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NCAA Hockey: BC’s top line goes off; North Dakota, Union book Frozen Four dates

Ryan Lambert
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In which we recap the day's events in the NCAA tournament.

WORCESTER, Mass. — Boston College was dismissed rather unceremoniously from the Hockey East quarter finals by Notre Dame two weeks ago, conceding 13 goals and scoring just eight of their own in a three-game series. This after having lost the regular-season finale against those same Fighting Irish, and all of those games were at the Eagles' fortress of Conte Forum.

Even while the Irish stormed the ramparts and stuck a sword in everyone within an arm's length, the college hockey world collectively dismissed BC's season as having been the product of one world-beating line that went oddly silent in that early playoff series. Many pundits picked lowly Denver to knock them off in Saturday's regional semifinal despite the fact that the Pioneers had been only slightly better than mediocre for much of the season.

The Eagles, with three national titles in the last six tournaments, seem not to take especially kindly to being written off. They ended up waltzing to a 6-2 win and advanced to Sunday's regional final against UMass Lowell.

The BC top line of Calgary prospects Johnny Gaudreau and Bill Arnold, along with Chicago first-rounder Kevin Hayes apparently saved all the offense that wasn't in evidence in that decisive Game 3 for this NCAA date, because boy did they embarrass the previously staunch Denver defense and punish netminder Sam Brittain. Gaudreau struck first on a pretty finish from a prettier feed from Hayes, just 25 seconds into the game. Then Hayes scored 5:25 later on a wonderful if inexplicable individual effort. Then Gaudreau scored again 4:04 after that.

Then Hayes scored at 5:29 the second. Then Gaudreau scored 2:44 after that to — and this is literally impossible to believe — cap his first career hat trick. You get the point.

"We believed we could beat BC but then we saw their first line score some unbelievable goals," said Denver coach Jim Montgomery, who also coached Gaudreau in the USHL. "They put us on our heels and we didn't regroup well enough. Our execution had to be perfect and it wasn't close."

Gaudreau finished with three goals and as many assists, Hayes with two of each, Arnold with one and two. And even that doesn't show how dominant they were; the menace when they came on the ice was palpable, and every time the puck came to any if them in space, you just had to put your head in your hands and sigh heavily. By the time Arnold tacked on the goal that made it 6-0, on a textbook 2-on-1 with Hayes sprung as you might expect by Gaudreau, the game was officially in the, "Oh come on," category. In all, they had 13 of BC's 33 shots, and that's with coach Jerry York keeping them on the bench for most of the final half of the third period.

Most people who have seen BC this season saw Gaudreau and Co. take over a game. None of them saw something like this. A game that, in theory, could have been close, was rendered anything in seconds.

For all the talk that BC was not, perhaps, much more than a glorified one-line team, this game probably doesn't do much to dispel it. But when that one line scores five goals in the first half of the game without breaking a sweat, it probably matters zero percent.

"It's always nice to have balanced scoring, but if they're going to score goals, six is certainly enough to win most hockey games," York said. "I'd like to see a little more balance on the scoresheet, but I'm not going to say, 'Don't score.'"

And here's the other thing, too: it wasn't like BC didn't do other things well, in addition to having the two best forwards on a nation level run riot on one of the top defensive teams in the field. Shots in the game ended up being 33-20 and frankly the 20 Denver had seems a suspiciously high number. It was everything that ever went wrong for the Pioneers all season in one game; they weren't necessarily playing poorly in their own zone but their forwards never had the puck and everything that top line for BC did ended up in the back of the net.

Which leads one to think of poor Sam Brittain, who ended his career at Denver having allowed six goals on 26 shots through 40 minutes before getting the hook. Awful line to have to eat for a kid who dragged his team by the hair, kicking and screaming, to a conference title and NCAA appearance, having entered the game with a .932 save percentage. But he was not really at fault on any of these goals he allowed. They were largely individual efforts by high-skill players the likes of which he hasn't seen this season or probably in his entire career.

Three guys playing not only on an entirely different plane, but at a different speed. Every zone entry was like watching the game played with bullet time. Honestly, there just aren't enough superlatives to heap on them for their performance in this game. It was art, horrifying but beautiful art. All led by Gaudreau, whose six points tied him for second in a single NCAA tournament game.

"On film it's great [to think you know what he's going to do] but live it's like the first time I played against Mario Lemieux," Montgomery said. "It's like, 'Why don't people go pressure him?' Then you get out on the ice against him and everything's moving except the puck, and you're buckled. That's what happens when you play creative players."

But it wasn't all good news for BC's top line. They were also out there for a goal against. Really gotta pick it up defensively if they want to win another national title.

Union 3, Providence 1

This was more or less always going to be the result in a game between these two teams, but it was at least headlined by the program Providence coach Nate Leaman built basically from nothing knocking off his current one, which he is in the process of rebuilding after years of mismanagement. Union is currently a better-established program than the Friars and was among the two or three best teams in the nation this season. Providence was never going to be able to answer, but getting to this point is a great step forward for the program.

The Dutchmen got even-strength goals from three different players, scoring within the opening 2:42 of each of the first two periods. Even when Nick Saracino pulled Providence within one late in the third period, Matt Hatch was there 1:18 later to re-extend the lead to two goals.

