BOSTON — Boston College’s roster includes only three freshmen, but those three scored all four Eagle goals in a 4-2 road win over archrival Boston University.
Alex Tuch scored twice and assisted on another goal, while defenseman Noah Hanifin opened the scoring and also added an assist. Zach Sanford made a key block in the closing seconds and sealed the win with a 180-foot, empty-net goal.
Both teams entered the contest on undefeated streaks dating back to just after Thanksgiving — BC (5-0-2) and BU (3-0-3) — but BU’s stellar first semester had placed the Terriers second in the country, while BC’s ups and downs had the Eagles ranked only 17th.
“This was one of the few times in the last number of years that we’ve come down here as a clear underdog,” BC coach Jerry York said. “But we responded really well to the challenge. Despite our record and our national ranking, we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good club.”
BU has been ranked in the top three nationally since Nov. 10, but was clearly outplayed over the first two periods when BC built a 3-0 lead. The Terriers came charging back in the third, narrowing the margin to 3-2, and had chances with their goaltender pulled, but Sanford’s empty-netter pounded the final nail in their coffin.
“We lost to the better team tonight,” BU coach David Quinn said. “They played with more passion and pace. For some reason, we were a little bit flat. Part of the reason was the pace BC played at.
“You can’t play 20 minutes of hockey — I don’t know if we even played that — and expect to beat a team like BC. This has been coming on for a while. We haven’t played great, but we’ve been avoiding losing.”
BU’s power play (20.6 percent) had been a key to its success so far this season and the Terriers did score once while a man up, but BC’s man advantage (11.8 percent, second worst in Hockey East) had held back the Eagles. Not tonight. BC scored twice on the power play, aided by some ill-advised BU penalties. Both strikes came on five-on-three advantages.
The Terrier defense, which includes four freshmen, struggled both on the power play and even strength.
“Our gap [control] was horrific,” Quinn said. “It was the number one problem for us all night long. Our D just did not hold the offensive blue line long enough.
“BC is fast. We made them look a lot faster by just backing off. We looked like we had four freshmen D tonight and that hasn’t happened very often this year.
“Our gap allowed them to walk up the ice. They had way too many easy zone exits. It wasn’t so much their breakout, it was just that we backed off. Our D didn’t allow our forwards to back-pressure the puck, because when you create a good gap you slow [the attackers] up a little bit and then your forwards can apply back-pressure. We didn’t have any of that tonight.”
The problems for the Terriers began early as Boston College took quick control. Although the shots in the first period were almost even, 16-15 for BC, the Eagles dominated in grade A chances as well on the scoreboard.
Hanifin got the Eagles on the board 6:41 into the game, capitalizing on a five-on-three man advantage. The power-play unit moved the puck around the perimeter, allowing the point men to creep closer to the net, and Hanifin took advantage, rifling a shot from the lower left point.
The Eagles continued to control play, but BU goaltender Matt O’Connor kept his team in it, as he did all night, making a big glove save on Steve Santini before robbing Brendan Silk on the doorstep.
O’Connor, however, couldn’t stop the freshmen connection of Hanifin and Tuch at 17:43. Hanifin carried down below the net, spotted Tuck coming in on the right and fed him. Tuch one-timed it into the net for the 2-0 lead.
The Eagles extended their lead midway through the second period on a five-on-three advantage slated to last for almost a full two minutes. From along the goal line, Ryan Fitzgerald found Tuch in the slot and the freshman buried his second of the game and seventh of the year.
BU rallied just 1:17 into the third period with Danny O’Regan scoring on the power play, shooting through a thick screen from atop the left faceoff circle.
Evan Rodrigues almost made it a one-goal game, but after he cut left-to-right into the low slot on a three-on-two, he fired wide.
With time growing short, the famous hirsute BU fan known as Sasquatch got the fans rocking, and almost immediately, at 16:37, Matt Lane backhanded the rebound of a Nikolas Olsson shot into the net.
The Agganis Arena crowd now needed no encouragement.
The Terriers pressed, and with O’Connor pulled for an extra attacker generated strong chances.
But with 33 seconds remaining, Sanford blocked a shot in the defensive zone and with Terrier fans groaning, sent the puck into the far net to seal the win.