BC targets revenge against red-hot Union in national semis

BC freshman Ryan Fitzgerald does his Bobby Orr impression, finishing off a dazzling goal against River Hawks goalie Connor Hellebuyck to knot the regional final early in the third period. (Photo/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

By Andrew Merritt

WORCESTER, Mass. — The Boston College Eagles are hoping revenge turns out to actually be a dish best served frozen.

Thanks to their thrilling rally to beat UMass-Lowell in the Northeast Regional final, the Eagles are headed to the 2014 Frozen Four — their 11th appearance of the Jerry York era, and their seventh in 11 seasons. For BC, it’s a chance to play for a fourth national title in seven years, a chance to extend the season at least one more game, a chance to atone for the unexpected early dismissal from the Hockey East tournament at the hands of Notre Dame.

It’s also a chance for vengeance.

On Thursday, April 10, the Eagles will take on Union, an ECAC program that is short on history but, lately, long on quality and is making its second trip to the national semifinals in three years. While the Dutchmen fell short of the Frozen Four last year, they did have one heck of a feather in their cap before their season ended, running roughshod over the Eagles in the East Regional semifinals in Providence.

That 5-1 victory, in which the Eagles didn’t find the scoreboard until Johnny Gaudreau’s goal with 3:02 to go, was one of the worst losses for the Eagles in 2012-13. It was a humbling end to the reigning NCAA champions’ quest for a repeat.

A year later, it was inspiration.

The Dutchmen earned their Frozen Four berth with a 3-1 win over Providence on Saturday, March 30. They scored goals in each period against the Friars, who were seeking a Frozen Four bid of their own for the first time since 1991. Max Novak’s strike in the second period held up as the game-winner, and it made Union the first team to punch its ticket to Philadelphia.

Twenty-four hours later, the Eagles punched theirs, and while a clash with burgeoning Hockey East rival UMass-Lowell in the Northeast Regional final was enough of a reason to get out of bed the morning of March 31, when the Eagles saw that a win over the River Hawks would mean a rematch with Union, they had even more reason to bring it at Worcester’s DCU Center.

“They handed it to us last year,” said Gaudreau, who had two assists in the regional final against UMass-Lowell, capping a weekend in which he collected eight points, including his first career hat trick in the semifinal against Denver. “It’s time to hopefully return the favor down in Philly. We didn’t come to play last time, and I think we have a better team than last year. I think we’re going to be ready to go in Philly.”

Just getting to Philly — a short drive from Gaudreau’s hometown of Carneys Point, N.J. — required getting past the River Hawks, and that in itself was no easy feat. BC had easily dispatched Denver 6-2 in the Northeast Regional semifinals, sparked by Gaudreau’s six-point night, but Lowell didn’t go anywhere near as quietly.

Dorchester, Mass., native Kevin Hayes struck first for the Eagles, scoring 12:57 into a tightly contested first period. But Lowell freshman defenseman Michael Kapla had an answer on a power play late in the period. In the second, Bill Arnold (Needham, Mass.) gave the Eagles the lead again with just 2:26 to go, but 70 seconds later, Lowell senior captain Josh Holmstrom had an answer.
And then, 43 seconds into the third period, the tables suddenly turned. The River Hawks, who had been playing from behind for stretches of the game beginning with Hayes’ first-period goal, took a lead on Evan Campbell’s unassisted strike.

The Eagles, who had to learn how to deal with the setback of losing to Notre Dame in a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series three weeks prior, showed the resiliency that loss had tested.

“That third game against Notre Dame, we just kept pushing and pushing, and couldn’t get the equalizer to tie the game,” Gaudreau said after the game. “Tonight, we went down a goal, and there was a little more jump after we gave up that goal. We didn’t see that spark against Notre Dame; we didn’t have that spark like we did tonight.”

Twenty-one seconds after Campbell had given Lowell the lead, BC freshman Ryan Fitzgerald (North Reading, Mass.) picked up the puck in the defensive zone and raced down the ice, beating every Lowell player to the net before tucking the tying goal past sophomore Connor Hellebuyck.

