Denver gets better of matchup of elite defensemen against Boston College

Denver scored three goals in the third to pull away from Boston College (photo: Matt Eisenberg).

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — With each team skating three NHL draft picks on defense, goals figured to be at a premium Saturday between Denver and Boston College in the opening game of the East Regional.

The game appeared to be shaping up as a tight defensive matchup, but the Pioneers scored two goals in a span of 59 seconds midway through the third period to turn a 2-1 lead into a 4-1 advantage.

That was too much to overcome for a Boston College team that wasn’t its usual high-scoring self this season. The Eagles cut it to 4-2 on Ryan Fitzgerald’s power-play goal late in the third, but Denver responded with an empty-net goal to make it 5-2.

“We had a couple of good chances to get it to 2-2, but Denver played well and they deserved to go on,” Boston College coach Jerry York said.

It was only the second NCAA tournament win for Denver since 2005, when the Pioneers won the second of two straight national titles. Denver made the tournament seven straight years entering this season, but lost in the first round each time with the exception of 2011. Last year’s loss came against the Eagles, with BC erupting for six goals en route to winning the Northeast Regional in Worcester, Mass.

The Pioneers’ defense not only held the Eagles to 13 shots on goal through the first two periods and 24 in the game but contributed offensively as well. Senior Hobey Baker Award finalist Joey LeLeggia’s power-play goal made it 1-0 at 4:48 in the first, while Will Butcher scored the first of Denver’s two quick-strike goals in the third period.

“Our defensemen being active is a huge part of our system,” Butcher said. “Moving off pucks and creating some space for ourselves is a big key to success for our team.”

LeLeggia’s goal was his 14th of the season, the second-most by a defenseman in the nation, trailing only the 15 scored by Notre Dame’s Robbie Russo.

“They have some skilled defensemen. They moved the puck pretty well, so we found ourselves chasing some pucks,” York said. “I thought it was a good, solid effort by our team, but Denver was just a touch better.”

In turn, the Pioneers’ forwards were able to keep Boston College’s talented defensive group, which includes a likely first-round pick in freshman Noah Hanifin, from making much of an impact in the game.

“I think our puck pressure [did well], not letting their defensemen really possess the puck, especially in the neutral zone,” Denver coach Jim Montgomery said.

“You’re not going to shut down that D corps all night long, but for the most part our forwards were very conscious and did a great job of making sure the puck got out of their hands quickly,” he added.

Arnold comes up big for Denver

Denver junior captain and fourth-line winger Grant Arnold entered Saturday’s game with no goals this season and only three in 113 career games. He nearly equaled his collegiate total in the third period alone, snapping a shot past Demko from the low slot at 9:04, and then sealed the game with an empty-net goal in the closing minutes of the game.

“It was an awesome time to score the first one, that’s for sure,” Arnold said. “My mindset in the playoffs has always been that it’s a new season, so one game, [two goals] for me so far.”


    • Glad east enders approve, how do they feel about Harvard? The Dunk is nice place to see a hockey game, at least this evening I will have rooting interest. Good thing, I left 80 degrees for snow. Had friends text me they watched game on mute, Barry Melrose is a moron and they always have him do DU games.

      • Poor lighting showed on TV, too… Dark with blue gray ice. I watched the game mute, but more because of the other guy. Northeast guys did a good job, for having limited knowledge of the Minnesotas… Didn’t let poor commentary get in the way of the games.
        Your boys should win it today… Don’t see PCs “home ice” being an excuse. DU is the better team… A big fan of the coach since his UMaine playing days. Good luck today.
        On another note… I have to pull for RIT (my wife is a graduate) vs UNO and a 3rd NCHC in FF. They’ve have developed a very good program with strong fan support that deserves a stronger conference… Beating Mankato is no big surprise, no question they would be competitve in the WCHA or ECAC.

        • RIT plays a very good team game, always have. They don’t get notoriety like other “names” but continue to impress. Luckily, since I will see DU game live and won’t have to mute the moron.

          • Melrose goes to the closest regional to Bristol CT.

            I know we could get better, but at least Buchigross and Melrose care about the sport, unlike the majority of ESPN.

      • We have no more animus towards Harvard or Northeastern than any other team. We save it all for Newton College.

        My wife commented on the lighting for TV. It was bad, especially compared to the other regional venues.

        I visited DU campus for work a few years ago, but the Pioneers were on the road when I was there. I would have liked to have seen a game at Magness.

  1. No surprise here… Denver’s forwards were visibly more talented and quicker, especially between the blue lines. LeLeggia a very exciting player.
    Can’t see DU losing today.


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