However, they might also have to be prepared to take a step back. Calgary prospect Jon Gillies, who stopped 28 of 31 in the loss, was stellar down the stretch for the Friars and the foundation upon which their success the last two seasons has been built. After the game, he was asked whether he would go pro and offered a firm, “No comment.” Which doesn't bode well.

With the win, Union punched its ticket to its second Frozen Four in three seasons.

North Dakota 2, Ferris State 1 (2OT)

The other ticket-puncher was North Dakota, which needed much more time than it should have to get past a Ferris club that wouldn't go away.

It took a Connor Gaarder goal 81:28 into the game to break a deadlock that had been in place since the middle of the second period, when the teams shared goals 3:09 apart. The Bulldogs' Cory Kane put his team up, Stephane Pattyn punched back, and before and after had a lot of puck-stopping from Zane Gothberg and CJ Motte.

In the end, Ferris actually outshot NoDak 45-26, which is something one would not have thought possible after a quick glance at the stats and talent levels on both teams. But that's what happens when you put up just 13 shots from the second to fourth periods, inclusive, one supposes.

Like the Union win, this was the only likely result, and that North Dakota struggled to get there means the various players owe Zane Gothberg (44 saves) a hell of a lot.

St. Cloud State 4, Notre Dame 3 (OT)

Ryan Faragher hasn't had the strongest season in net for St. Cloud, but he was the reason his team even had a chance in this one. Well, actually, you can also make a strong case for Notre Dame goalie Steven Summerhays. Faragher stopped 39 of 42 — including a game-saver in overtime against Notre Dame rookie Vince Hinostroza, who had nine shots in the game — in picking up the win over 77-plus minutes. Meanwhile his counterpart was just 24 of 28, and that's the difference.

Here's the craziest stat of the entire tournament so far: Notre Dame outshot St. Cloud 36-12 in regulation, then got outshot themselves 16-6 in just 17:21 of overtime. Something went haywire here, because Summerhays was lights out in the Hockey East tournament against BC, but then gave up four on 22 to Lowell a week ago. Over his last two games, his save percentage hit .840.

Not that it excuses the rest of his teammates, of course, because they were culpable as well, giving up two overtime penalties to a team they were clearly dominating, and generally turning the puck over far too much. When Nic Dowd finally turned one of those mistakes into a whopper of an off-the-post wrister to seal the fate of this baffling Irish team, it really couldn't have come as any sort of surprise. They'd been courting that result all night.

St. Cloud will play Minnesota on Sunday for a trip to Philadelphia.

UMass Lowell 2, Minnesota State 1

Not the finest of games for the Hockey East champions, but when you have a goalie like Connor Hellebuyck, “fine” might be all you ever need to bring to the rink.

This was Hellebuyck's worst performance in three games, and he conceded one goal on 36 shots. That on the power play, with the goalie pulled, and 10 seconds left in the game, after Lowell had already scored into an empty net. Lowell did him some favors, keeping shots to the outside, clearing most pucks that could have become second or third chances, and when they didn't, Hellebuyck made the difference. So it has been for two years, so it (seemingly) always will be.

The only goal before the final minute of the third period belonged to senior Joe Pendenza, who scored on an unassisted shorthanded breakaway, beating Cole Huggins five-hole. It was really the only mistake Huggins made all night — though Lowell hit approximately 320 posts in the game — and he still walked out of Worcester with 33 saves on 34 shots.

This was very much one of those games in which both teams played well enough to win, and the one with the better goalie ended up getting the W. It's a risky game for Lowell to play like that, but if it comes down to goaltending in every game the rest of the way, then they're going to beat everyone. Hellebuyck is that good. He'll have to be great against BC on Sunday.

Minnesota 7, Robert Morris 3

Yeah, this happened and it was inevitable. The Gophers put 50 shots on goal and suffered just 25, and by my math that's about double. Which sounds about right.

Nate Condon had a pair of goals for the winners. Five other guys had two points each. Should they be worried about Adam Wilcox giving up three on 25? Probably not. He almost had to put down his crossword for one of them, but he was trying to think of a seven-letter word for “burst tire.”

Three Stars

1. Johnny Gaudreau, Boston College

Six points before the Eagles took their foot off the gas, which they did too late to tidy up appearances. Of course, if you're a defense and you're going to lose one guy in coverage, maybe you try to have it not be the guy with 75 points in 38 games. Honestly, though, I really cannot believe that this is only Gaudreau's first career hat trick. It is, however, his 15th multi-goal game, and second six-point game. What I'm trying to say is he's really good. This was simply a vulgar display of overwhelming skill.

2. Zane Gothberg, North Dakota

That Rocco Grimaldi was named Regional MVP is evidence enough that voters need to be brought up on criminal negligence charges. He made 44 saves on 45 shots from Ferris in the regional final on Saturday, a night after stopping 22 of 24. Seems to me that if your team lets 69 shots get to you over seven-plus periods, and you stop 66 of them, your .957 save percentage should buy you a decent amount more credibility than a guy who had a hat trick in Game 1, of which two goals were into empty nets.

3. Kevin Hayes, Boston College

Along the same lines, going 2-2-4 tonight was only his second-best game of the season, surpassed by a 3-2-5 performance against Maine earlier this season. Hayes just seemed to be everywhere in the first two periods, magically appearing in the way that only a 6-foot-3, 205-pound straight-ahead power forward with 60 points can pop into being, completely open and with acres of space in which to work. Bad news for the team that misplaces him. Always.

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