|Photo from BC Athletics|
Despite 7 trips to the penalty box, Boston College picked up its fourth Hockey East regular season title in six years and fourteenth overall. First and foremost, what a performance from Thatcher Demko- I didn't think he could top what he did versus Vermont a week ago but he was a brick wall out there. As good as BC's penalty kill is, when you're in the box for a quarter of the game, you're inevitably going to give up some high quality looks and Lowell got a few those, especially in the second period. One sequence that stood out to me was when the River Hawks made a terrific backdoor pass in the slot for what appeared to be an easy one-time goal but Demko slid over to make the stop. Lowell tried to get pucks to the net through screens and redirects but it was to avail, thanks to BC's star netminder and the Eagles' ability to get in front of shots. The problem, in my mind, was that BC played seven or eight skaters for most of the second half because they were on the penalty kill so often. Miles Wood and Austin Cangelosi played practically the entire game, Ryan Fitzgerald had an outstanding performance despite White's absence, and even Joey Dudek got some quality time on the man down. In my mind, you can't win championships in this sport without having three (or four) legit scoring lines. Look at Yale, Union, and Providence- none of those teams had elite top end talent up front but each consisted of four lines that could play big minutes in clutch situations. Once Calnan is back, I think BC will have four lines that pose a threat at any moment.
The first fifteen minutes of the game were all BC. They generated a few great looks on goaltender Kevin Boyle and were rewarded when Ryan Fitzgerald tallied his team leading 19th goal of the season after redirecting a Matthew Gaudreau backhander. I don't think anyone thought that Fitzgerald would be playing this well at this point in his BC career. He had a good freshman year, an up and down sophomore campaign, but man has he burst onto the scene in 2016. I was a little concerned as to whether or not he would be able to keep up his production without Colin White (we'll get to that) but he was BC's best forward last night and has been in the month of February. 9 points in the past 5 games for the North Reading native. When you're playing a sound defensive team like Lowell, getting out to a two goal lead is paramount and the fact that Teddy Doherty was able to give BC that edge was an awesome sight. You won't find many players that exemplify all that is right with BC Hockey quite like Doherty does- he is a tremendous leader and will step into any role the staff ask of him. At any level, especially Hockey East, it is not easy to make the transition from defense to forward but he has done so with relative ease. Of course, it helps when you're playing with two of the best players in the league. Sanford made a fantastic play when he blocked a shot on a Lowell power play and went in for a breakaway- only to be the victim of an unreal save. Unfortunately, the two goal advantage did not last as Lowell's Adam Chapie forced a bad turnover in the BC defensive zone before roofing a shot past Thatcher Demko. I said this in the preview and I'll say it again- no team capitalizes on your mistakes more so than Lowell. They don't create a lot of 5 on 5 offensive but when you give them opportunities, they will take advantage.
The second period was eerily similar to the one versus Merrimack a few Saturdays ago- sans the goals. BC gave Lowell three power plays in a span of 6 minutes but thanks to Demko's heroics, they were able to kill it off. I think it is remarkable that they had the same guys playing for that entire span and still found a way to keep the River Hawks off the board. With White gone, it takes away their #3 penalty killer and they had to scramble to find options but Dudek came in and got the job done. With regards to the penalties, I have run out of things to say. As good as these guys are, and boy are they loaded, you can't win a National Title taking 7 or 8 penalties a game. In my mind, there is a distinct difference between a good penalty and a bad penalty and BC seems to be taking way more of the former. Ian McCoshen played a fabulous game, one of his best of the season, but for the second straight game, he took a bad slashing penalty by wacking somebody's stick 15 feet into the air. You can't do that. Outside of Demko, McCoshen might be their most valuable player and they need him on the penalty kill. The staff will certainly review the tape and pick out what penalties they deemed as "good" or "bad" but when I look back on the game, not many of BC's penalties were awful calls. If they take 7 penalties on the road tonight in a building where they have had little success in the past, it will be a tough go.
The third period contained one of the most head scratching decisions I have ever witnessed. I should preface my comments by saying that I think Norm Bazin is top 5, maybe top 3, coaches in college hockey. The guy is a hockey wizard and what he has done with that Lowell program is nothing short of remarkable. That being said, I have never seen a coach pull a goaltender down one goal with 3:30 left, while on a power play. Immediately after Sanford won the draw, Ryan Fitzgerald fired the puck 150 feet down the ice and into the net, all but icing the regular season title. I see the reasoning behind Bazin's move- they were not creating any offense on the power play and pulling the goalie early is his M.O. but against this team, in that situation, I don't know if that was the right move. Amazingly, after the man advantage expired and Lowell had another offensive zone draw, Bazin refused to pull Boyle and decided to play 5 on 5 before Lowell took their third penalty of the game.
All in all, solid defensive performance from BC but I think overall, they can be a lot better. Lowell does a nice job of limiting your offensive zone chances through the neutral zone and it was a boring hockey game but once again, BC showed they can win at any cost. Obviously, the Eagles don't want to play at that pace but they can play as good, if not better, in their own end than any team in the country. I was very impressed with Miles Wood and Austin Cangelosi. Outside of Fitzgerald, they were BC's best forwards due to their stout defense. Together, they put so much pressure on opponents' defenseman at the point and it forces them into some bad errors that usually leads to chances on the BC end of the ice. Outside of Chris Kreider, I don't think any BC forward in the Coach York era has had the size and speed that Miles Wood possesses- he was an animal out there.
I know it was senior night and even though they will play at least two more games at Conte Forum, I just want to congratulate Teddy Doherty, Brendan Silk, Peter McMullen, Travis Jeke, and the two senior managers on their outstanding careers. All the staff can ask of these guys is that they represent Boston College well in all facets of their lives and they have gone beyond that. Hopefully, they add a few more trophies in the coming weeks.
Why BC Won-
1. Thatcher Demko. I think he should be a Hobey finalist without a doubt.
2. Ryan Fitzgerald, Miles Wood, and Austin Cangelosi all played at a high level. Fitzgerald has been on fire as of late.
3. Penalty kill. Coach Ayers' unit has gone 21 for 22 over the past three games. Incredible.
1. BC had over a minute and a half of 5 on 3 in the second period but was unable to convert. Give Boyle credit, he made some great stops.
2. They have to play better tonight. Lowell plays well in their own barn and BC has had issues there recently. Hopefully, they're ready to play.
3. Penalties. I've run out of things to say.
Notes- Colin White was out with an upper body injury (not head). He is doubtful for tonight but should be back for the playoffs. Not long term.
Players of the game- Ryan Fitzgerald and Thatcher Demko
Next- @ Lowell tonight. 7 PM on NESN.