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Hockey Banter, Week XXIII: Reliving BC vs. Lowell

We take a look back at the regional final against the Riverhawks

Joseph Gravellese: The Boston College Eagles are going back to the Frozen Four.

That still sounds good.

BC has a tough matchup ahead of them against Union... but I'm not quite ready to turn the page and worry about it just yet. I still want to discuss that Lowell game. Because it was truly fantastic. I have many thoughts. I'll start with a few of them and we'll go from there...

It was such an interesting game to watch live and to re-watch on ESPN3. In person, what was most noticeable was the intensity - how mentally taxing the game must have been for the players. Because there was a lot going on, and both teams knew they couldn't give a damn inch without the opposing team making them pay.

A couple of the interesting things I noticed...

In the first period, it seemed as though BC's first line was the only unit that could generate any sort of offensive pressure. The GAH line had one really good, dominating cycling shift early on that set a pretty positive tone. But when the other lines were on the ice, they could barely get it out of their own end, let alone into the attacking zone. And in the end, BC ended up getting outpossessed and outshot in the first period - though this was no doubt aided by Lowell's three power plays.

But starting in the second period things changed quite a bit. The first line actually spent a considerable period of time in the defensive zone and wasn't necessarily at its best in its own end at all times; it was Bill Arnold's disastrous clear attempt late in the second period after BC went up 2-1 that allowed Lowell to tie the game.

But there was a turning point about seven minutes into the second period when the line of Calnan, Gilmour, and Matt Gaudreau really got the puck in deep and generated several chances, and that really turned the tide a bit. We also saw the Smith/Sit/Silk line start skating more regular shifts after getting skipped several times in the first period because they were doing a pretty good job of possessing too.

From that point on, BC never felt like they were being outplayed, even though Lowell certainly matched them stride for stride and had a number of good chances (including their goals.). Norm Bazin commented after the game that systematically, Lowell played about as well as he could have hoped. He's right. Lowell didn't really make any mistakes. All four of BC's goals were just nasty plays.

Grant Salzano: I would definitely point to the emergence of the freshman line -- Matty Gaudreau, Calnan, Gilmour -- as one of the reasons the weekend looked so successful. It started against Denver, but really carried on in the game against Lowell.

They were putting in some really, really good shifts. Really quality stuff, keeping possession, getting some nice chances on net, and Jerry York rewarded them with some pretty regular playing time.

It was really encouraging. Something totally out of the blue with that new line combination.

JG: Of course Jerry York came up with something out of the blue that worked. Of course. And the re-structured fourth line looked pretty good, too. It's telling that York felt major changes were necessary with that unit when Smith was questionable to start the game and it was Cam Spiro skating in warmups, not Linell or Straight. Clearly, York saw something that needed changing with that unit.

GS: Ah yes, the Spiromaniacs were about to start a party when it looked like Cam might crack the lineup. But it wasn't to be.

I think it's interesting how good Matty Gaudreau has looked in his short time playing. He has a really similar playing style as his brother. Not as skilled or creative, obviously, more his skating style. They have similar strides and play with a sort of confidence.

I know there was a pretty bad turnover this weekend with them on the ice, though, that led to a goal -- but I don't remember off the top of my head if it was one or them or not. Someone mentioned elsewhere that it might have been all Matheson. Any recollection of that?

JG: No. It wasn't in the Lowell game. That line wasn't on the ice for any of the GA, though MGaudreau ended up a -1 because it was in the middle of a line change when Lowell scored their 2nd and he was out there. I sort of forgot about how the Denver goals happened because really who cared at that point.

You mention Matheson -- I just have to say, he was a man possessed against Lowell.

Every time he took the puck in deep I was always thinking oh crap oh crap oh no because he got burnt by that against Notre Dame on multiple occasions. But whenever he took it deep a) someone was covering for him this time and b) he usually made something happen. He was also great in the physical aspect of the game and at moving the puck.

