Sunday, March 27, 2016
For a 25th time, the most amongst any college hockey program, the Boston College Eagles are headed to the Frozen Four thanks to a heart stopping 3-2 win over the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs on Saturday night. The Eagles will return to Tampa Bay, where they await either Lowell or Quinnipiac for a chance to play in the National Championship game.
I could not be more proud of this team for the way they battled all weekend. As I said after the Harvard game, a lot of people (myself included) felt apprehensive about this weekend based on what happened against Vermont and Northeastern. BC is probably the most talented team in the country along with North Dakota, so it was certainly surprising to see them struggle against conference foes they usually have no problem taking care of. No matter how good or bad they are playing at any point, you cannot underestimate Coach York's ability to turn things up in time for the NCAAs. Their practices this week were fast and focused as there was clearly a centralized goal amongst each member of the program- they wanted to get back to Tampa Bay.
In terms of the game, it was interesting in that Duluth outplayed them for large chunks but when you have the best player in college hockey, it makes things a heck of a lot easier. I know Kyle Connor is a tremendous hockey player, he will go on to do great things at the next level, but I honestly cannot see the argument for anyone else other than Thatcher Demko winning the Hobey Baker. There were five or six saves over the course of this weekend where all you could do was sit there and stare in awe. Demko's performance in this regional ranks right up there with some of the best I have ever seen.
On the defensive end, there were a few times when Duluth had the puck in the BC end for a minute and half without any resistance, but I thought the Eagles did a pretty good job of limiting the grade A chances. Duluth is one of the best possession teams in the country (3rd in corsi for), but BC, to my surprise, outshot them 34-30. Once again, Casey Fitzgerald was their best blue liner, going +2 for the contest, while not one other defensemen broke even. Against teams like Duluth, who tend to forecheck hard and force turnovers deep in the offensive zone, Fitzgerald is able to use his speed in order to get out difficult situations. I thought the Bulldogs did a nice job of pinching down on the walls, which led to a handful of turnovers by BC's wingers, but unlike the Hockey East semifinals, they didn't make any killer passes that resulted in 2 on 1's or 3 on 2's. The game was not as open ended as Friday night was and I think BC had more odd man rushes than Duluth, although they would probably like to generate a few more. The Eagles have faced a bunch of high end lines this season- Vesey's, Poturalski's, and Heinen's to name a few- but Tony Cameranesi and company played as much as I have ever seen three guys play in a college hockey game. Whether it was power play, penalty kill, or late in the game, it seemed as if he, Austin Farley, and Karson Kuhlman were on the ice every other shift. As they did against Harvard, the staff mixed up the matchups throughout the game. They started out with Tuch's line against Duluth's top guns but as the game went on, they wanted Wood, Cangelosi, and Calnan out there because they feel that is BC's top defensive unit, along with McCoshen and Fitzgerald on the back end.
I think you would have a tough time finding a player that epitomizes all that is right with Boston College like Teddy Doherty does. Upon arrival, he was not a highly touted recruit, many believed he was too small to play on a consistent basis, and on top of that, they asked him to switch positions halfway through his career (before moving back). It's one thing to convert while playing for the Boston Jr Eagles when you're playing the 2001 South Shore Kings but it's another when you have to do that in Hockey East while going up against some of the best players in the country. His first goal came with six minutes left in the period thanks to a sensational pass from Adam Gilmour. The Minnesota Wild draft pick skated back against the grain before sneaking a behind the back, through the legs pass to Doherty, who's shot trickled past UMD netminder Kasimir Kaskisuo. After struggling early, I thought BC started to find their legs as the period went on and getting out to a start like that was huge for the cause. They had a chance to add to that goal when Duluth took a penalty with two minutes to play and even though it was their best power play of the night, they could not convert. Unlike the other four man advantages, where they had a tough time setting up, the Eagles moved the puck around like a work of art, only to see Kaskisuo swallow up everything they put on net.
As expected, Duluth came out firing in the middle stanza. Outside of the final ten minutes, their biggest push came in the early parts of the second as the Cameranesi line had one shift where they circled the zone for a solid two minutes before BC could get a change. Just when it seemed as if the score would be tied within seconds, Doherty recorded his second of the night after Chris Calnan did the dirty work in the corner to get the puck out front. For the past couple of weeks, I've felt that a healthy Calnan gives BC a real boost up front because he is so good at doing the little things- winning puck battles, blocking shots, and despite his size, he can get up and down the ice faster than almost anyone. Just as the Duluth defenseman was turning to go up ice, Calnan picked his pocket along the boards, and rifled a pass out front to Zach Sanford, who tipped it to Doherty. In my mind, that was the most important moment of the game because Duluth had been outplaying them from the end of the first to the beginning of the second and for BC to go up two must have been a killer for Scott Sandelin's team.
