What a game! Monday night it took a national anthem, three intermissions and 79 minutes and 53.6 seconds of constant action before Billy Arnold's last ditch goal pushed the Boston College just slightly ahead of their rivals from Boston University, 3-2, and brought a third straight Beanpot championship to the Eagles from Chestnut Hill. Just as it seemed that neither team would be able to figure out how to score on opposing goalies playing at the top of their game, Arnold took a cross-ice pass from Steve Whitney and just barely beat a sprawling Kieran Milan as time almost ran out in the first 20 minute period of sudden death overtime.
Up until then a sold out crowd at the TD Garden saw college hockey at its best. While the college game is rarely a match for the physical skills of the pros, the college players take a back seat to no one in the energy level they bring to their sport. This game was a prime example of that as both teams were in high gear from the opening whistle until the final bell. "This was a fabulous game to watch. This was a well executed, hard fought game by both teams and it was college hockey at its best," said losing coach Jack Parker of BU after the game. "But someone has to get the winning goal and this time it wasn't us."
The winning goal went to Arnold, the grinding sophomore center from Needham who has shown all season that he is capable of top-flight play in all three zones. He kills penalties, takes key faceoffs for his team, and has shown throughout the year that he can score important goals when needed. Back in October Arnold scored the winning goal with just a minute left in a five minute overtime period at Northeastern. This time he waited until most of the time was gone in the 20 minute sudden death before ending the game as a winner.
"Again I wasn't really sure how much time was left on the clock," Arnold explained following an on-ice celebration. "My linemates really set me up. The passes that were made. . . from Barry (Almeida) to Steve (Whitney) to me."
The puck landed on Arnold's stick near the top of the right faceoff circle and he wasted little time wristing it on net, just beating Milan's glove hand for the score.
Up until that point both teams played nearly flawless hockey, up and down with the proper offensive thrusts and defensive coverages. Boston College led throughout the game on the number of shots on goal, but BU held their own on how difficult they made it for BC's Parker Milner. "It was hard for either team to get good offensive chances," coach York explained. Until Arnold's goal, all the scores had come on the power play, or in BC's case, while a man short.
Pat Mullane, who seemed to be all over the ice in what may have been his best game of the year, scored the first BC goal. Down a man and killing a penalty, Chris Kreider swept a loose puck from the center line towards the BU blue line. Mullane picked the puck up skated across ice past two BU defenders and beat Milan going away to the goalie's short side. The first period ended with BC up 1-0, but it was an even period, with the teams alternating penalties which did little to disrupt the flow of the game.
The second period was different as the referees made themselves heard more often. Boston University scored while BC killed a penalty, then Chris Kreider scored while up a man (on a perfect cross ice pass from Beanpot MVP Johnny Gaudreau that set up Kreider for the score the same way Arnold was set up for the eventual winner.) Then in the third period BU tied the score while BC was down two men.
For overtime, the opposing coaches had different ideas. York shortened his bench and skated three lines. He also used his star defensemen more often, with either Tommy Cross or Brian Dumoulin being on the ice at all times. Cross was playing one of his best games. He had broken up several odd man rushes by holding his position in center ice and no BU players were able to beat him one-on-one. Dumoulin, meanwhile was playing what York said was "as good a performance by a college defenseman as I have ever seen on the college level."
On the other hand Parker continued to skate four lines. "I thought we might tire them out and then beat them near the end," Parker admitted. "I guess I was wrong about that."
What York also did in overtime, this time with 1:01 remaining, was call a strategic timeout. "We had just iced the puck," he explained. "My team was tired and I called the time out to give them a rest. That's why the Arnold line was on the ice at the end of the game."
While the win was the sixth in a row for BC, it doesn't count on the Hockey East standings, so BU and BC remain tied in the Hockey East standings. Going into the Beanpot finale, Bu was ranked second in the country and BC was ranked third. "But we aren't even ranked first in our league," Parker admitted (UMass-Lowell is in first.) "The competition is very tough out there."
For the Eagles, however, the victory will help when selections are made for the NCAA tournament in late March. For those that can figure out the mathematics behind it, there are power ratings which almost always determine who will play who, when and where. But even more important than that, this sixth win in a row serves as a reminder that BC's torrid start to the season back in October was probably more of an indicator of how good a team they are than the doldrums that hit the team in November, December and January. Sure, many fans may have been ready to give up on the BC season, but the Beanpot was the second "trophy" that the Eagles have played for this season and they have won both of them, (The Great Lakes Invitational was the other.) Now comes the Hockey East regular season, the Hockey East postseason playoff and, of course, the holy grail of them all, the NCAA championship.
"But we teams have a long way to go before we can start playing for another championship," Jack Parker reminded. "That's why it is so disappointing to lose this one."
NOTES: Milner was outstanding in goal for the Eagles. This was his first start on such a big stage and he played with poise throughout. While fans might not call him "old reliable" yet, they can at least expect him to see the bulk of the work as the season continues this weekend. . . Chris Kreider continues to overpower opponents, with both his strength and his speed, accenting comments in the New York Times Sunday that he may be playing for the Stanley Cup with the New York Rangers once the college season is over. . . Freshman Johnny Gaudreau was named the MVP of the Beanpot. . .This third straight Beanpot championship was the first time BC had such a streak since 1963-65, when coach York was himself a player. . . This was also the first time since the mid-1980s that BU has gone three years without winning a Beanpot.
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