BOSTON – Forget the clichés about outdoor hockey being a “throwback.” Hockey played outdoors in a baseball or football stadium is a relatively recent phenomenon. But if one team can lay claim to being accustomed to the experience, it’s Boston College.
The Eagles looked comfortable on the Fenway Park ice after stepping out to a 2-0 first period lead and fending off two Notre Dame comebacks to win 4-3 on Saturday night. Junior forward Johnny Gaudreau again headlined the Eagles’ efforts, pocketing two goals (including the game-winner) to extend his point-scoring streak to a career-high 14 games.
“Our juniors and seniors have all played here before, and that’s helped a lot,” BC coach Jerry York remarked.
This was the Eagles’ third game at Fenway in the last five years; the have appeared in each iteration of Frozen Fenway so far. Not surprisingly, even with the opportunity for an hour-long practice on Friday, the Eagles left the ice after just 35 minutes, already re-acclimated to the elements and the Green Monster as their backdrop.
Having played at Soldier Field last year, the Irish are no strangers to outdoor hockey either. Yet they were sluggish at the outset, affording BC way too much time in the offensive zone. The Eagles capitalized, scoring twice below the faceoff dots in the opening 10 minutes and jumping ahead to a 2-0 lead.
“It was a little bit on us; we haven’t played in a month, we weren’t quite game ready for whatever reason,” said Notre Dame forward Bryan Rust. “We were prepared for this team but didn’t come out as hard as we should have.”
The Irish got on the board for the first time at 15:20 when Robbie Russo carried the puck to the goal line, delaying long enough to find a trailing Mario Lucia, who slammed it into the goal, cutting the deficit to 2-1.
That goal seemed to bring the Irish to life, as they kept pressuring in the final minutes of the period, frustrating the Eagles in the process. With time expiring, Michael Sit, taking matters into his own hands, smashed Irish assistant captain T.J. Tynan into the boards from behind, resulting in a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct.
Tynan got his revenge as the second period began, tying the game on Notre Dame’s first rush of the power play when Bryan Rust centered the puck to Tynan for the easy finish just 23 seconds in. With the bulk of penalty time still on the board, it could have been a sour turning point in the game for BC, but despite a few close calls, the Eagles hunkered down and killed off the rest of the penalty to keep the game tied.
Notre Dame continued to play with an edge after that Sit major penalty, almost to a fault; they afforded BC six chances on the power play in the final two periods, but managed to dodge each bullet.
“Our team’s always pride themselves being disciplined and not taking unnecessary penalties,” Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said. “For some reason, there’s a lot more penalties this year. That’s something that we have to find a way to overcome.”
Despite coming up empty on the power play, the increased offensive zone time allowed the Eagles to shift momentum and open up the game. As is the norm, the Eagles thrive in transition.
In the opening five minutes of the third period and short-handed, Kevin Hayes sprung the puck free along the benches and slid the puck across to Bill Arnold on the rush, who knocked it past Steven Summerhays (17 saves) to snatch the lead, 3-2. Hayes received the bulk of the praise for the goal.
“He’s a force, every game,” Arnold said of Hayes. “He and Johnny [Gaudreau] are probably two of the top players in the country. It’s a lot of fun to play with guys like that.”
“He’s just figured out that ‘I am big and I have strength and that’s how I have to play to be successful,’” York said. “He’s always fought that [temptation] to toe-drag and be a fancy player.”
Notre Dame responded just three minutes later with a gorgeous snipe from the right circle by Bryan Rust, picking up a loose puck and firing it top shelf on Brian Billett (20 saves).
Yet in a season defined by Johnny Gaudreau’s knack for scoring timely and important goals, Gaudreau added yet another resume item to his Hobey Baker Award candidacy. At 8:21, Gaudreau received a pass with pinpoint accuracy from Kevin Hayes on the rush and finished it off to give the Eagles the lead for good, 4-3.
The Eagles fended off a late push from Notre Dame, including a last-second effort to knock the puck over the goal line with a dogpile in front of the net. By the time the final review had concluded and the Eagles could celebrate the win, the temperature had dropped to 21 degrees, and the ice surface was somewhat brittle after a bitterly cold 24-hour period, leading to the only universal complaint of the night.
“I’d like to get the ice almost like it was indoor ice, and that would be perfect,” York said.
The grounds crew will have another chance to improve on their formula next Saturday when Northeastern takes on Massachusetts-Lowell and Boston University plays Maine in a doubleheader to wrap up ice hockey at Fenway Park in 2014.