GS: Yeah, I did notice him quite a bit getting involved on offense and don't recall that much of him on D. Which probably means he did really well on D, since that's how the position works. haha

JG: Except I did notice him making a number of key breakups. McCoshen, too.

McCoshen was having a heck of a game even before the game winning

goal -- which was just a gorgeous play. It was a risky play -- one of the few times the entire game when BC took the risk of pinching so deep with both defensemen -- but it certainly worked. Per the postgame interviews Doherty was in deep and maybe looking shot but McCoshen came in screaming for the puck -- he knew he had a shot.

GS: Ha... the funny thing was it was a really botched shot on McCoshen's part that ended up going in. He semi-whiffed on it. But hey, Hellebuyck was probably looking fastball and got the changeup, so it worked.

He was expecting the express and got the local, as my father in law would say.

JG: Heh.

Of course, the only real out-of-nowhere goal was -- who knew?! -- Fitzgerald's. Boy, was that ever pretty -and so incredibly important given the situation. If BC had gotten much further into the game down 3-2 it would have been really tough to take risks against Lowell and not get smacked around.

GS: I'll tell you what, as soon as Lowell took the lead in the third I thought we were S.O.L.

Felt like we were totally done. That quick goal was freaking miraculous to me.

JG: The really interesting thing to me about that goal -- I touched on it in the comments -- was that he tried a very similar move on Hellebuyck in the second period and it didn't work, He held on to the puck on that forehand and waited for Hellebuyck to come out with a poke check but he never did. So Fitzgerald ended up sort of looking silly and skating it right into Hellebuyck's pads for an easy-ish save.

But he got another crack at it and it worked this time. He patiently waited for Hellebuyck to bite with the poke check, he did, and anticipating it, he tucked the puck back and slipped it between his legs. It was a goal scorer's goal. Roll the GIF.

And there you go, you see what I mean there about the patience.

Every now and then, even with all the hockey I watch, I stop and just think HOW DO THEY DO THIS AT SUCH HIGH SPEEDS MY GOODNESS.

Making decisions like that and executing them on the fly. Incredible.

GS: I want to step back a second -- I just mentioned that once Lowell scored to go ahead I thought we were toast.

JG: So did I.

GS: But even before that -- I gotta tell you, after the Notre Dame debacle(s), I was CERTAIN that we were not going to be making the Frozen Four.

JG: Oh, I did not feel that way, at all.

I felt like we had a damn good matchup against Denver and had a sneaking suspicion BC would blast them. And then I figured it would be a rock fight against Lowell -- a team I knew BC could beat -- but it would be a test of their mental resilience and ability to really win a tight struggle in a game when they don't just blow away the other team in terms of speed and talent.

I knew it would be tough, but thought they could definitely do it.

But I was certainly dejected once Lowell took the lead. Because it really required just so much incredible focus, energy, effort, and structure to battle through that second period and take a late lead. When they coughed it up, it was just deflating.

GS: For me, I was pretty optimistic for the game against Denver, but it just seemed to me, honestly, that we had peaked. Even with Denver it was like "well, I could totally see us losing, if x y and z continues to go wrong with us, oh God we just lost 3 out of 4 games, oh God."

I have to say, I must eat all kinds of crow with regards to my comments on Lowell.

Man, were they firing on all cylinders or what?

JG: Well you seemed to be the only dummy who didn't know that going in. I mean seriously Jesus Christ

GS: I mean, I knew Lowell was good. Let's not act like I was saying they suck. Or were even average. I knew they were good.

I just didn't see them as one of the top teams setting the world on fire.

But, I mean, woops.

JG: They are just an incredibly well-coached team. They've always got their sticks in the right place - I lost count of the passes they broke up or the plays they cut off just by being in the right position, and how often it felt like they had about 12 players on the ice because of their ability to swarm in the neutral zone and give BC nothing. And Gaudreau's little go-one-on-three-dangle-through-everyone moves that had Denver so perplexed... not so much against Lowell; they weren't dumb enough to back off of him and let him create, with the notable exception of the play when Gaudreau danced around Derek Arnold to snap off a shot that created a rebound that resulted in a BC goal.

