BOSTON — It was a matchup between the Talented Upstart and the Grizzled Veteran. As so often happens, the Grizzled Veteran emerged victorious, in this case Boston College over Massachusetts, 3-0 on Friday in the Hockey East semifinals.
For UMass, the trip to the Garden was its first in 12 years, third all time, and first ever as a favorite and a number one seed.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, BC was making its fourth straight appearance, and under coach Jerry York had won nine Hockey East titles and gone 62-22-1 in the tournament.
Yet UMass was the decided favorite. This year, the Minutemen quickly became the standard-bearer for the league, spending most of the season in first place and ranked among the top teams in the country. As the number one tournament seed, they swept New Hampshire, albeit needing double overtime in the opener.
Regardless of its fate on this evening, UMass was assured of a berth in the NCAA tournament, almost certainly as a No. 1 seed.
By contrast, Boston College struggled to an uncharacteristic seventh-place finish. It lost seven of its last eight regular season games, then needed three games in the quarterfinals to get past Providence.
With barely a win in nonconference play to go with its seventh place finish, BC entered the tournament knowing it had to win it to gain entrance into the NCAAs.
Desperation and experience combined for a powerful and winning elixir for the Eagles.
“Nobody wants to give up their sticks,” York said. “We fully understood if we didn’t win tonight our sticks were gone. We love hockey. So there was a little more desperation in our game.”
UMass did not match the Eagles’ desperation and quality of play.
“They were playing with purpose tonight and desperation and the appropriate enthusiasm for a game of this magnitude,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “My team just wasn’t.
“Very discouraging. It was a big opportunity for our program. Honestly, [it was] one of the poorer games we played this year.”
Carvel gave credit to BC for its part in his team’s sub-par performance.
“They had a very strong game plan,” he said. “They competed harder than we did. There aren’t many nights this year I’d say we got out-competed.”
While York downplayed the experience factor, Carvel considered it a major factor in why his team faltered on the Garden’s big stage.
“It was definitely a factor that we didn’t want to discuss all week with the kids,” Carvel said. “We didn’t want to give them an excuse.
“But I’m sure most of the kids on the Boston College team have played six to eight to ten games here. That was a distinct advantage. For our kids, this was a big stage that they’re not used to.”
As a result, the game played like home ice for the Eagles even though UMass fans overwhelmed their BC counterparts in both numbers and volume.
BC goaltender Joseph Woll also was a force, stopping all 36 shots he faced.
In the end, Boston College became the first seventh seed to advance to a Hockey East championship game. York also collected his 63rd Hockey East tournament win, breaking a tie with BU legend Jack Parker for tops in the league. York also collected his 600th win at BC.
UMass had the advantage in the first period, but Woll sparkled, especially midway through the period with tough saves on Mitchell Chaffee and Jake Gaudet and then later on Chaffee and Jack Suter.
Then with 13 seconds remaining in the first, BC struck. Top scorer David Cotton received a puck from behind the net and roofed a backhander short side for the 1-0 lead.
Arguably, the critical, late-period goal added to UMass’s uncertainty on the big stage.
In the second, BC got a glittering opportunity to widen the lead midway through the period with a 1:15 five-on-three advantage. Control of the game seemed ripe for the taking. Instead, the Minutemen killed both penalties with Filip Lindberg making a gigantic, potentially game-saving stop on Julius Mattila.
Appearing rejuvenated, the Minutemen went on the attack, swarming until they forced a penalty. BC’s penalty kill, however, rose to the challenge as did its team defense through the rest of the period and arguably much of the game.
“We checked really well,” York said. “Covering people, whether it was on the forecheck, making it difficult to break out of the zone or backchecking to limit their chances. We played in synch and very cohesive through all three zones.”
A BC two-on-one at 12:36 of the third period, pounded a deciding nail in UMass’s coffin. J.D. Dudek passed from the right wing across to Chris Grando who put it into the open net.
Mattila added an open-netter with 38 seconds remaining in regulation.
Boston College plays Northeastern on Saturday for the Hockey East title and an opportunity to, as York would say, “keep their sticks” for the NCAA tournament.