Although there were no goals scored, the end of the second period was vital because each team missed out on a couple power play chances. The Eagles had back to back opportunities as Andy Welinski and Dominic Toninato went to the box. Unfortunately, BC could not come through, but they did get a huge kill of their own when Santini went to the box for interference. Despite giving up a late goal, BC's penalty kill, led by Demko, was one of the main reasons they were able to survive this regional. Look at past BC National Championship teams, what is one thing they all had in common? A dangerous penalty kill. When Austin Cangelosi and Miles Wood are on the ice together, they put so much pressure on the points and if an opposing defenseman makes a mistake, the Eagles are going the other direction with a full head of speed.
I'll be honest with you, I thought the game was over when Ryan Fitzgerald roofed a snap shot on the power play with 13 minutes to go. Although it was as even a game as you could possibly get, there was no chance, in my mind at least, BC could blow a three goal lead in the biggest game of the year, in a building where they have had an endless amount of success. To Duluth's credit, they came back hard and notched a power play goal of their own with just over seven minutes to play. Austin Farley sniped one past Demko but I thought BC could have done a better job of preventing the puck from getting high to low with one simple pass. Even if Farley decided to pass that puck, it would have been an easy goal because it was a 2 on 1 down low with no one outside of Casey Fitzgerald, within sight. That being said, the last thing BC needs to work on is its penalty kill. However, just two minutes after Farley's tally, the Bulldogs made it a one goal game by winning a 50/50 battle in front of the net before sneaking the puck past Demko.
In situations like the final minute of last night's game, you need your best players to make big plays and that is what BC got. Duluth had a prime chance to tie it up with four seconds to go but Austin Cangelosi came swooping in from the slot and got his stick in between the goal line and puck. I'm not a huge believer in "teams of destiny" but the fact that BC has had two goal line stops in the past three weeks is pretty incredible. In real time, it looked as if the interference call on Wood was reasonable but after seeing the replay, the Duluth forward clearly held his shoulder before going to the ice, making it seem as if Wood prevented him from getting to the puck. Some fans were wondering why Wood was on the ice, given his tendency to take penalties but imagine if Duluth scored there and he wasn't on the ice? We'd be scratching our heads wondering why one of the best two way players in the league was sitting on the bench. If they had to play that situation 100 times over, the staff would have him out every single time and rightfully so.
At the end of the day, it doesn't get much better than that. Duluth, for my money, was the best team BC has faced all season and if it wasn't for a few fortunate bounces, they could very well be in Tampa Bay. That program has come a long way over the past ten years and with the players they have coming in, I don't expect that to change any time soon. I think we can all agree that although the win is great, BC can certainly play much better. I thought they brought their B, maybe B+ game for most of the night. They won't be able to beat Lowell or Quinnipiac playing that way. The good news is that the best player in the country happens to be wearing maroon and gold, which is why Blogger is going to able to play some golf down in Florida. I thought Tuch's line, him in particular, was very good. As they get more reps in practice, they will only become better everyday. Obviously, Doherty came up big but Sanford and Gilmour played well, which is something they needed in order to advance. Sanford had a couple of bad turnovers early in the game but once the third period came around, he made some plays that helped preserve the win.
BC is onto their 12th Frozen Four in 20 years. For comparisons sake, BU has 4 in that same span. Anyone know how they did last night? Was it close?
Why BC won-
1. Thatcher Demko. If I see one more article about how Kyle Connor should run away with the Hobey Baker, I don't know what I am going to do with myself. The best player in the country is #30 for the Boston College Eagles.
2. They were opportunistic. It might not have been BC's best game but they came through in the big moments. Tuch, Cangelosi, the Fitzgerald brothers, and Teddy Doherty were all great.
3. Coaching. I was at the rink everyday this week and I could tell each player was ready to run through a wall. Has a BC team ever blocked more shots over the span of two games?
1. It wasn't their very best. I am not trying to be picky, but they can be better.
2. Blogger's golf game needs some serious work for Florida- almost hit the clubhouse on the first hole Friday afternoon.
Player of the game- Thatcher Demko. Doherty close second.
Next- Either Lowell or Quinnipiac. 5 PM game on April 7th.