CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — It may not have been Minnesota all over again, but the Holy Cross Crusaders certainly are celebrating like it’s 2006.
The Crusaders, whose biggest win in program history was a 2006 NCAA tournament upset of then-top-seeded Minnesota, pulled off yet another major upset on Friday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead against Boston College before holding on for a 5-4 win at BC’s Kelley Rink.
It was the first win for an Atlantic Hockey team over Boston College.
“It’s pretty big,” said coach Paul Pearl when ask of the significance of beating BC. “They’re an excellent team and an excellent program. They do things right, how we’d like to model ourselves.”
On Friday, for two periods it appeared the two teams had switched roles. The high-flying Eagles struggled to get their transition game going while Holy Cross, a team struggling to score goals this season, transitioned the puck perfectly and scored four goals on the rush.
But for Pearl, as nice as it was to see his offense get going, he pointed to the play of his defense for what keyed the victory.
“We did not turn the puck over in the middle of the ice,” said Pearl. “We probably did and I’ll watch the video and see that. But it was one or two [times], not nine or 10.”
At the same time, Holy Cross got the better goaltending performance. BC’s Thatcher Demko, returning to the lineup for the first time Nov. 8 having nursed a hamstring injury, fought the puck at times, allowing five goals on 18 shots.
At the other end, Matt Ginn was brilliant, particularly late in the game after BC had pulled within a goal. He made three major saves in the final two minutes, robbing Adam Gilmour with a left pad rebound save before stonewalling Johnny Gaudreau first on a bid from 15 feet and then on a breakaway with 15 seconds remaining.
“Matt’s a very good goaltender and if he can see it, he can usually stop it,” said Pearl of Ginn, who finished the game with 34 saves. “[The shots at the end] were point-blank and he was able to square up to the puck and keep composed in those scrambling situations.”
Despite falling behind, Boston College emerged from the opening faceoff with jump and created some early scoring chances, but Ginn was strong. It was then the Crusaders who jumped out to an early 2-0 lead thanks to goals 1:34 apart.
The first came stuff attempt by Jake Youso led to an errant clearing attempt by the Eagles. Joe McNamara, son of former Boston College defenseman John McNamara, intercepted the pass and fired a shot that Mike Barrett deflected for his third goal of the season at 12:24.
With the Crusaders buzzing, first-line winger Castan Sommer extended the lead with a wraparound bid that Demko couldn’t handle. The goal stunned the Kelley Rink crowd of 6,527 and gave Holy Cross a 2-0 lead.
BC answered quickly.
Kevin Hayes drove down the left wing and fired a tough-angle shot that deflected off the stick of Holy Cross defenseman Nathaniel Domagala and over the shoulder of Ginn at 14:53 to pull BC within a goal.
BC held a 9-7 advantage in shots through one, but trailed 2-1.
In the second, Holy Cross played opportunistic hockey, capitalizing on three BC defensive errors to pot three goals and expand the lead to 5-1.
Adam Schmidt chipped a self-pass off the boards at his defensive blue line and walked in with space, firing a shot glove side on Demko at 8:00 for the 3-1 lead.
Just over four minutes later, Barrett scored his second goal of the game, finding room on the left side and cutting to the middle to fire another shot glove side on Demko that found the net.
Matt Vidal than finished off a perfect pass on a 2-on-1 after an Eagles’ turnover in the neutral zone, roofing the third goal of the period to Demko’s glove side at 16:53.
Through two period Holy Cross had just 15 shots, but beat Demko five times.
With the game seemingly out of reach, the Eagles finally came to life in the third.
Ryan Fitzgerald fired home a Danny Linell pass at 6:57. Michael Sit and Hayes then scored twice in 27 seconds to pull BC within one with 4:02 left.
From there, Ginn was Holy Cross’ best player on the ice, finishing the third with 14 saves in a period Holy Cross was outshot, 17-3.
For BC, it is the second straight game the Eagles have fallen behind 5-1. Last Sunday, the Eagles had no response to that deficit at Maine and on Friday, the comeback was too little, too late.
“It’s hard to win one period and hope to win a hockey game,” said BC coach Jerry York. “Lesson learned. We came back and played very well in the third period, but a little too late and not enough.”