When the game started, Ian McCoshen was a freshman defenseman who had just four goals to his name and had never scored a game-winner in college. When the game was over, those facts were no longer true. McCoshen found some open space, and his defensive partner, Teddy Doherty (Hopkinton, Mass.), found him for a look at an open net. McCoshen had his game-winner, and the Eagles had their chance to even the score with Union.

“We’re definitely resilient,” Hayes said. “We’re super young, and we were all interested to see how the younger guys were going to react. The two biggest goals of the year were scored by freshmen, so that just shows how far they’ve come.”

Thanks to those timely freshman performances, the Eagles are headed to Philadelphia. There, they’ll join a field of pretty familiar faces. While Union might not be a traditional power, it has grown in stature over the last 10 years, first under former coach Nate Leaman (now at Providence), and then over the last three years under Rick Bennett (Springfield, Mass.), who has compiled a 78-27-16 record over that stretch.

“Union, I think, last year surprised us, how good they were,” said York (Watertown, Mass.). “They just surprised the whole nation. Coach Bennett’s done an unbelievable job. Frozen Four in back-to-back years, for a program that’s never had much of a history. We were kind of like, ‘Whoa, jeez, they’re pretty good!’ ”

BC’s Ian McCoshen and Teddy Doherty (4) embrace after Doherty set up McCoshen to punch BC’s ticket to Philly. (Photo/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Daniel Carr leads the scoring for the Dutchmen with 22 goals and 26 assists, while Shayne Gostisbehere is a Hobey Baker top-10 finalist and generally considered to be the best defenseman in the country. Union also has been keyed by junior Colin Stevens, a Boston Junior Bruins alum whose .932 save percentage is tied for third-best in the nation.

“They’ve got Stevens in goal, playing pretty well, Gostisbehere, they’ve got a lot of good players,” York said.

In fact, one prominent observer thinks Union might be the team to beat.

“I would call Union the favorite,” said ESPN anchor John Buccigross, who will handle the broadcasting duties with Barry Melrose and Quint Kessenich. “They are a complete, veteran team that is very hungry. They have speed, grit and fire. And of course they have something to prove.

“But, if the high-end talent of BC and Minnesota play to its ceiling, it will be tough to beat,” Buccigross said. “They both have five-plus players that will play in the NHL. My sense pre-tournament is that it feels to me that it is Minnesota’s time again. I felt that way leading up to Boston University’s last title. It just felt like it was time.”

Minnesota is headed to Philly after winning the West Regional. The Golden Gophers are seeking their fifth national title and their first since 2002-03. They beat fellow Big Ten member Wisconsin (the league’s inaugural champion) and St. Cloud State to advance out of the regional in St. Paul, Minn. Gopher goaltender Adam Wilcox, a sophomore, has posted a .934 save percentage this year, second in the country only to Hellebuyck’s .941 and in seven more games played.

Should the Eagles and Gophers both advance to the final, it will be a rematch of a two-game series the teams played in Bloomington, Minn., on Oct. 25 and 27. They tied the first meeting, and the Gophers handed BC its worst loss of the season, a 6-1 defeat, in the second game.

Minnesota has the country’s sixth-best offense, averaging 3.51 goals per game, and is led by junior Kyle Rau’s 37 points (14 goals).

The Gophers will square off with North Dakota in the semifinals, marking the next chapter in a storied rivalry between the two Western powers. The Sioux reached the national tournament as an at-large team after falling short in the first National Collegiate Hockey Conference tourney, and despite being the No. 4 seed in the Midwest Regional, they took care of Wisconsin and Ferris State to advance to their 20th Frozen Four, where they’ll seek their eighth national title and their first since 2000.

While the Minnesota-North Dakota semifinal is a meeting of two ancient rivals, it will be the first time they play each other in this first season after the great college hockey realignment that happened last year.

The Gophers and Sioux play the 8:30 p.m. semifinal on April 10, while BC and Union kick the 2014 Frozen Four off at 5 p.m. that afternoon. The winners play for the national title on Saturday, April 12, at 7:30. The semifinals will both be televised on ESPN2, while the national championship game will be on ESPN.

Twitter: @A_Merritt
Email: amerritt@hockeyjournal.com

 

BC’s Adam Gilmour collides with UMass-Lowell defenseman Christian Folin in the Northeast Regional title game in Worcester. BC won, 4-3. (Photo/Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)