PITTSBURGH – Entering this weekend’s Three Rivers Classic, Boston College coach Jerry York was watching for any signs of holiday malaise in his nationally-ranked Eagles.
Despite his wariness, York never saw any of what he calls “Christmas hockey” on the Consol Energy Center ice, as No. 7 Boston College completed an impressive two days with a 8-2 win over Penn State in Saturday’s championship game.
The Eagles (12-4-2) dropped Bowling Green 5-0 on Friday with the help of a three-goal first period, and a three-tally second frame was the difference-maker in Saturday’s battle for the Confluence Cup. Boston College junior Destry Straight scored twice in that middle period on his way to the first hat trick in the two-year history of the tournament.
Not only did Boston College defeat its weekend opponents by the combined total of 13-2, it outscored the other three tournament teams on the aggregate over the two days. The Eagles will cruise into their outdoor matchup with Hockey East rival Notre Dame at Fenway Park next Saturday on a four-game winning streak.
“I’ve seen some ‘Christmas hockey’ and it’s not fun to watch, but I don’t think it crept into our game this weekend,” York said. “You pinpoint trophy games over the course of the year. We feel very proud of it. We don’t take trophies lightly.”
Boston College freshman center Ryan Fitzgerald, the son of Pittsburgh Penguins executive Tom, had a goal and two assists in his dad’s workplace, matching the three points put up by fellow first-year Eagle Austin Cangelosi (3a). Eagles star winger Johnny Gaudreau, a Calgary Flames draft pick and 2013 Hobey Baker Award runner-up, scored a breakaway goal and assisted on another.
Gaudreau, who had three points (1g, 2a) against Bowling Green, was named Three Rivers Classic MVP and carries a 13-game point streak into the new year. He and linemates Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes accumulated three goals and nine assists over the weekend as the Eagles displayed their talents for Pittsburgh hockey fans.
“On our line, if you give the puck up you know you’re going to get it back,” said Hayes, who had a goal and assisted on another Saturday. “[Arnold's] a guy who you want to go to battle with. He’s a one-man breakout. He finds us and he’s always going on the offensive.
“And Johnny is Johnny, he’s special. One of the most talented players in the country.”
Penn State (4-10-1) scored the first and last goals of the game, courtesy of Casey Bailey and David Goodwin, but in between the Nittany Lions felt the wrath of one of the nation’s top college teams.
“I thought we hung in there and got stronger as the game went along,” said York, the winningest coach in NCAA Division I history. “Penn State got a head start on us. They won some puck battles early.”
The underdogs started the game like they had something to prove, taking a 1-0 advantage just shy of five minutes in when Bailey shoved a centering pass from Jonathan Milley under junior Eagles goalie Brian Billett, who made 31 saves to follow up his first career shutout Friday. Bailey came close to making it a two-goal Penn State lead in the opening minutes, but Boston College soon showed signs of awakening.
Gaudreau nearly tied it midway through the first when his left-wing shot hit both posts and stayed out after a silky deke. The dam burst in the final two minutes of the frame, when Fitzgerald and Hayes deposited pucks behind Penn State goalie Matt Skoff over a 33-second span to give Boston College a 2-1 edge at intermission.
“You have to give a lot of credit to Boston College,” Penn State coach Guy Gadowsky said. “They’re just a scary offensive team. We got a little tentative when they got rolling, but they make so many plays. You have to have a short memory against teams like this and we didn’t have that.”
The Eagles kept the pressure on in the early stages of the second, although both sides generated good chances in the opening minutes. The give-and-take came to an end when Straight netted his first of two consecutive goals at 6:26, ramming home a rebound of Fitzgerald’s stuff attempt. The BC lead grew to 4-1 with 9:03 left in the period, as Straight tipped defenseman Isaac MacLeod’s shot past Skoff.
Two minutes later, the man known as “Johnny Hockey” got his showcase, taking a feed from Hayes and skating in on a short breakaway. Gaudreau gracefully tucked the puck around Skoff’s right leg for his team-leading 15th goal of the season. Skoff, a sophomore McKees Rocks native, faced just 25 shots – but most of Boston College’s chances were golden.
“I don’t think we took our foot off the gas,” Gadowsky said. “I felt very good about how we were playing early and I was optimistic in looking to see if we could sustain it. We didn’t dictate play after [the first period].”
Junior goalie P.J. Musico got the call for Penn State to start the third, and defenseman Danny Linell greeted him with a power-play blast at 3:59 that skipped through his legs. Straight capped his hat trick with a long wrister through a screen at 13:33, then Michael Sit tipped in Boston College’s eighth goal 18 seconds later.
Goodwin buried a pass from Eric Scheid on a 2-on-1 rush to give Penn State a late tally. The Nittany Lions host Big Ten foe Minnesota in a two-game weekend series Jan. 12-13.
Notes: Boston College defenseman Travis Jeke, a Pittsburgh native, added a late assist Saturday. The sophomore finished with three points (1g, 2a) over the weekend…The Eagles went 2 for 3 on the power play and killed all three of Penn State’s advantages…13 of the 18 players who dressed for BC recorded at least a point…Shots on goal were even at 33 apiece…Attendance for Day 2 of the Three Rivers Classic was 8,222, adding up to 16,755 for the tournament.
Watch as Larry Snyder and I wrapped up the second annual Three Rivers Classic from the Consol Energy Center press box: