Sunday, February 21, 2016
A little under a year after suffering one of the most devastating losses in program history, the Eagles completed a two game sweep of Vermont with a 4-1 win on Saturday night. I guess there is no way to know this but you have to assume that they talked all week about how upsetting that quarterfinal loss was. They saw the videos last March, they saw the UVM bench celebrating like they had just won the National Championship, and I'm sure it left a bitter taste. With Providence sweeping Notre Dame, the Eagles now hold a one game lead on the Friars for first place in Hockey East and since BC has the tiebreaker, a win on Friday night vs Lowell would clinch the regular season title. More importantly, BC is now third in the pairwise standings, although the difference between them and North Dakota (4th) is marginal. Based on an article I read last night, BC has all but clinched a spot in the NCAA tournament, their 7th consecutive appearance in the dance.
I thought BC played well, much better than Friday night. The opening period was their strongest of the weekend as they put 15 shots on freshman goalie Packy Munson but for the most part, he stood tall. BC dominated the opening ten minutes of the game, which included some point blank looks, but Munson was up to the task and it was the Catamounts who struck first when Mario Puskarich tallied UVM's only power play goal of the weekend. The call that gave UVM the man advantage was suspicious after they let a clear hook on Vermont go before Casey Fitzgerald said a few words to one of the refs. I try not to complain much about the calls, and for the majority of the weekend it was even, but they missed two or three penalties on Vermont before whistling Casey. BC did a solid job in the first half of the kill but after a failed clearing attempt, Vermont had a 2 on 1 down low and Puskarich had the presence of mind to get the puck to the net. I am not sure how it snuck under Demko because I thought he had the post covered but it eventually got through. It was UVM's first power play goal in nine attempts on the weekend. Once again, the Eagles responded with a string of terrific shifts and were given a power play of their own. Just seconds after it expired, Adam Gilmour banged home his 11th of the season. Frankly, Gilmour does not get many accolades but over the past month and a half, he has been one of their most consistent skaters. The staff has obviously noticed his strong play as they placed him on the second power play unit for the first time all season. Interestingly enough, they have him playing the left point but I thought the junior looked fine- he got pucks to the net and made a couple of good looks which resulted in some quality chances.
In the second, BC got back to taking stupid penalties. As you probably know, I'm the first one to call out officials when there is a bad call but the most glaring issue right now is that the majority of BC's penalties are the results of boneheaded decisions. Thankfully, Thatcher Demko was there to save the day. I don't think he was as good as he was on Friday, but it was certainly one of his better performances of the season. Vermont did everything they could to outnumber BC in front of the net and that gave way to a few rebounds that would have been goals it weren't for Demko. The reason why their penalty kill has been so good is because their entire lineup is full of guys that can be relied on to get a kill. Most teams have 6 forwards and 4 defenseman that play PK but in BC's case, 10 of their 12 forwards got regular time on the penalty kill last night, including Travis Jeke, who I thought played his best game of the season. Outside of McCoshen and Santini, the go to defenseman on the man down seems to be Michael Kim. He isn't the biggest player on the ice but he is very good at handling the puck below the net and making smart decisions. The skaters did their part but you can't go 14 for 15 on the penalty kill if your goaltender is not up to the task. Good teams are going to generate chances from all over the ice and Vermont did that, but Demko stoned almost everything they brought.
There were striking similarities between the third period last night and the one from last March. Of course, the latter was a playoff game and had more importance but if BC had lost on Saturday, it could have ended their bid for the #1 overall seed. However, the mentality difference, at least from my perspective, is like day and night. In 2015, if we were tied or down a goal heading into the third period, anyone who told you they thought BC was going to win would have been straight up lying. Fast forward 345 days and there was no chance they were losing that game last night after killing three second period penalties. Two minutes into the final stanza, Austin Cangelosi scored his fourth goal in as many games, which gave BC the lead for good. It was an odd angle shot and I think he was just trying to get the puck on net but Munson made his first glaring error of the weekend. Instead of staying back and allowing the opponent to bring the puck up the ice, which happened far too often against Merrimack, BC continued to pressure Vermont in the neutral zone and forced a bunch of turnovers, one of which led to Ryan Fitzgerald's team leading 18th goal of the season. Colin White, who had a terrific weekend, made a nifty cross ice pass to Fitzgerald, who roofed a snap shot past Munson. How many times over the past three years have we seen Fitzgerald score from just outside the circle thanks to his deadly shot? After failing to get on the scoresheet Friday, he led the way with 3 points on Saturday and is just one behind White for the team lead.
Vermont certainly had its chances to get back in the game as Miles Wood was penalized twice in a span of ten minutes, while Zach Sanford also went off for a hook. BC has to figure out a way to stay out of the box. They can't take 7 or 8 penalties in the NCAA tournament against a team like North Dakota because if they do, it won't be pretty. They're clearly the best team in the country (by a long shot if you ask me) but when they spend over a quarter of the game a man down, anyone in the country can beat them. With regards to Wood, he has been doing a much better job of keeping his composure over the past few weeks (outside of the Beanpot) but the goaltender interference penalty was stupid. Not only is he one of their best players, he is arguably the most reliable penalty killer and when he is not on the ice, it takes away from BC's ability to pressure the points and stretch the zone. As they did all weekend, BC killed off Wood's second penalty and the ensuing Sanford infraction with relative ease.
Overall, awesome weekend of hockey for the Eagles. They didn't play their best, especially on Friday, but they continue to fight back, even when the opponent scores first. On the offensive side of things, Ryan Fitzgerald and Cangelosi led the way which goes to show how far both guys have come in a span of three years. At times last year, some fans were complaining about their stuttering development but their production to this point is just another case where the staff has developed good players into great players. I've said this numerous times already but no one would have thought Cangelosi would have over 30 points on the season, especially not in late February. I've always thought that if you have the speed and skill, which he clearly does, then the staff can help you take your game to another level and Cangelosi is a prime example of that. I can't wait to see what he does over these next few weeks. On the defensive end, Casey Fitzgerald was their best guy. Someone posed this question to me last night and it's a good one to think about- where does he rank in terms of freshmen defensemen in the last decade? For me, Mike Matheson came to mind because his rookie campaign was sensational, as was Brian Dumoulin's, but there is no doubt that Casey Fitz has achieved a tremendous amount of success in his first year on The Heights. Fitzgerald was the only BC blue liner to record a point last night, which is surprising given that BC has had consistent production from the back end all season. Of course, the most valuable player this weekend was Thatcher Demko. Without his performances, they don't come home with four points, perhaps not even two. The players in front of him did a much better job of blocking shots and keeping opportunities to the outside but when UVM penetrated the zone, #30 was there. Going forward, the obvious area of concern is penalties but if they can figure those out, I like their chances against anybody in the country.
Why BC won-
1. Thatcher Demko and the penalty kill. Coach Ayers' unit went 14 for 15 on the weekend, largely because of their netminder's stellar play.
2. Fitzgerald brothers were sensational. Five points combined for Casey and Ryan.
3. The junior class is making a huge impact on this team. When guys like Gilmour, Cangelosi, and Santini are playing at that level, boy, this team is scary good.
1. Penalties. You can't be yelling at the ref or running over goalies in games like these when the stakes are high. I'm sure the staff will address this issue over the course of the week.
Players of the game- Thatcher Demko and Ryan Fitzgerald
Next- Lowell next weekend for two. A win clinches the regular season title.