BOSTON -- The Boston College men's hockey team made good on its No. 1 national ranking Sunday, following Friday's 3-2 win over No. 5 Notre Dame by edging No. 11 Boston University, 4-2, in a hard-fought matchup before 6,150 at Agganis Arena.
"Notre Dame is a big rivalry of ours because there's a lot of sports we play (together), but this one just ratchets it up a little bit more because of the history," BC coach Jerry York said after registering career victory No. 921. "Both rivalry games make you play with an intensity to match the other team's intensity. There were a lot of good players we saw against us this weekend, from Friday and Sunday. A lot of good players."
In the 259th meeting of this storied crosstown grudge match -- the first of three over the next three weeks -- the story was the goaltending for the first 50 minutes, despite both clubs having potent offenses (coming into the night, BC was ranked 12th in the country, with BU at 14). The teams combined for five goals over the final nine minutes, but the game was effectively over after BC sophomore sensation Johnny Gaudreau tapped in what would be the game-winner at 12:23 of the third.
"I thought the biggest goal of the game was the 2-on-1. We got caught in deep," BU coach Jack Parker said. "You can't give those guys opportunities like that. They've got an awful lot of great forwards and an awful lot of people who can move the puck. Gaudreau can get some gorgeous goals, and he's a terrific player in this league. We don't need him to have a tap-in like that."
The win was the eighth in a row for BC (8-1-0; 7-1-0 Hockey East) since dropping its season opener against Northeastern and improved the school's overall record against its historic adversary to 115-127-17. It also enabled York to pull even – 36-36-8 -- in his 80 games against BU behind the Eagles' bench. More importantly, the win keeps BC on track to help York reach the all-time collegiate win mark of 924. Currently with 921, York can tie Ron Mason's mark as soon as Nov. 30, and break the record on Dec. 1. The opponent each night? Boston University.
"We'll see them again later on," said Parker, who has 881 career victories and is third on the all-time list. "And this game will make us grow up. This game will help us. I thought we hung in there and played pretty well against the No. 1 team in the country."
BC got the drop on the Terriers (5-3-0; 4-2-0 HE) early, opening the scoring at the 43-second mark. Junior Kevin Hayes curled quickly behind the BU net, wrapping a pass to Destry Straight at the top of the crease, and the sophomore from British Columbia tapped it past Terriers freshman netminder Matt O'Connor.
"We played well. I thought both teams played really well," Hayes said. "Our line was jelling from the start. We were lucky enough to get a goal right away. It's a lot easier when you score right away."
With 13 minutes gone, BU had several golden opportunities to knot the game with BC captain Pat Mullane in the penalty box, but Sahir Gill and Danny O'Regan both misfired from the slot.
O'Connor kept the Terriers close with a dandy glove stop on Calgary draft choice Bill Arnold's power-play bid with only 22 ticks left in the opening period, then O'Connor stuffed Mullane with a pad save 20 seconds into the second. The rest of the middle stanza belonged to the BU penalty killers, who kept the vaunted BC power play -- ranked No. 1 in the country -- off the board despite playing shorthanded for half the period.
"Both teams did a great job killing penalties," Parker said. "They go 0-for-6, we went 1-for-7. I thought that was the best part of our game as far as executing what we wanted to execute."
"Both penalty kills were keys to the game," York said. "Not many power play goals there, from teams with the weapons we both have."
The Terriers had more chances, but continued to have trouble finding the net. Just past eight minutes, BU captain Wade Megan set up Cason Hohmann, but the sophomore's wrister nicked the outside of the right post. Eight minutes later, Evan Rodrigues had BC's Milner in his crosshairs, but rifled his shot over the netminder's left shoulder. Ninety seconds later, O'Connor again came up big, using his full 6-foot-5 frame to stop Gaudreau's point-blank slapper.
"Both goalies played extremely well," Parker said. "O'Connor gets 20 saves and Milner gets 25. Some of them were real tough saves, on both ends. O'Connor had a couple of 10-bell saves."
Hohmann had another top-notch bid a minute into the third, breaking in on Milner from the left wing, but BC freshman defender Michael Matheson hustled back to get a stick on Hohmann's backhander.
BC was able to put the game out of reach with two quick strikes with less than 10 minutes left. The Eagles went up 2-0 after BU's Sean Escobedo made a diving play to break up a 2-on-1 between Hayes and Quinn Smith. Hayes, however, stayed with the play, corralling the puck behind the BU net and snapping a centering pass that banked off O'Connor's skate and into the goal at 11:01. Just 82 seconds later, Gaudreau finished off a textbook 2-on-1, taking a slick feed form Mullane and guiding it past O'Connor for the eventual game-winner.
Desperate for goals, Parker pulled his goaltender with more than five minutes left, and the move paid off at 15:20. Walking in from the right face-off circle, BU defender Matt Grzelcyk fired a shot that Milner stopped but couldn't control, and the freshman from Charlestown pounced on the rebound and ripped the puck past the BC goalie short side for his first collegiate goal.
Then things got interesting. With BU again on the power play after a bench minor (too many men on the ice), Arnold gathered the puck in his own zone and lofted a backhander from just outside his own blueline that nestled into the back of the BU net for a 4-1 BC advantage at 18:02. But at 18:43, BU defender Alexx Privitera snapped a shot from the high slot that eluded Milner for a power-play goal to cut the deficit in half. But it was BU's last gasp of the evening.
"Games like this help both our teams get better," York said. "We push each other. Win or lose, you're going to be better because of the game we played. It will benefit both of the teams."
If the Eagles can take care of business against Merrimack and Dartmouth in their next two games, they will set up a truly epic home-and-home series with their fabled opponents, with York's date with history hanging in the balance.