WORCESTER, Mass. — Conviction always beats convention. Just ask the Boston College Eagles.
For the second straight week, the Eagles used an out-of-the-ordinary performance to capture a championship, defeating Yale, 9-7, in a wild and wooly Northeast Regional championship game to advance to the Frozen Four for the ninth time in 13 years and 22nd time in school history.
A week ago, BC captured the Hockey East championship in a 13-goal affair, defeating Maine, 7-6 in overtime. If you thought there weren’t more goals to be scored, you were wrong.
“Our objective is to win and advance,” said BC coach Jerry York. “The game is always different. Would I like a 1-0 game over a 9-7 game? To me, it doesn’t matter. I just want to win games.”
Win games the Eagles have, and with Sunday’s victory, BC stretches its unbeaten streak to 11 games (10-0-1) and the BC senior class has posted a 20-1 record in postseason play in the month of March.
Sunday’s victory was as unconventional as you could imagine. The Eagles chased two Yale goaltenders from the game while their own netminder, John Muse (32 saves) allowed a career-high seven goals.
BC opened up leads of two, four and five goals, but Yale, the top-ranked offense in the nation, never said die and continued to claw back.
“There were numerous times when [the team] could’ve thrown in the towel and they never did,” said Yale coach Keith Allain.
“We were battling all night long,” said Yale senior defenseman Tom Dignard. “I give my teammates a lot of credit. We were down, 9-4, and we battled our way back.”
Not surprising, the offensive outburst by both teams featured some record-setting performances. BC tied the regional record for goals in a game, while Yale scored the most goals ever in a loss in a regional game and the 16 total goals combined also set a regional mark. Both BC’s Cam Atkinson, the regional’s most outstanding player, and Yale’s Mark Arcobello, registered three goals in the game. Arcobello one-upped everyone, though, tying a regional record with six points, though done in a losing effort.
BC countered Arcobello’s effort with an explosive offensive display from its top scoring line. In addition to Atkinson’s three goals, he added an assist for a four-point game matched by Joe Whitney’s two goals and two assists. The third member of the trio, Brian Gibbons, had a seemingly parochial two points (1 goal, 1 assist) but the trio finished the game a combined plus-14.
From the get-go, most knew this wouldn’t be a typical game. After Gibbons opened the scoring at 5:21, burying a hard slap shot far post on Yale starting goaltender Ryan Rondeau (18 saves), it appeared Yale evened things at 9:20 when Broc Little slapped a puck out of the air and on net. The puck glanced off of Muse and appeared to go in the net to the naked eye, but view of replays showed it instead struck the post and never crossed the goal line.
The Bulldogs did pull even when Brian O’Neill buried the rebound of a Arcobello shot at 13:32, but the BC retook the lead thanks to the ultimate bounce.
Shorthanded, Eagles defenseman Carl Sneep blasted a clearing attempt from just above the faceoff dot in the defensive zone. The puck landed about 4 feet short of Rondeau’s crease and short-hopped up the shaft of his stick and over Rondeau’s left shoulder. The 150-foot shot at 16:34 gave the Eagles a 2-1 lead through one.
The craziness, though, was just beginning.
BC opened a two-goal lead on a Joe Whitney goal at 2:23 of the second, but Yale answered on the power play when Arcobello one-timed a pass from the slot at 4:46. Just 11 seconds later, though, Yale’s Ryan Donald turned the puck over the defensive zone and Atkinson scored his first of the night.
That goal got the Eagles offense going and at 10:29, Atkinson lit the lamp again, this time from the slot on a one-timer. That goal spelled the end of the night for Rondeau, who was replaced by Billy Blase (eight saves), but Yale’s goaltender woes weren’t over.
Joe Whitney gave BC a 6-2 lead, catching Blase too deep in his crease at 14:46.
Then Yale made its first attempt at a comeback. Arcobello scored his second of the game, firing a shot off a BC defender’s stick over Muse right shoulder at 17:10. And then just 1:17 later, Saturday’s hero Denny Kearney redirected a shot on the power play through Muse’s legs to give Yale life, down just 6-4 heading to the third.
The Eagles, though, hoped they put things away early in the final frame. After Atkinson completed the hat trick at 4:16, finishing off a breakaway and knocking Blase from the net in favor of Jeff Malcolm (four saves), Jimmy Hayes scored twice in 23 seconds at 6:53 and 7:16, respectively, to open up a five-goal cushion.
Arcobello completed the hat trick for the Bulldogs with 6:28 remaining, Yale’s third power-play goal of the day. After O’Neill scored his second of the game with 4:05 remaining, Yale pulled its goaltender and Little redirected a shot out of midair with 1:22 left to get the Eli back within two.
Hope, though, ran out as the BC defense made its final stand, sending the club to Ford Field, where it will meet either Michigan or Miami in the second semifinal game on April 9.
“We had a lot of good and a lot of bad [tonight], but the good thing is we came out on the right side of it,” said BC senior Ben Smith. “It was one of those nights where [you wonder] who can score the most goals. And tonight we did that.”