that turned into goals, jumped out to a 4-0 lead early and held off a tenacious New Hampshire rally en route to a 5-2 victory to capture a record seventh Hockey East championship.
Though the Eagles took a 2-0 first period lead on goals by Matt Greene at 10:45 and Benn Ferriero — both goals coming on well-placed slapshots that beat UNH netminder Kevin Regan (29 saves) — it was the third and fourth goals that might have made the 13,668 in attendance wonder if BC had the luck of the Irish on its side on St. Patrick’s Day.
Late in the second period, Regan skated to the right corner to play a dumped puck. With forward Nathan Gerbe bearing down, Regan attempted to fire the puck up the strong side only to hit Gerbe in the shin pad, allowing the puck to bounce right to the slot where tournament MVP Brock Bradford waited to bury a back-breaking goal with 1:24 left in the frame.
If that wasn’t enough, a shorthanded bid by UNH’s Chris Murray hit BC netminder Cory Schneider (36 saves) in the mask, caromed off the back glass and bounced past each of the attacking UNH players to give the Eagles a 4-on-0 rush up ice. Brian Boyle carried the puck to the far post before feeding to Gerbe who buried BC’s fourth goal.
“I think we had a little leprechaun with us,” said BC head coach Jerry York.
Leprechaun or not, the Eagles have now won 10 straight games and 14 of their last 16 games heading into the NCAA tournament, likely as a number-two seed.
As much as BC was the beneficiary of puck luck, UNH felt it got the short end of the stick, particularly after a first period during which despite getting outshot, 19-13, the Wildcats seemed to have the better of the chances.
“I don’t think we came out sluggish,” said Umile. “Two turnovers in our own zone resulted in two goals. The last couple of times we played them we gave them 2-0 leads and you can’t do that against Boston College.”
BC had what seemed to be an insurmountable 4-0 lead midway through the third but, impressively, UNH never showed any quit.
Bobby Butler, who scored the game-winning goal in double overtime in Friday’s semifinal win for UNH, watched as his shot at 9:07 of the third hit the stickblade of a BC defender, popped up in the air and over Schneider to spoil the shutout. When Trevor Smith buried a Jerry Pollastrone pass just over two minutes later, UNH had the momentum, facing just a two-goal deficit.
It was then that Schneider, named to the all-tournament team, made possibly his best saves of the game. Matt Fornataro got behind the BC defense and fired a shot that forced Schneider to make a right pad save at 14:17. As the puck squeaked back to the right point, the UNH blueliner teed it up, Fornataro deflected it and Schneider was forced to get a shoulder on the shot.
After UNH was unable to convert on the power play (BC killed all five UNH man-advantages) in the game’s closing minutes, Boyle was able to bury an empty-net goal with 18 seconds remaining to seal the 5-2 victory.
The seventh championship for the Eagles moves them one past archrival BU for the most ever. It’s also the fifth title that the Eagles have won under head coach Jerry York.
With the conference tournament now in the rear-view mirror, both teams can turn their collective attentions to the quest for a national title. It appears that New Hampshire, the host of the Northeast Regional in Manchester, N.H., will hold onto a number-one seed despite Saturday’s loss.
Boston College will await its fate in terms of where it will play until Sunday’s selection show, scheduled for 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
That will give the Eagles less than 24 hours to celebrate their title before returning to business.
“We’re on a good streak right now,” said Bradford. “But we have to realize that if we lose one game now we’re done for the season.”