CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — For much of this season, Boston College and New Hampshire have ranked 1A and 1B in Hockey East. Not anymore. With a dominating 5-2 win, Boston College staked claim as the league’s clear number one team. Although UNH will have its opportunity to counter back at home on Saturday, the Wildcats will be hard-pressed to answer with as impressive a performance as BC displayed.
The Eagles had struggled of late, getting shellacked by Minnesota in the Mariucci Classic and having to settle for ties with Providence and Yale. Apparently all that ailed the Eagles however, was Johnny Gaudreau’s absence for the World Junior Championship.
The dynamic sophomore, who led Team USA to a gold medal, returned in fine form, scoring a goal and adding two stellar assists to spark the offense. (An intermission video also featured him, showing highlights to the tune of Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode.) Linemate Pat Mullane scored twice off Gaudreau’s passes.
“He makes special plays,” Mullane said. “He sees the ice better than just about anyone I’ve ever played with. When I give him the puck, it’s my job to get open and find those lanes. If I do my job, Johnny’s so good at finding those special passes and he did that tonight.
“It’s special to watch and fun to play with.”
Bill Arnold, Kevin Hayes, Destry Straight, and Steven Whitney also contributed multiple points.
BC coach Jerry York, who recently became the all-time winningest coach in college hockey, missed the game due to surgery to repair a detached retina. He will also miss Saturday’s rematch. Associate coaches Mike Cavanaugh and Greg Brown led the Eagles in York’s absence.
“Make no mistake about it,” Cavanaugh said. “This is Jerry’s program. Greg and I just ran it how he wanted it run.”
UNH coach Dick Umile didn’t try to hide his disappointment in his team’s play.
“We stood around and watched them executing three-on-twos without picking people up in the defensive zone,” Umile said. “We just gave them great scoring opportunities and they finished them. It would have been nice if we picked people up and made them work for it.”
The Wildcats came into the game ranked fourth nationally to BC’s number three and only two points behind in the standings with a game in hand. The once-miniscule gap, however, appears much larger now.
“This game is over,” Umile said. “We didn’t play our best game tonight, especially defensively. We better wake up tomorrow night.”
Goaltender Casey DeSmith, who set a UNH record for the longest scoreless streak earlier in the year, was replaced by Jeff Wyer heading into the third period. Wyer did not allow a goal. Umile was noncommittal as to the starter for Saturday’s contest. Greg Burke, who suffered a head injury, is not expected to play.
New Hampshire got on the board first, capitalizing after Matt Willows forced a turnover behind the BC net and fed it in front to Jay Camper. The sophomore stuffed it home for his second goal of the season.
The lead proved short-lived, however. Soon after he was foiled on a point-blank shot, Arnold carried the puck up the right wing, swung down low and fed Hayes in the slot, where he roofed it into the net.
In the closing minutes of the period, BC took a lead it would never relinquish on a collaborative effort from its top line, with a healthy dollop of ice vision by Gaudreau. Whitney passed from the right boards to Gaudreau, who was racing in through the right slot. Gaudreau then backhanded a sweet drop pass to Mullane, who ripped it home.
Gaudreau extended the lead himself five minutes into the second period. Destry Straight threaded a pass to him at the blue line and the dynamic sophomore raced in on a partial breakaway. As a defender closed in and forced him to his backhand, Gaudreau roofed it past DeSmith.
Ten minutes later, Gaudreau again found Mullane, this time whirling near the end line and firing a pass to his linemate. Mullane, who’d taken advantage of sloppy UNH defensive play and snuck free at the far post, one-timed it in.
The contest turned into a rout on Arnold’s goal in the final minute of the second. Hayes coasted in on the left wing and dropped a pass back to an open Arnold, who beat DeSmith to make it 5-1.
Kevin Goumas scored 37 seconds into the third, but even though the Wildcats generated 13 shots in the period, they couldn’t narrow the margin.