|Zach Sanford had a goal for BC|
To be perfectly honest, as the overtime period was set to begin, I didn't have a great feeling about BC's chances of getting to the TD Garden for the first time in three years. Despite missing some of their best players, Vermont was outplaying the Eagles for much of the game and BC could not find a way to solve UVM's neutral zone trap. My worries were this close to coming to fruition as Vermont missed out on a winning goal by a quarter of an inch just thirty seconds into the extra session. Then, out of nowhere, Ryan Fitzgerald, as he has done all season, came through with a clutch play and punched BC's ticket to a big time Hockey East semifinal matchup with Northeastern next Friday night.
First things first, I want to tip my cap to Vermont. They were missing their best defenseman and one of their go to forwards for the past two games but I could not have been more impressed with the way they fought throughout the weekend. Let's be honest, it could have been a different result on Friday if it weren't for a few late Christmas gifts from Michael Santaguida and somehow, someway, that puck stayed out of the net early in overtime. They made life miserable for BC's high end forwards, many of whom were practically invisible for much of the series. UVM does not lose much to graduation so I expect them to be in the hunt for home ice next season- they're a good hockey team.
As for BC, I'd be lying to you if I said that I was not shocked they won that game. For the majority of the contest, I thought Vermont won more puck battles, forced a bunch of turnovers, and generated quality scoring chances, but thanks to Thatcher Demko and a little bit of luck, the Eagles will get a chance to face a red-hot Huskie club. Zach Sanford got the scoring started for the maroon and gold when he lifted a backhander past UVM goaltender Packy Munson just four minutes into the contest. It's no secret that Sanford is probably my favorite player on the team, he is uber talented, but I think he can take his game up a couple of levels from where it was this weekend. I thought Alex Tuch was the driving force behind much of the offense that line created because unlike some guys, he was flying around doing all the little things. One play that stood out to me was in the second period when BC was in the midst of a long shift and a defenseman sent the puck down the UVM end and it looked like and obvious ice. However, Tuch came out of nowhere and beat the Vermont defenseman to give BC a chance at a change. At points last season, some observers were questioning his effort and drive. Fast forward twelve months, and I don't think anyone looks more determined to win a National Title than #12.
Unfortunately, BC let the Catamounts back into the game when Craig Puffer redirected a Rob Hamilton point shot. Not sure how none of BC's forwards jumped out to the blue line to block what was a relatively weak shot. It has been an issue all season- they have given up over a dozen goals by refusing to get in front of shots from the point. BC does not have a single forward in the top 108 in terms of blocking shots (league only), per College Hockey Inc's stats page. UVM continued to control the pace when Sanford was whistled for an obvious slashing penalty towards the end of the period. Whether it was because of BC's superior penalty killing or UVM's inept power play, the Cats could not get anything going on the man advantage throughout the weekend. That being said, the fact that BC's PK has not allowed a goal in 26 straight attempts is astonishing.
The second period was a tale of two halves for the Eagles. They scored an early goal thanks to an unreal play from Colin White (who played well) but immediately after that goal, White negated a power play and UVM answered on the 4 on 4. BC failed to clear the puck on the wall, it came out to the point, once again got to the net area, and a bad bounce resulted in a bang-bang goal. After that, I thought the Eagles upped the intensity in the offensive end and actually created a few good looks but Munson was there to make the stops. I thought the biggest difference between last night and tonight was the play of White's line. Not only was he better, Ryan Fitzgerald had the puck on his stick more than anybody on the ice and was always looking to make something happen. The staff relegated Matthew Gaudreau to the fourth line in favor of Joey Dudek, which proved to be a genius move. After an eight game point streak in November, Gaudreau has had a rough go with just two points in the past fourteen games and is without a goal since December 6th. Hopefully, he can find his groove in time for the NCAAs.
I figured BC would come out flying in the third but as always, Blogger was wrong. Vermont gave the Eagles all sorts of issues in the defensive and neutral zones, which finally led to the go ahead goal with fifteen minutes left. It seemed as if disaster would strike once again.
If you had told me before the game that Joey Dudek would score arguably the most important goal of the season (outside of Tuch's missile in February), I'd have told you to check into Mass General. Nobody has played better over the past five games than Dudek and the staff gave him a chance to hook up with White and Fitzgerald, hoping he would provide a spark. Just after the halfway mark of the final stanza, the Auburn, New Hampshire native tipped home a Casey Fitzgerald slap shot, which eventually forced the game into overtime despite a few last minute pushes from the home team. I can't say enough about Dudek- he was not getting the ice time he wanted for almost the entire season and a lot of guys would have thrown it in the towel during those type of situations. Instead, he pulled through and scored what might be the biggest goal of his young hockey career.
Like I said in the first paragraph, I can't believe that puck did not roll past Thatcher Demko in overtime. I'm not a huge believer in superstitions and coincidences but maybe that is a good sign for what is to come next month. A few minutes after that heart stopper, BC developed a mini 3 on 2 through the neutral zone before Ryan Fitzgerald sent Kelley Rink into euphoria after his shot deflected off a UVM defenseman's stick and into the net.
All in all, if they play like that against Northeastern or anyone in the NCAAs, it won't be pretty. We talked about having all nineteen guys coming together during this time of year but in my mind, not many players outside of the Fitzgerald brothers, Tuch, Gilmour, and Dudek were at the top of their games. On the defensive side of things, McCoshen's return clearly had an impact (he was +2) but there were a lot of times where BC failed to get the puck out of the zone and twice, those instances resulted in UVM goals. As the game went on, I thought they did a better job on the forecheck but for the first period and a half, Vermont was able to break the puck out with ease. BC did not force many turnovers until they got desperate- that needs to change. Casey Fitzgerald was the best defenseman for the Eagles. After a tough game on Saturday, he bounced back with an outstanding effort. I know it won't happen but I think he should be in consideration for rookie of the year in Hockey East. He has 24 points (tied for most amongst freshmen defenseman) and holds a +25 rating. Incredible. The fourth line did not play much in the second half and if my memory serves me right, the staff rolled three lines throughout the third period.
Winning is fun, we'll take it any day of the week, but I think everybody in that locker room understands that if they play like that vs the Huskies, they'll get run out of the building. No team is hotter than Northeastern and their season will be on the line- BC better be ready to go.
Why BC won-
1. Luck. Rather be lucky than good I guess. I was shocked that they called back a UVM second period goal that would have tied it up at the time and obviously, the Cats came within a centimeter of winning in OT.
2. Need your best players to come up in clutch situations. Ryan Fitzgerald made a play when it mattered, all you can ask for.
3. McCoshen/Casey Fitzgerald pairing was dynamite. Those guys are going to get A TON of playing time over the next couple weeks.
1. They did not play very well. Whether it was five on five or the man advantage, BC just seemed out of synch. They could not get anything going through the neutral zone and it seemed to really frustrate them.
2. First line was off. Just four combined shots on goal for Wood, Cangelosi, and Brown. They were a non-factor for most of the game.
Player of the game- Joey Dudek
Next- Northeastern on Friday @ 8 PM. Lowell and PC is other game. How did BU do this weekend?
Blogger is on vacation for the next three days so I probably won't have much on here but that usually changes.