Lombardi Lifts BC to 9th Hockey East Title

BOSTON – It was a game of “anything you can do I can do better.” But when you get to overtime, there isn’t any chance to do better–you have to be the better.

BC’s Matt Lombardi was the best in Saturday’s Hockey East Championship against the University of Maine.

Posting three goals–the first hat trick of his collegiate career–Lombardi was finding the back of the net at the most important and crucial times for the Eagles, including the game winning goal in overtime of BC’s 7-6 victory.

The goal was gritty and hard-nosed when Lombardi found himself in front of Maine goaltender Dave Wilson. An initial crash of the net resulted in a save, but Lombardi kept fighting and eventually put the goal through the five-hole, pushing BC through to the National Tournament.

Before his heroics and his MVP title, Lombardi only had seven career goals to his name, but in big name games, sometimes it’s the least expected that steps up.

“Sometimes the hero comes out of obscurity to become the MVP and a real difference-maker,” BC coach Jerry York said. “I’m so excited for Matt, who has worked extremely hard for four years.  To get rewarded like that is pretty special.”

Lombardi’s goal came just in time too, because Maine was relentless throughout the game, The Black Bears had the potential of becoming a version of the Comeback Kids, scoring two goals in the final five minutes of the game to tie it up and send it into overtime.

The goal that sent them to overtime came with just 27 seconds left in the game. The faceoff was to the right in BC’s zone, and Maine’s Joey Diamond took the puck from the draw, slid to the left and put a wrister right past BC net miner John Muse before anyone had time to adjust. That goal was Diamond’s 9th goal of the season and second of the night.

That goal marked the third time in the game that Maine came back to tie the game from at least a one point deficit. With five minutes left to go in the game, BC was up 6-4 but became the victim of another late game miracle.

“We re-grouped in the locker room, not a lot was said,” Lombardi said. “Before we went out, [BC captain] Matt Price brought us up and we all knew what had to be done.  He led the way with what he said in the locker room.  We just wanted to keep playing our game and just because it was overtime we couldn’t change what we were doing.”

Both goals were won off the faceoff and fired not long after the draw. But the goal that brought the momentum in the period came from Maine’s Spencer Abbott who slapped in a shot after getting the draw from Robby Dee at the left faceoff circle at 14:59 to bring Maine to a 6-5 game. Again, off the face off, Muse had little time to react to the scenario.

“We always found a way to come back and win games,” Diamond said. “We’ve done it many times, so we never got out of control. We kept our cool, and we knew down two goals with five minutes….one shot that came from Spencer Abbott, and we knew right when that in, we knew we could get another one.”

Unlike many of the first periods in the past couple of Hockey East games, this first period had the ice, players and arena rocking. Four goals–two per team–had everyone participating by the end of the scoring frenzy. In each instance, Boston College would take a lead, only to be silenced literally seconds after.

And oh the penalties.

Coming into tonight’s game, the UMaine Blackbears were ranked first in the nation, converting 27.8% when on the man-advantage. And they had plenty of opportunities to showcase that statistic, as BC put up a total of eight penalties in the game.

But it was the Eagles that struck first when the first goal came 11:44 into the period when Carl Sneep fired a shot through traffic while on the power play. However, BC fans couldn’t even finish their post-goal cheer before Maine came back with their own goal, challenging BC to up their game a little.

A high floater through the slot and an initial shot from Maine captain Tanner House made it over Muse, but Hober Baker finalist Gustav Nyquist pushed it in after to insure it went in for his 19th goal of the season. The time of the goal was just 24 seconds after the BC goal, seemingly crushing BC’s early spirit.

It was Lombardi who kept it going for the Eagles, with 4:41 left to go in the period. Lombardi sprinted to the net and stopped just in time to catch Maine’s Mark Nemec sliding into the net. Lombardi’s just tossed the puck into Nemec’s flailing body and into the net for his first of the night, and one of three total. 

But, Maine had different ideas.

Again, the Black Bears came back, this time 36 seconds later with a tip in from Diamond after Jeff Dimmen took a shot from the blueline to tie up the game at two a piece.

“Anytime you can bounce back from a goal quickly, it’s certainly a good sign,” Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. “There certainly wasn’t any quit in our team, and we’re very proud of how our guys competed and how they fought right to the last whistle tonight.”

The second period yielded two consecutive Boston College goals, with the help of Joe Whitney and again Lombardi, giving the Eagles a 4-2 lead. But, before going into the locker room for second intermission, Maine was finally able to utilize their top-of-the-nation power play and capitalize on it. This time it was Nyquist who found Tanner in front of the net and passed it for the one-timer goal with under five minutes to go in the period to make it 4-3.

Add two more BC goals in the third from Jimmy Hayes and Barry Almeida, with a Maine goal sandwiched between by David deKastrozza to make it a 6-4 game, and you have the recipe for an epic finish.

BC will head to Worcester as the No. 1 seed in the Northeast Regional to play fourth seed Alaska Fairbanks (18-11-9) next weekend.

Also from Hockey East, Vermont is heading out west to play No. 1 Wisconsin, while New Hampshire will travel to Albany, NY to faceoff against Cornell University.

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