The tables have turned quite considerably in the Hockey East this season. Ranked No. 1 in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches’ Poll, the Eagles certainly had high expectations coming into this season. It was the third time in the last six years that the Eagles were picked for that honor.
Looking further down that ranking, UMass sat at sixth place, only garnering 56 points worth of respect, compared to BC’s 93. Not only does UMass now sit on top of the Hockey East, nine points ahead of the Eagles, but they are ranked No. 2 in the NCAA overall in the USA Today Poll with wins against then No. 1 Ohio State and other ranked teams such as Providence, Princeton, Quinnipiac, Yale, and Northeastern. The Minutemen have been an incredible story for a program that has had just one NCAA tournament appearance since the 2006-2007 season, but the Eagles looked to put a stop to their hot streak and continue their own dominance against a Hockey East rival.
Yet, during their annual weekend series, the BC men’s hockey team (10-16-3) were defeated in both contests against the No. 2 UMass Minutemen (23-6-0) for the first time in the two programs’ history. On Friday night, UMass scored on a last-second chance to earn the 4-3 victory in the Mullins Center and on Saturday night in Kelley Rink, the game once again went down to the wire, with UMass ultimately pulling out the win in a 4-2 victory.
UMass looked for their 22nd win on Friday, which would set a program record for wins in a season, and looked energized right after puck drop, trying to gain momentum with the sellout crowd roaring in support.
The Eagles matched up well with the Minutemen to start the frame and got on the board first thanks to a Casey Fitzgerald wrist shot above UMass goalie Matt Murray’s right shoulder for his first goal of the season. BC was tight defensively after the first goal of the game, making it difficult for Minutemen skaters to enter the zone and control the puck. Yet, UMass would showcase their speed and deft skating soon after the goal, forcing turnovers in their own zone and getting on fast breaks. Aside from the goal, however, there was not much action. Neither team was especially physical nor were the puck possessions garnering much success in the opposing zones. After UMass’s first penalty of the game on star Cale Makar, the Eagles took advantage. Flawless passing and execution from JD Dudek and Christopher Brown gave Connor Moore the chance in front of the net and he converted. The Eagles secured a surprising 2-0 lead in the opening period against a stagnant UMass offense. Makar’s presence on the ice started to make an impact. After sitting out for the earlier slashing penalty leading to an Eagles powerplay goal, he answered back with his 10th goal of the season on a 2-on-1 rush with minutes to go in the first period.
The period came to a close with Makar’s goal cutting the deficit to 1 and giving UMass hope for a comeback.
BC started the second with a lot of dump and chases and sloppy passing. While they lacked significant puck possession, they created plenty of odd-man rushes, yet couldn’t find the back of the net. A Marc McLaughlin penalty on BC gave the dangerous UMass powerplay unit a chance early in the second. The Minutemen took advantage this time on their second powerplay, a goal by John Leonard set up nicely by Makar for a weakside one-timer past BC goalie Joseph Woll. A minute after the Leonard goal, a horrendous BC turnover in front of the net gave UMass Forward Jacob Pritchard an opportunity for an easy feed to a wide open Philip Lagunov who finished easily. UMass took their first lead of the game at 3-2 after the Lagunov goal and hung onto it for the rest of the period. The hard offensive pressure from UMass forced BC to flip pucks to center ice to alleviate some of that pressure, and limited them offensively.
The equalizer came in the third period for the Eagles off a David Cotton put-back from the initial shot from Julius Mattila and just like that, the Eagles were back in the game. The Cotton goal injected life into the BC offensive and defensive efforts. A fantastic glove save by Woll kept this game tied late in the period. Under twenty seconds to go, BC had the puck in their own zone, playing very conservatively trying to stall and force the game into OT. Yet, the Minutemen put pressure on the BC skaters and forced a turnover in the BC zone.
The puck trickled in front of the net and Woll sprawled out to cover it but couldn’t get to the puck, leaving an open shot for Jack McLaughlin, who buried the puck in the back of the net with two seconds to spare.
It was an absolute heartbreaker for the Eagles, dropping the first meeting between the two programs 4-3. This was BC’s first loss against UMass in over seven years.
On Saturday night, the Eagles looked to once again jump out to an early start and hold onto the lead against the top-ranked Minutemen. In Kelley Rink, Eagles fans were swarmed by masses of the UMass faithful, who could be heard all the way down to Amherst.
The game got off to a much more physical start than Friday night’s match. Open-ice collisions and board checks occurred with regularity from both sides, looking to set the tone defensively for the game. Despite giving up some costly turnovers in their own zone, the Eagles sprang out on offense and got the first goal of the night from Graham McPhee on a toe-drag snipe in the slot. A great setup from Brown led to a great finish by McPhee, giving BC instant momentum moving forward. BC was getting outshot for much of the period, but held their own defensively, thanks to Woll’s clutch saves in net off a couple redirects in front. UMass easily looked like the much better team in the period, with many more offensive chances, but BC held the 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
42 seconds into the second period and UMass took advantage of the powerplay that carried over from the first period, tying the game up at 1. Pritchard spoon-fed Leonard, who beat Woll top shelf for his 12th goal of the season. Another BC penalty, this time on Oliver Wahlstrom, gave the Minutemen another opportunity on the man-advantage, where they converted again. This time, BC made a terrible turnover in front of the net after trying to clear the puck, giving Oliver Chau an easy look at the net and an easy goal.
BC once again coughed up an early lead and UMass took hold of the game.
BC became energized after the UMass goal, however. They had a couple great possessions where they fired off consecutive shots from the point, getting pucks to the net in a hurry. Still, Pritchard would extend the lead to two after a snipe from the right faceoff circle. The UMass crowd completely erupted as UMass took a 3-1 lead.
When the Eagles went up back on the powerplay, it was Graham McPhee again who injected life back into the team and the crowd. Phenomenal tic-tac-toe passing from Dudek and Brown gave McPhee a great shot at the net and he converted on the one-timer. Wahlstrom had an incredible chance in front of the wide-open UMass net a little later on, but hit the post and Jake McLaughlin cleared the puck from the crease to end the BC threat. UMass kept the lead at one heading into the third period.
BC tried to build off the momentum gained in the second period, but couldn't muster much on offense. Their best chance offensively came on a brief 5-on-3 powerplay, but Murray held his own in net. UMass iced the game with the easy empty-net goal and took the second game of the weekend series, defeating the Eagles 4-2. It was their program-record 15th Hockey East victory of the season and pushed their lead of the conference even further, now sitting six points ahead of UMass Lowell.
UMass will host UConn on Thursday in the Mullins Center, continuing to break records with five regular-season games still left.
For the Eagles, saying this weekend was a disappointment would be an understatement. They had an opportunity to take at least one point from the Minutemen on Friday, but the last second goal ended any hope of that. They were right with UMass for much of the night on Saturday, but couldn’t break through in the third period. Still, BC has played very well against two of the top teams in the country in recent weeks. They essentially lost three one-goal games (excluding the ENG on Saturday) against two top fifteen teams.
Christopher Brown has been doing everything for the Eagles lately and his play has kept them in recent games against top-ranked teams. He is an incredibly skilled passer, recording three assists in the series against UMass, and dominate faceoff enforcer, winning over 52% of his draws over the last eight games. He also ranks 10th in the Hockey East in shot percentage at 17.1% as well as tied for second in goals on the team with seven.
BC now looks ahead to next weekend where they play back-to-back road games against University of Maine (12-14-4) to move up the Hockey East standings as the regular season winds down.