But other than that play, they stood him up and played him tight (and I would argue did a little holding and obstruction in so doing, but that's another story). That's why it felt like the culmination of a herculean effort for BC to take that 2-1 lead in the second, and why I didn't think they'd recover when they lost that lead.

Norm Bazin is establishing himself as one of the elite coaches in college hockey. Unlike Merrimack with Da Costa, Lowell is no flash in the pan, they are here to stay.

Add to the fact that they have a great coach, the fact that they have a really experienced roster. I'm not here to debate the merits of over-age players -- that's a topic for another day -- but they've stockpiled their roster with experienced, older players, who also happen to be smart and speedy.

Add to that an all-world goaltender and that's why Lowell was my pick as a top 4 team in the country.

Their season is a case study in why every game is important. Because if they had beaten Sacred Heart, they would have been a 1 seed, and maybe-probably would have been in the Frozen Four. I couldn't see them losing to a non-ELITE team, the way they played this weekend.

(And before someone says "WELL THEY WOULD HAVE HAD TO BEAT BC ANYWAY SO IT DOESN'T MATTER" ... just getting to the Frozen Four and getting that exposure is a HUGE milestone for any program, whether you win it all or not -- but especially for an emerging program like Lowell.)

GS: Not only that, but they may not have had to face BC. If they were a 4 and BC was a 2, BC would still have had to go through Union first.

JG: Well, you know what I mean. They would have had to beat a super-eilte team to win it all.

GS: Let's talk about Demko for a second.

I may have missed the mark on assessing Lowell's abilities, but I was right along with everyone else in thinking that Denver was the best team to start off with to get his legs back under him. He didn't have to do all that much against Denver until later on in the game, and I thought he looked pretty solid against Lowell.

He may not be at that form that he was mid- to late- season when he was tops in GAA and Save%, but he's much closer than he was a couple weeks ago.

JG: He did. He made a number of good stops. He did have his moments where his rebounds and positioning scared me. But the kid is cool as a cucumber out there and he ultimately outdueled Hellebuyck in a game where his team was outshot.

So, all the credit in the world to him. And now he can take that confidence with him to Philadelphia.

GS: Yep. Not going to get a chance to ease into it against Union, though. So he's going to have go be ready to go.

JG: We are getting pretty tl;dr here but I do want to sign off with two key points regarding the Gaudreau, Arnold, Hayes line.

1. Key stat of the weekend: Kevin Hayes had a team-leading 12 shots on the weekend. Second was Johnny Gaudreau with 7.

That was a point of frustration with Hayes against the Domers, especially in game 1 and the regular season finale -- not pulling the trigger when he had good opportunities to do so.

GS: It's been a point of frustration for 4 years, really.

JG: Kid was just a boss over the weekend. Him just steamrolling down the middle and ripping home a goal against Denver will stand out in my mind for quite some time. That was pure domination.

Point #2: When People -- and I'll leave these People unnamed, but there are People -- try to overthink things like the Hobey Baker award by saying "oh you can't measure what a player like a," and let's just be generic and call this player "Ric Dowe" -- "you can't measure a Ric Dowe in goals and assists, it's the intangibles, it's the blocked shots, leadership, yada yada yada" - and therefore by implication basically say that a player like a Johnny Gaudreau's only value is in his gaudy numbers, or suggest that having gaudy numbers somehow disqualifies one from having "intangibles"...

Take a look at the replay of the last shift when UMass-Lowell was scrambling for the game tying goal with the extra attacker -- the single most critical defensive shift of the year.

Who was it that the great Jerry York sent out there in this situation? Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold... who are 1, 2, and 3 (!!!) nationally in plus/minus, by a pretty significant margin.

So take that for what it's worth.

(A lot.)