CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — On a night when the top ranked Boston College Eagles were celebrating the past, it was the future of the program that provided the heroics.
Rookie Cam Atkinson broke a 4-4 tie with 6:30 remaining as the Eagles came from behind to defeat No. 14 Wisconsin, 5-4, to cap off a night of celebration at BCs Kelley Rink. Prior to the game, the Eagles raised their 2007 national championship banner to set the tone of the sellout crowd of 7,884.
Its a dream come true to score in my first college game, said Atkinson, who committed to Boston College nearly three years ago when he was a sophomore at Avon Old Farms. Ive been waiting for this opportunity for the past two years. When today finally came around I hoped I could step up and I got the game winner.
Atkinsons goal came on a 2-on-1 where he used his speed to drive past the defense and shovel a backhander from the left side to the far post, narrowly beating Wisconsin goaltender Shane Connelly (32 saves).
The goal, though, was set up by a key save by Boston Colleges John Muse. With BC on the power play, a blocked shot at the point led to a Patrick Johnson shorthanded breakaway. Muse, who seemed to fight the puck throughout the game despite making 28 saves, flashed his right pad to deny Johnson and keep the game deadlocked. Seven minutes later, it was time for Atkinsons heroics.
We talked about it after the game, that its early in the season and we have a lot of improvement that we can see at different areas of team play, said BC head coach Jerry York when asked about Muses play. The big thing is when its 4-4 he makes the big save there.
The more Im in the profession, save percentage and goals against average [dont matter as much]. I like goalies who just win game.
For Wisconsin, a talented team a season ago that was plagued by special teams woes, it was more of the same. The Badgers were held off the board on six chances with the man advantage, allowed two shorthanded goals and surrendered two power play goals to BC in eight attempts.
Head coach Mike Eaves was clearly frustrated by those facts after the game but was adamant that you cant compare this year to last, particularly on opening night.
This is a new year and were trying out a new system, said Eaves. Weve got young people on the ice and theyve got to go through the growing pains.
It took little time for the Eagles to prove their speed to the Badgers, testing Connelly with two breakaways in the first 90 seconds of play. Joe Whitney and Brock Bradford were each stopped on a two-on-none at the 30-second mark. Benn Ferriero was then stonewalled when he beat the Wisconsin defenseman at the blue line and walked in alone on Connelly.
Wisconsin, though, gained momentum from the Connelly saves and shortly thereafter got on the scoreboard.
Patrick Johnson one-timed a juicy rebound of a Jake Gardiner shot from the left point at 2:59, firing a shot over the left shoulder of Muse for the 1-0 Badgers lead.
BC would get the equalizer three minutes later. After Wisconsins Blake Geoffrion was sent off for slashing at 5:50, the Eagles struck immediately on the power play. Whitneys shot from the left point bounced off Bradford in front of the net and right to the stick of Brian Gibbons who had a wide open net to stuff the equalizer at 5:59.
The Eagles grabbed their first lead of the night early in the second when Matt Price pushed a Matt Lombardi pass into an open net, finishing off a shorthanded 2-on-1 at 4:18. That lead, though, was short lived.
At 5:33, Wisconsins freshman Jordy Murray took a puck from behind the net and lifted what seemed like an innocent backhander on Muse. The puck trickled under the sophomore netminders right arm and into the net to even the game at two.
Shortly thereafter, the Badgers retook the lead when another Wisconsin rookie, Eric Springer, fired a wrist shot from the point that caught Muse by surprise, beating him between the legs before he could react to the shot.
But the power play once again was the savior for the Eagles. Bradford, who missed all but five games a season ago with a broken arm, took a cross ice feed and fired a shot that Connelly got a piece of but couldnt keep out of the net. The goal, at 13:08, sent the teams to the third knotted at three.
The Badgers, though, answered once again in the third. Senior Ben Street finished of perfect passing on a 3-on-2 breakout at 1:20 to give his team a one-goal cushion.
But this time it was BCs turn to answer and after Gibbons scored his second goal of the night on a shorthanded breakaway at 3:43, the stage was set for the rookie Atkinson to play the role of hero.
The victory was the perfect ending to an evening of celebration for the Eagles and, coming against a talented Badgers club, is a positive sign that BC will remain a national threat, unlike the 2000-01 championship team that the following year failed to reach the NCAA tournament.
For an early season game, tonight was a good indication that both [BC and Wisconsin] have teams that will compete on a national level, said York. Theres a good chance well see one another again somewhere down the line.