The No. 1 Boston College Eagles appear to have picked right back up from where they were last April. Showing off the quick-counter transition attack that has become a hallmark of the team, the Eagles pounded the No. 6 Denver Pioneers 6-2 before a homecoming crowd of 6,036 at Magness Arena.
“Whenever over the last decade BC and DU have played, it’s been two nationally-ranked teams,” said Eagles coach Jerry York. “I was pleased with a lot of our game tonight, and just like I thought, I could see a lot of room for improvement.”
Over the years, both the Eagles and Pioneers have built their teams around speed, and there was plenty of it on display in the first period. Shots were even through the first 10 minutes, with neither team able to generate sustained pressure. Even the power plays, one for each, saw no goals.
The Eagles finally struck first on a pretty play that started in the neutral zone when Edwin Shea passed the puck to Cam Atkinson on the left side. A shallow two-on-one developed, and Atkinson fed Joe Whitney near the far right post. Whitney jammed the puck home high over Adam Murray’s left shoulder at 16:33 of the period.
“We move pucks very well, we read games and can make crisp backwards passes,” said York. “I thought we took too many penalties and had some stretches where we got out of synch a bit. Denver has a good club and it’s a miracle they didn’t score five-on-three.”
During a four-on-four minutes later, the Eagles had a golden chance to take the two-goal lead when Barry Alneida skated down the slot with the puck and shifted it to his backhand, but Murray made the tough save. On the ensuing rush, BC took a penalty at its own blue line, giving the Pioneers 47 seconds of five-on-three. A shot by David Makowski from the right point hit Muse and just trickled past the right post, and the Eagles took the one-goal lead into the first intermission.
“I think the key word is turnover,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “I thought they did a very good job in their coverages. We did a very poor job of managing the puck, especially in the last 40 minutes. Part of it was frustration. You’re down three, down four, and rather than try to maintain our game, all of a sudden guys try to do a little too much, and overhandle the puck. We played against a team that played very smart, a very talented team.”
BC picked up where it left off in the second. After killing off the reamaining penalty time, they grabbed the two-goal lead when Joe Whitney passed it to Patch Alber at the right point. Alber let go a slap shot that Murray stopped with his left pad, but the rebound bounced into the slot, and Atkinson grabbed it and backhanded it past Murray’s outstretched right pad at 1:27.
“I think something we try and do early on is get to where we were last year and find that chemistry again,” said Joe Whitney, who had a goal and two assists. “We’re really good friends, so it’s pretty easy to find it right away.”
With the two-goal lead, BC started to tilt the ice into its offensive zone, peppering Murray, who was left out to dry on several plays. At 9:17, off a three-on-two, Tommy Cross made it 3-0. Cross got a pass from Kevin Hayes, who was streaking up the left side. Cross took a step to the top of the slot and beat Murray with a wrist shot low stick side.
Less than a minute later, the Eagles made it 4-0. Breaking in three-on-one, Joe Whitney passed it to Pat Mullane near the bottom of the left circle. Mullane fed it back to Jimmy Hayes near the left circle faceoff dot, and Hayes let got a shot that hit the inside of Murray’s leg and trickled through at 10:16.
“They were the better team,” said Gwozdecky. “You can see they’ve got that top line of theirs of Whitney, Gibbons, and Atkinson, they’re tough to contain. When you give them opportunities, their first goal, we forgot to backcheck. It’s little miscues like that in our execution that you can’t do against top teams and top lines.”
In a bid to settle down his team, who had been outshot 9-1 to that point of the period and outscored 3-0, Gwozdecky called a timeout.It didn’t do any good. Off a turnover in the neutral zone, the Eagles raced in three-on-one, with Kevin Hayes carrying the puck up the left side. Hayes passed it to Steven Whitney on the right side, who fed it right back to Hayes. Hayes beat Murray top corner stick side with a wicked wrist shot at 12:41.
“I think we have some speedy guys on our team,” said Joe Whitney. “A lot of guys can skate, so we try to use that as one of our strengths, but it all starts with playing good defense in the neutral zone.”
After killing off a BC power play, Luke Salazar finally gave the Pioneers faithful something to cheer about. Coming down the slot, he got a pass from Jesse Martin, who was in the right corner. Salazar fired a quick wrist shot from the left hashmarks of the right circle and beat Muse low glove side at 15:35.
Salazar pulled the Pioneers within three on a pretty play at 4:50 of the third when he skated down the slot and reached for the puck with one hand on his stick and knocked it behind Eagles defenseman Brian Dumoulin, picked it up and roofed it top corner glove side.
Denver looked to have a golden chance right after that going on a power play, but the puck squirted behind Makowski at the right point and Brian Gibbons picked it up, racing alone down the left side boards. He cut across the crease and backhanded one top corner glove side past Murray at 7:48 to finish out the scoring.
Muse finished with 27 saves, while Murray had 28 saves.
“We played pretty well against an excellent Pioneer team,” said York. “It will be pretty interesting tomorrow night to come back and see if we can play 60 full minutes.”
“I think we will be better tomorrow night,” said Gwozdecky. “At this time of year, it’s never easy to lose, and to have a game that’s as one-sided as this one was, but certainly, we knew going in that there might be nights like this, especially early in the season. It’s the time of year where you figure out how we can work better, work smarter. That’s what we take out of this.”