It wasn't supposed to end like this. But in the NCAA ice hockey tournament -- only 16 teams strong -- there are no easy pickings. Top-seeded Boston College found that out the hard way Friday night, as the defending national champs had their season come to an abrupt and unexpected end at the hands of 4-seed Colorado College, losing 8-4 in the opening round of the West Regional at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis.
In the week leading up to the regional semifinal, after watching Colorado College in the WCHA playoffs, BC coach Jerry York admitted he was "very impressed with the speed and the creativity that the Tigers play with."
On Friday night, in his 12th NCAA tournament behind the Eagles bench, York must have thought his eyes were playing tricks on him. The Tigers (23-18-3) were even more imposing live, as they outskated and outworked the Eagles (30-8-1) on the way to opening a 7-2 second-period lead.
"Every single guy played well," said Colorado College's Jaden Schwartz, who rung up four points (two goals, two assists). "Penalty kill, power play, five on five. [Goalie] Joe Howe stood on his head. It's a good team win, and we're all pretty happy right now."
BC got off to a promising start, overwhelming the Tigers from the drop of the puck and cashing in early when Jimmy Hayes grabbed a Pat Mullane rebound off Howe's chest and punched it into the empty net at 19 seconds. It would be BC's brief shining moment.
The Tigers got even when Stephen Schultz ripped a shot through the legs of BC's Barry Almeida and past Eagles goalie John Muse for a power-play strike at 4:34. At 7:47, Jaden Schwartz, streaking down the left wing, collected his own rebound off Muse's right pad and roofed the puck past BC's netminder for a 2-1 Tigers lead.
The Tigers continued to swarm the Eagles, and only 15 seconds later, Rylan Schwartz completed a bang-bang play in front, taking a deft behind-the-net feed from his brother Jaden and snapping it past Muse's blocker side for a 3-1 Tigers margin.
Howe made the lead stand with several spectacular saves, including a theft of a bid by BC's Cam Atkinson with a sprawling cross-crease glove stop.
BC's comeback prospects got even more daunting when CC's David Civitarese broke in past Joe Whitney during an Eagles power play and shielded the puck beautifully before tucking it five-hole past Muse for an unassisted short-handed tally and a 4-1 Tiger lead at 18:42.
After a first-period flurry of goals, the squads skated through the first 10 minutes of the middle stanza scoreless. BC's Paul Carey chiseled away at the Tigers' lead, wristing a shot from the left faceoff dot that broke off Howe's glove and bounced into the net at 10:39 of the second for BC's second goal. But then the roof collapsed on the Eagles.
Jaden Schwartz reclaimed the three-goal lead for the Tigers with a power-play strike at the 14-minute mark. At 15:34, Civitarese again outworked Whitney during an Eagles power play, charging down the right side before skipping a drop pass to a trailing Alexander Krushelnyski, who picked the top left corner for a 6-2 Tigers lead.
CC's opportunistic William Rappuzzi put the Tigers up five at 17:33 of the second, knifing past the BC defense and beating Muse low glove side.
Rappuzzi's strike sent the Eagles into the second intermission reeling and ended Muse's remarkable BC career. It was the senior's first loss in NCAA tournament play after eight straight wins and two national championships. Sophomore Parker Milner started the third between the BC pipes.
The Eagles rallied in the final stanza, but couldn't overcome the five-goal deficit. Atkinson cut the CC lead to 7-3 when he converted a slick behind-the-back feed from Brian Gibbons and swept the puck past Howe at 8:15. Almeida got the Eagles within three at 13:39 with a top-shelf bullet over Howe's blocker.
But Rappuzzi put the exclamation point on the Tigers' win with 10 seconds remaining, intercepting a cross-ice pass, breaking in cleanly on Parker, and snapping the puck into the top right corner.
The win sends the Tigers into the West Regional final against Michigan on Saturday.
For the Eagles, the loss was the first that any player on the current squad had suffered in NCAA play. For the program, it was the second bitter defeat in five years at the Scottrade Center, after BC lost in the 2007 NCAA championship game to Michigan State, 3-1.
Before Friday's game, York compared the NCAA tournament to getting pushed to the back tees in golf. On Friday night, the Eagles' drives simply couldn't match those of Colorado College.
Brion O'Connor covers college hockey for ESPNBoston.com.