By James Garrison
The Boston University men’s hockey team (18-11-3, 12-7-3 Hockey East) suffered their first regulation loss in exactly three months at the hands of their cross-town rivals, the Boston College Eagles (12-17-5, 7-12-3 HE) Sunday afternoon at Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, MA.
A late third-period goal by Eagles’ junior defenseman Drew Helleson was the difference for Boston College in their 3-1 victory. Helleson is tied for the team lead in points by a defensemen with 22 on the year.
With the win, the Eagles take the season-series over BU two games to one after the Terriers took the first game of the weekend, 6-3 on Saturday night at Agganis Arena. The Eagles defeated the Terriers 4-3 in a shootout victory earlier in December as well.
“We had plenty of chances to win that hockey game,” Head Coach Albie O’Connell said in the post game press conference. “You’ve got to tip your cap, they played really hard defensively.”
Much like Saturday night, the Terriers had a very strong first period to start off the game. The Terriers outshot the Eagles 19-7 and were playing the game on their terms, giving BC little in terms of momentum.
5:18 into the first period, Terrier junior forward Jay O’Brien and Eagles sophomore forward Trevor Kuntar traded minor penalties. Eleven seconds later, Eagles senior forward and captain Marc McLaughlin would head off for a tripping call.
The Terriers were able to capitalize on the 4-on-3 opportunity, with junior forward Wilmer Skoog opening the scoring for his team-leading 12th goal of the year off of a no-look pass from Matt Brown.
The Terriers power-play would be quiet for the rest of the day, though, squandering some excellent opportunities presented to them to take the lead later on in the game. The Eagles were able to kill off the Terriers four other power plays including a 5-on-3 late in the second period.
“We didn’t execute, it was actually really sloppy, we had like a fade-away jumper,” O’Connell said. “That was a big part of the game (…) we just didn’t execute. They did a good job but we had some guys on the PP tonight that didn’t necessarily execute what we were trying to do.”
The Terriers’ failure to capitalize on their opportunities, along with the Eagles making the Terriers pay for their few mistakes proved to be the difference Sunday in what was a very closely fought contest.
“Big players made big plays at the right time,” O’Connell said. “That play that they made at the end was a big time play. That cross-ice pass for that one-timer, that was an ‘NHL play’ (…) both plays came off of turnovers, so they were opportunistic.”
The Eagles were able to even the game up late in the second period by converting on a costly turnover by junior defenseman John Copeland. Eagles senior forward Jack McBain sniped glove-side on sophomore goaltender Drew Commesso for his third goal in his first weekend back with BC after representing Canada in the Winter Olympics.
The game would remain even until late in the third period when Helleson received a slick cross-ice pass from McLaughlin. Three of the BU defenders were caught playing a 1-on-3 against Eagles graduate forward Brandon Kruse to leave Helleson open going to the net.
The Terriers were unable to answer and ended up giving up a shorthanded empty netter to drop the contest 3-1.
Both goaltenders played very solid and were the main reason for the low-scoring contest. Commesso made his first start since playing for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics. Commesso stopped 21 out of 23 shots faced.
“Commesso didn’t have as many shots as Dop but he was just as effective,” Boston College Head Coach Jerry York said in the postgame press conference. “He really was in control of his net there.”
At the other end of the rink, BC graduate goaltender Eric Dop stole the game for the Eagles, stopping 42 out of 43 shots faced –– a substantial improvement after giving up six goals on Saturday night.
“I thought Eric Dop was amazing,” McClaughlin said post-game. “By far his best game of the year,” York added. “A lot of real grade-A chances, probably none bigger than the breakaway save earlier in the third period.”
With the loss, the Terriers remain in a three-way tie for fifth place in Hockey East with UConn and Providence. With just one week remaining in the regular season, there is still much to be sorted out in terms of seeding for the Hockey East Tournament.
It is still unclear whether BU will have to play a midweek play-in game, or will have a quarterfinal matchup at home. Sunday’s loss did make the path to a top-four seed much more difficult, though.
Additionally, BU took a notable dip in the USCHO Pairwise rankings after the loss. The loss sent them down to No. 16, which will most likely not be good enough to receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament.
The Hockey East Tournament will likely be a larger-than usual factor in determining which Hockey East Teams will qualify for the National Tournament. It will likely be UMass and the top-two other performing teams in the Hockey East Tournament that receive a bid.
Next weekend the Terriers will look to rebound in their final series of the regular season up in Orono against the University of Maine, who the Terriers defeated 4-0 at Agganis Arena on Feb. 4.
Coverage for both Friday and Saturday’s games can be found with a preview and recaps for each game on the blog, as well as coverage on Instagram @boston.hockey.blog and on Twitter @BOShockeyblog.