BOSTON, Mass. — With the seconds waning in the Hockey East championship game, Boston College’s Nathan Gerbe buried a goal into an empty net to seal BC’s 4-0 victory over Vermont.
While it was likely the easiest goal the junior has scored all year, it was symbolic of the rise that BC’s Hobey Baker finalist has had in recent weeks, a rise that carried Gerbe’s Eagles to their second straight Hockey East tournament title and a record eight in the 24-year history of the tournament.
Easily the most dominant offensive force in Hockey East, Gerbe hit a legitimate drought that began in mid-February and lasted through the final night of the regular season. Over that stretch, the Eagles went 1-5-1.
Since BC won on the final night of the regular season to sew up the final home-ice spot, however, Gerbe’s offensive play has returned to form. With it, so too have the Eagles as a team, now riding a five-game winning streak into the NCAA tournament.
Gerbe finished the tournament with nine points (four goals, five assists) to earn tournament MVP honors.
“When our team was going through a little drought, I had to look at myself in the mirror and really question if I’m doing the right things, am I playing an honest game,” said Gerbe. “The coaches got me straight; it’s starting to pay off now.”
Ben Smith, Tim Kunes and Brian Gibbons each added tallies on the night to lift the Eagles to the 4-0 victory over the upstart Catamounts.
Vermont had the best of the chances early and missed its opportunity to seize momentum.
The Catamounts’ Jack Downing was stoned twice on prime chances by BC goaltender John Muse, who as a rookie is only the second goaltender in Hockey East history to post a championship game shutout, joining New Hampshire’s Michael Ayers (2003).
The second of Downing’s bids was the best, diving forward to force a side-to-side save by Muse, only to see the rookie netminder recover and deny Colin Vock with a stellar right pad save on the follow up shot.
Despite carrying the play for much of the period, the Catamounts were deflated at the end of the frame on a late goal by Smith. Gerbe dropped a pass to Carl Sneep that the blueliner fired on net. Vermont goaltender Joe Fallon (24 saves) got a piece of the shot but the puck dribbled through his legs, allowing Smith the easy tap in with 1:28 left to give the Eagles the lead, 1-0, through one.
“Our first 10 to 15 minutes was the best hockey we played offensively all year,” said Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon. “We had three or four two-on-ones and if one or two of them go in, the game’s a different feel.”
In the second, the Eagles extended the lead at 5:01 on a Kunes wrist shot through traffic that banked off the left post. It was the first goal of the season for the junior blueliner.
Vermont had its chance to get back in the game late in the frame while killing a penalty. Slavomir Tomko pushed a shot wide of an open net on a three-on-one break with 1:35 to play.
That led to possibly the turning point of the game, one that spelled doom for Vermont. On the same power play, Catamounts’ defenseman Mark Lutz turned over the puck to Andrew Orpik, who fed a wide-open Gibbons with 19.2 seconds left to put a nail in the coffin for a 3-0 Eagles lead.
The loss for the Catamounts ended their miracle run that saw the team go 13-6-1 in their last 20 and reach the title game in just their third season in Hockey East. Despite that stellar run, the club finished 16th in the final PairWise Rankings and will fall short of making the school’s second NCAA tournament appearance.
“There was so much excitement not just for our school but for the state of Vermont,” said Sneddon. “This was a great experience just to be here. I’m really looking forward to doing this again next year.”
For the Eagles, what lies ahead is their ninth NCAA appearance in the last 10 seasons. The question is where Boston College will be placed in the NCAA field. It is a lean year for Hockey East; BC and New Hampshire will be the only two clubs in the tournament when the participants are announced Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET, ESPN2).
With that in mind, York’s only hope is that the two Hockey East clubs don’t end up in the same region, even if that means the Eagles may have to travel west to Colorado Springs or Madison, Wis.
“Our objective is to get two Hockey East teams in the Frozen Four,” said York. “So my hope is we don’t end up [in the same region as New Hampshire].”