Men’s hockey saw its season come to an end Saturday night as it dropped the Hockey East Championship game to the UMass Lowell Riverhawks, 4-3. The loss—despite a late surge thanks to a goal by senior Ryan Fitzgerald—knocked the Eagles out of the running for the NCAA Tournament.
The Eagles’ appearance in the final game was only possible because of their 3-2 upset win over rival, No. 2 Boston University, in the semifinal game Friday night. BC capitalized on the fast pace of the game early behind a strong showing from freshman goalkeeper, Joe Woll. Freshman Julius Mattila opened scoring with a goal through a slip in BU’s zone defense, assisted by senior Scott Savage and twin brother Jesper Mattila—the first time all-season the Finnish pair collaborated on a goal.
Fitzgerald added two more goals, one of them a short-handed goal while senior Austin Cangelosi sat in the box for holding, to extend the Eagles’ lead to an optimistic 3-0 a minute into the third quarter. However, in classic playoff fashion, BU refused to go down without a fight. The terriers countered with two quick goals to make it a one-score game with a just over a minute left to play. BC managed to hang on to its slim lead until the buzzer where Fitzgerald won the final face-off and simply laid on the ice over the puck to protect it from BU sticks.
“It was a little bit of a broken play, it just so happened I ended up on the ice and the puck was underneath me,” said Fitzgerald. “So I just hovered over it and tried to protect it for as long as possible.” The maneuver allowed BC to outlast the Terriers for the first time all season, but caused a fight to break out after the buzzer that resulted in a whopping nine penalties split between the two teams.
Head coach Jerry York attributed the victory to the defenders on the team, including but certainly not limited to Woll. “Do you have a dog at home? Does he come when you say come?” asked York. “That’s the defense. It’s always there for you and you can win an awful lot of games with that. The dog’s your best friend, you have to have that.”
Saturday night’s championship appearance was a conference-high 17th for the Eagles and their first since winning the Lamoriello trophy in 2012. BC faced UMass Lowell, the top seed in the conference, in an attempt to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the eighth year in a row. Their efforts fell short, however, in another one-goal game that came down to the last two minutes.
The Eagles matched the Riverhawks goal-for-goal to make the game a 2-2 tie heading into the second period. BC’s first came from Cangelosi taking advantage of a power play four minutes after UMass scored its first in the second minute. Freshman Graham McPhee notched BC’s 11th shorthanded goal of the season, tying Harvard for the most in the nation.
A pair of goals in the second period put UMass Lowell up 4-2 and slowed momentum for the Eagles before York pulled Woll to add an extra attacker, allowing Fitzgerald to knock in a no-look backhand to pull the Eagles within one of the Riverhawks. But the late boost wasn’t enough to salvage BC’s stab at the conference title.
“I thought we more than held our own,” said York. “But in this game, crossfires go in and all of a sudden [they’re] advancing to the national tournament. It’s a matter of inches.”
Following the Hockey East Championship loss, Boston College finishes its season with a 21-15-4 record, their eighth consecutive 20-plus win season. Seniors Ryan Fitzgerald, Cangelosi, and Scott Savage all ended their final season on the Heights on a high note with Fitzgerald leading shots, Cangelosi leading face-offs, and Savage leading assists and total points for the team.
“Did we deserve better today? I thought so,” admitted York. “But we’ll live with it, and we wish Lowell and the rest of our league luck in the national tournament.”