Saturday, March 26, 2016

One Down

Photo from BC Interruption 
After last weekend's debacle against eventual Hockey East champion Northeastern, which was preceded by an ugly series with Vermont, the feeling surrounding this club was not particularly positive. Some figured they would be one and done and given the expectations and talent on this squad, that would have been a huge disappointment. In fact, the Hockey East semifinals signaled the first time in over a decade where BC had been playing their worst hockey at the end of the year- that never happens. Everything looked like it was going downhill fast.

So much for that.

Thanks to two goals each from Alex Tuch and Austin Cangelosi, Boston College is one game away from heading back to Tampa Bay after defeating rival Harvard, 4-1. Last week, we talked about how BC had not played a "great" game in over a month, perhaps since the Beanpot final in early February. Although Harvard had their moments, the Eagles turned in one of their best performances of the year, en route to yet another victory in Worcester. BC was fast, they transitioned well, they stayed out of the box, and most importantly, they looked like a team that is zoned in on getting to a Frozen Four. Throughout the season, there have been a few instances where I did not think they were doing a good enough job of blocking shots, which sometimes led to goals for the opposition. I can't track down the exact number but I thought BC went out there and blocked everything they could- there was one instance in the second period where Harvard had a grade A chance from the slot before Cangelosi came out of nowhere to get in front of it. Those are the type of plays that win you championships.

Cangelosi was terrific but BC's three best players were Thatcher Demko, Alex Tuch, and Miles Wood. I try to get to practice three times a week and once in a while, I arrive before the team actually hits the ice. Ten minutes before the rest of the guys come out, Tuch, who already has the best shot on the team, is out there with Coach Brown working on a way to improve his snapshot. The fact that he puts in a little bit of extra work and then plays the best game of his career on a stage like that is what being a part of this program is all about. On Monday, the staff experimented with new lines, which included a revamped top unit of Tuch, Colin White, and Ryan Fitzgerald- turned out pretty well, I'd say. In the first period, BC matched those three up against Vesey's line and the former totally dominated the play as they forced Harvard's big three to play in their own end more than they would have liked.

Coming into the game, the staff's main objective was to get McCoshen and Casey Fitzgerald out there against Vesey as much as possible. Not only did they keep the best player in the country off the board, that pairing played ten times better than they did last Friday night. They were physical on the boards, avoided costly turnovers in the defensive zone, and made smart passes at the offensive blue line. I was surprised they rolled six defensemen for the majority of the game but Couturier and Savage played very well. After coming within inches of a costly turnover, Savage rebounded and made an unreal cross ice pass to Tuch who roofed one home early in the second to give BC a three goal advantage. I figured Couturier would be nervous and out of sorts in his first NCAA tournament appearance but he looked calm and made a couple of beautiful outlet passes that led to odd man rushes for the Eagles.

The biggest advantage BC had coming into last night's game was on the blue line. Harvard's defensemen had a difficult time getting the puck out of the zone when the maroon and gold turned up the heat. Against NU and Vermont, I didn't think BC forced nearly enough turnovers, mostly because they were too passive on the forecheck. On Friday, they were swarming the net and if it weren't for a couple of beautiful saves from Merrick Madsen, the Eagles could have had two or three more goals.

How about Miles Wood? Outside of perhaps Chris Kreider, I've never seen a player of that size skate so well. There must have been seven or eight times last night where he got the puck in the neutral zone, beat a Harvard defenseman wide, and made a play in the net-front area. Some scouts knock Wood for his "lack of skill" (ridiculous) but he made a sweet pass to Austin Cangelosi on BC's second goal. It is clear that BC believes Wood and Cangelosi are their two best defensive players because as the game went on, that line started getting the majority of shifts vs Vesey and company. Chris Calnan was the right wing for most of the contest but when they went against the Esposito line, Chris Brown took over for Calnan. The fourth line got one shift the entire game but Travis Jeke subbed in for Ryan Fitzgerald and Wood midway through the second period, likely because the staff wanted to give those guys some extra rest. Duluth is going to roll four lines for the entire game so it will be interesting to see what BC decides to do. I'm a fan of going with just your three top units for most of the game but in order to stay fresh, I think they might have to give Brown's line four to six shifts.

Last but least, I can't say enough about Thatcher Demko. I was on the other end of the ice so I did not get a great look but the two saves he made in the crease at the end of the first period may have been the difference in the game. I am not sure how Harvard was unable to get either of those past the goal line. Obviously, he made some spectacular saves that we could talk about for two or three more paragraphs but some of the little things he did made all the difference in the world. There were four or five times last night, especially late in the first and third stanzas, where BC needed a whistle and Demko stepped up to the plate.

Tonight will be a different beast. I will have a preview later in the day but Duluth will be their toughest game of the season.

Why BC won- 

1. Tuch and Wood were superstars. Incredible games from those two. Cangelosi also had his best game in three weeks.

2. Demko was a stone wall. If he plays like that for the rest of the tournament, this team will be a tough out.

3. Great penalty kill at the end of the game. Harvard decided to pull the goalie with 4 minutes to go while on the power play. Calnan and Cangelosi blocked a couple of shots before #26 recorded an empty netter.


1. I try not to say anything about the officials but that call on Ryan Fitzgerald was one of the worst I have ever seen. You can't call that with five minutes to go in an NCAA tournament game. There was a clear hold on Harvard just a few minutes before and they flat out missed it. Other than that though, I thought it was a clean game.

Player of the game- Demko, but Tuch and Wood close seconds.

Next- Duluth tonight at 9.

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