WORCESTER, Mass. — When Boston College was dispatched by Notre Dame in the Hockey East quarterfinals, there were whispers about the Eagles’ fall from dominance entering the NCAA tournament.
But it took just 25 ticks of the clock for those whispers to be drowned out by a chorus of cheers inside the DCU Center, celebrating an effortless Johnny Gaudreau goal — the first of three — and the start of a 6-2 romp for Boston College over Denver as the Eagles advanced to the Northeast Regional final.
2014 NCAA Northeast Regional
It was a harbinger of things to come: a figurative cake-walk for the Eagles’ top line, which accounted for all six BC goals and combined for 13 points on the afternoon.
It continued a run of disappointment for Denver in the postseason. Since winning back-to-back national championships in 2004 and 2005, the Pioneers have faced seven exits at the regional level in as many NCAA tournament appearances — and only one victory during that span.
But Montgomery remained proud of his team’s efforts to date, coming from a mid-pack season to win the inaugural NCHC playoff championship.
“They lost their mentor,” Montgomery said of former Denver coach George Gwozdecky, “For them to overcome that, regroup, win a championship in a really tough conference … it’s a great feat. It’s building blocks for next year, but there are no guarantees. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Despite a two-week layoff, the Eagles came ready to play, as evidenced by the sharpness of their top line, one which had been quieted in their most recent outing. Coach Jerry York intended to lean on the line for production.
“Our game plan was to play that line at least 24 minutes,” York noted, adding that TV timeouts during the game helped extend the line’s minutes on the night: “You can’t do that during the regular season.”
“Since we were off so long, it was finally good to get another game in,” Gaudreau said. “We had a lot of practice throughout these two weeks, and we focused a lot on little things that [made] us lose against Notre Dame.”
It wasn’t so much the little things that contributed to the Eagles’ first strike, but their relentless puck possession.
As the Eagles cycled the puck in the left corner, it attracted a cluster of Denver skaters to attempt a takeaway, but the resulting space left Gaudreau wide open in the left circle for a slap shot past Sam Brittain (20 saves).
The ease of the opening goal — and perhaps more accurately, the goal scorer — seemed to immediately deflate the Denver bench.
“They came out and gave us more than we could handle,” Pioneers defenseman David Makowski said. “We had two D-men caught in the corner, and [Gaudreau] can be pretty elusive.”
Even after ratcheting up the dosage of collisions in the minutes to follow, the Pioneers were matched (and soon outmatched) by the Eagles winning battles along the boards.
Without facing much of a response — or resistance — the Eagles continued to overwhelm the Pioneers in the attacking zone. At 5:30, Bill Arnold dug the puck out of the corner, handing it off to Kevin Hayes, who proceeded to skate to the blue line, then drive back toward the goal, shoveling the puck past Brittain.
At that stage, if Denver could put together a few good shifts in the defensive zone, a reasonable deficit could have been preserved.
But after a power play that came up empty, the Eagles cashed in with a classic Gaudreau goal: After an outlet from Mike Matheson, Gaudreau carried the puck solo into the attacking zone, evading Denver backcheckers, circling the Pioneers’ net and wrapping it under Brittain’s left pad.
With the BC lead at 3-0, Montgomery was finally compelled to use his timeout, but it was to no avail: The Eagles outshot the Pioneers 16-3 in the frame and continued to pour it on.
Up 5-0 in the second period, Matheson seemingly was in the perfect spot to bring the blue line into the scoring party, but got stonewalled by Brittain. The save drew Brittain out of his crease, and with the puck dribbling to Gaudreau on the goal line, he took advantage of a bank-shot opportunity to fire it off Brittain and into the goal, recording his first collegiate hat trick after 117 games.
It was also Gaudreau’s sixth point of the game, tying an NCAA regional record.
Though a handful of hats were tossed on the ice, the Eagles are eager for the opportunity to receive one with far greater value Sunday night: a regional championship cap.