Not those two again!
No one could be heard uttering those words after Boston College and Boston University won their first-round NCAA Northeast Regional contests to set up a sixth meeting between the two archrivals. While jealous devotees of competing schools might tire of seeing the two going at it, most casual observers considered it a dream matchup.
The rivalry and close proximity of both schools to Worcester would help fill the building. If past results were indicative of what was to come, the crowd would be noisy, the action exciting and the drama in abundance. TV ratings would be maximized.
After all, in their five previous meetings this year, only once had the margin failed to be just a single goal and even that time the score had been tied well into the third period. The other two regular season matchups, the Beanpot championship game and the Hockey East title tilt had all been nailbiters, with the league championship game going into overtime for good measure.
So there would certainly be drama in a BU-BC clash with it elevated further with a trip to the Frozen Four at stake. There would also be individual matchups within the team matchup. All Hockey East First-Team goaltender John Curry for BU against second-team selection Cory Schneider. The Big-Little matchup on the first lines between BC’s Brian Boyle at 6-7, 240 pounds and BU’s Brad Zancanaro at 5-5, 170.
How great was all that going to be?
The only problem from a BC perspective was that BU had won four in a row head-to-head. Eagles coach Jerry York wasn’t kidding himself that his team was destined to get the bounces this time.
“We have to be better,” he said. “They’ve won all the close games. We had a lot of preparation going into the Hockey East championship game with them, but we still came up one goal short.”
Preparation was hardly necessary for this one.
“This was a regional where [BU and BC] just had to prepare for two teams,” York said. “Breaking down the tape, we had to look at Nebraska-Omaha and Miami.”
And yet the two familiar rivals were facing each other in the NCAA tournament for only the second time. The commonplace was actually quite the rarity. Of the 233 times they had met, the only time it had come in the national tourney had been in the 1978 title game. BU had earned its third NCAA title that evening with a 5-3 win.
This time, the clash of the two rivals lived up to expectations only for a short while. The drama evaporated in the second period, the individual matchups were decidedly one-sided and one uncharacteristic factor piled on top of another for a 5-0 BC win.
As expected, the vocal BU students, clad in scarlet and white jerseys, began to serenade BC goalie Cory Schneider at first opportunity during warm-ups, more than half an hour before the game. They weren’t wishing him well. They then turned to chant the name of their guy in the nets, Johnny Curry, before moving on to Villanova, the school which had dealt BC’s basketball team a crushing loss in its own NCAA tournament.
When the first puck was dropped, Zancanaro tossed the opening salvo in his battle with Boyle, winning the faceoff, but it was all downhill from there for BU.
Boyle scored at 6:24 off a defensive turnover. Five minutes later, Zancanaro went to the penalty box after taking down Boyle.
In the second period, Matt Greene gave BC a two-goal lead.
Then the BU roof caved in. Boyle made the play that was the beginning of the end. Playing back on defense during a penalty kill, he broke up a Pete MacArthur and Sean Sullivan two-on-one, knocking the puck off the boards up to where Joe Rooney collected it and broke in on a breakaway. Rooney scored on that shorthander and then another three and a half minutes later to make it 4-0 and lights out for BU.
Benn Ferriero would finish off the scoring in the third period, but the surprises were already complete.
BU, having lost only a single game in its last 22, had ended its year in depressing fashion, losing 5-0 to its archrival.
“It was a great season for us,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “It was hard to end it not going to the Frozen Four. We won everything we could possibly win in our league up until this point, but now we won’t get a chance to see if we could win the last one.
“The Beanpot, the regular season title and the Hockey East title are things that we’re happy to take home with us and cherish, but that all goes for naught tonight. I’m flabbergasted that we didn’t come out with the intensity and the focus that we needed.”
The individual matchups were every bit as one-sided. Cory Schneider recorded the first back-to-back shutouts in NCAA regional history while Curry, facing more breakaways in one game than he’d seen in a very long time looked decidedly mortal. Boyle vs. Zancanaro was similarly lopsided with BC’s Big Man selected to the all-tournament team. In truth, BC won most of the one-on-one battles.
“We didn’t watch a lot of film or have a game plan going in because we’d seen them enough and knew them well,” Schneider said. “We came out with good energy and buried them.”
Perhaps the most pleasing surprise of all came in the form of Rooney’s two shorthanded goals. The junior had been stuck in a goalscoring drought dating back to Jan. 7. Penalty killing, that most important but thankless of tasks, isn’t the venue typically prescribed to break such droughts.
But Rooney kept the faith, worked hard and eventually was rewarded for his efforts with the two backbreakers and a berth on the all-tournament team. It was the kind of story that had to evoke a smile from anyone not rooting for the Terriers.
“I take pride in killing penalties,” he said. “I’ve been killing penalties since I got here.
“The team was having a successful season so that made it a lot easier [to deal with not scoring]. I feel like I’ve been playing pretty well and been trying to do all the little things. It just hadn’t been going my way when it comes to scoring. All the guys on the team have kept me up and made sure I didn’t get down.
“As long as we were winning, I was okay with it.”
Perhaps the only predictable aspect to the game was that in the end of the lopsided match, tempers flared. York understood the emotions involved.
“It was a tough pill for BU to swallow,” he said. “They’ve had a terrific year. What they’ve accomplished [is impressive]: the Beanpot, the Hockey East championship and the regular season title.
“The pressure was all on BU tonight to advance to the Frozen Four. We were maybe the underdog in the series. It’s hard to be in that favorite role.”
With BC now headed to the Frozen Four, you won’t hear any Eagle fans complaining about how uncharacteristic this game was nor of how it lacked the expected drama.
The drama is just beginning.