BOSTON – Some teams often look ahead to the NCAA tournament at this time, after all it starts a week from today. But for the Boston College Eagles, the focus is on the current task at hand — capturing their 10th Hockey East tournament championship.
BC is now one step closer to becoming the first team in league history to accomplish such a feat after its 5-4 victory Friday night during the Hockey East semifinals against a desperate Northeastern team at the TD Garden.
“I think anytime in your season that your win would prevent a team from playing for a championship; it’s difficult to get that win,” BC head coach Jerry York said about the opposition. “I thought Northeastern played very well and I liked the way our team played. Now we have a chance to take another [Lou] Lamoriello Cup home to Boston College.”
After Pat Mullane gave BC a 5-2 lead at 8:22 of the third, the Eagles were seemingly in cruise control midway through the third. However, a series of events late in the third period gave Northeastern some hope.
With sophomore defenseman Phillip Samuelsson already in the box (for tripping at 15:01), fellow blue-liner Patrick Wey committed a hooking penalty on the NU power play and put the Huskies on a two-man advantage at 16:26. With the faceoff in the NU zone, head coach Greg Cronin pulled goaltender Clay Witt – who replaced starter Chris Rawlings in the third period – to give the team a 6-on-3 advantage. Just 18 seconds into Wey’s penalty, Garrett Vermeersch netted his seventh goal of the season at 16:44 to pull NU within two.
Then, with ten seconds to go on Wey’s penalty, Brian Gibbons (who scored a goal at 16:05 of the first to tie the game at 1-1), committed a cross-checking penalty at 18:17 and gave NU even more hope. Wade MacLeod capitalized on that opportunity and wristed a shot past Muse to pull the Huskies within one.
“As soon as I scored the last goal, I looked up at the clock to see how much time was left and I saw that there was about a minute left,” MacLeod said. “It felt good at the time but it was too little too late.”
With more than sixty seconds left in regulation, Northeastern some quality chances to tie the game. But Muse and company did what top-caliber teams often do this time of year and weathered the storm against a team who needed to win the Hockey East tournament to advance to the NCAAs next week.
“Anytime you are playing a team like that who needs tow in to advance is tough,” said BC defenseman Tommy Cross said, who tallied his seventh goal of the year at 19:42 of the second period. “It’s tough to beat a team like that and that was certainly the case tonight.”
“I thought the game was secure late in the third period,” York added, “then all of the sudden Northeastern came to life and made terrific plays 5-on-3 and 6-on-3. You look up and there’s a minute left in the game and what looked like a sure fire ‘W’ for us turned into an exhilarating finish.”
BC has its NCAA spot – and most likely a No. 1 seed – locked up for next week. But with Merrimack – who beat UNH 4-1 in the second semifinal – up next, BC has one focus tomorrow night; another Lamoriello Cup.
And leave it to York to come up with an analogy to express the importance of the league title and the upcoming NCAA tournament.
“We use an expression in the locker room that ‘Thanksgiving comes before Christmas’,” he said.
“We don’t have to win games like Northeastern did to get to the tournament, but I think our focus and our mindset is to give our league all our respect and all our effort. Some teams look past their conference championship, but it [the NCAAs] will come soon enough.”