February 14, 2012

Arnold's OT strike gives BC Beanpot threepeat

By Andrew Merritt

BOSTON – Boston University did a lot of things right in its quest for a 30th Beanpot title Monday night at TD Garden.

Boston College did one thing more. 

Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) hoists the Beanpot Trophy after burying the game-winner in overtime for Boston College. (Dave Arnold Photography)

In a spirited, tense and high-quality affair, the Eagles beat their arch-rival Terriers 3-2 in overtime, with sophomore Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) providing the heroics with just seconds left in the extra period. It’s the 17th title for BC, and the fourth in five years.

The teams had played arguably their best hockey in the overtime session, on both ends of the ice, including the save of the game by Kieran Millan (44 saves), the Eberly Award winner for the tournament’s best save percentage (.948), who gloved a wrist shot through traffic from BC’s Brian Dumoulin (Biddeford, Maine) with 7:14 gone.

But Millan’s glove came up just short – or just low – on the final shot of the game. After Dumoulin shot wide with 24 seconds to go, he poked the puck away from BU’s Sahir Gill, and Patrick Wey and Barry Almeida (Springfield, Mass.) tic-tac-toed it to Steven Whitney (Reading, Mass.). Whitney carried into the offensive zone and found Arnold with a cross-ice pass. Arnold ripped a wrist shot over Millan’s glove and into the net with 6.4 seconds left, bringing his Eagle teammates streaming onto the ice to celebrate their third straight Beanpot title.

“We won last year, and we won again this year, and that’s what it’s all about,” said Arnold, who had a goal in the 2011 final against Northeastern – also an overtime game. “To score the goal feels nice, but winning’s what’s important, and that feels much better than scoring another goal.”

It’s the first time since 1963-65 that BC (19-10-1) has won three straight Beanpot titles. It’s also the first time since 1983-85 that BU (17-10-1) has gone three years without a title. And in the 21st meeting of the two Boston stalwarts in the annual tournament’s championship game, the Eagles cut the Terriers’ all-time lead to 12-9.

Yet after years of hearing the Beanpot referred to as “The BU Invitational,” the Eagles are cautious about claiming ownership of the February garden party.

“I don’t think it’s that BC has taken over the Beanpot,” BC captain and Bruins prospect Tommy Cross (Simsbury, Conn.) said. “I don’t think that’s the case. Last year was overtime, this year was overtime. I think it just speaks to the level of play of the four schools in Boston. Every game is tough, whether it’s the first round or the finals. BU’s got a great hockey team, BC’s got a great hockey team, and the level of play gets better every year.”

BC coach Jerry York (Watertown, Mass.) called the game “a statement” to those who might have questioned the tournament’s prominence after 60 years – not to mention 24 years of BU-BC dominance – and his counterpart agreed after a game befitting a meeting of the No. 2 (BU) and No. 4 teams in the country.

“Obviously it was a hell of a college hockey game, a fabulous game to watch, the speed and the effort of both teams,” BU coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.) said. “I was really happy with my team tonight. We played four periods, 80 minutes of hockey.”

The Eagles had the first laugh, too, despite Quinn Smith’s boarding penalty 7:38 into the game. With 44 seconds left on Smith’s sentence, Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) sent Pat Mullane in alone, and the junior from Wallingford, Conn., waited until a shooting lane opened up before firing a wrister past Millan.

BC had chances to extend the lead in the first, including a grade-A opportunity for Kreider off a pretty back pass from Kevin Hayes, but Kreider’s shot went wide. Millan also made a pair of saves on Whitney off a faceoff, kicking Whitney’s second effort away with the right leg pad.

After a lot of hard hits and nine combined penalties, including a long 5-on-3 power play for the Eagles, it was still 1-0 until 4:41 left in the second. With BC’s Paul Carey (Weymouth, Mass.) in the box for hitting from behind, the Terriers equalized on Norfolk, Mass., native Garrett Noonan’s strike. Matt Nieto set Noonan up with a cross-ice feed, and BC’s Parker Milner (32 saves) seemed to have trouble getting over to cover the shot, giving Noonan an open look for the goal.

The Terriers put themselves in another 5-on-3 hole, though, and this time couldn’t quell the dangers. Noonan went to the box for tripping with 3:25 to go in the second, and Sean Escobedo followed him 1:37 later on a cross-checking call.

BU managed to kill Noonan’s penalty, but seven seconds after he left the box, Johnny Gaudreau found Kreider with a long pass from below the goal line extended, and Kreider ripped a wrister over Millan’s glove to make it 2-1 to end the period.

The penalty parade reversed direction in the third, with Steven Whitney going off for high-sticking BU’s Wade Megan 5:58 into the frame, and Paul Carey putting the Eagles down two men just 13 seconds later.

“I thought the momentum really swung in our favor for a while when we killed off that 5-on-3, and killed off almost a second one, and we only gave up one goal at the time,” Parker said.

And with that shift in momentum in the penalty box came a shift in momentum on the scoreboard.

There were 46 seconds left on Whitney’s penalty as BU worked the puck around to Adam Clendening, who found a seam in the three-man BC defense, and his pass met Noonan as he waited off Milner’s right hip. Noonan expertly redirected the puck in to tie the game, sending it to overtime – though not without some drama, including Barry Almeida picking Adam Clendening’s pocket at the blue line and racing in shorthanded, only to be stymied by a sliding Sean Escobedo with less than 12 minutes to go.

That effort earned the Terriers what looked like another 20 minutes of life in overtime, but Arnold and the Eagles had other plans, and theirs ended a few seconds earlier.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com