by Mike Lipka/CHN Correspondent
BOSTON All of the scoring in Friday night's Hockey East semifinal between Boston College and Maine took place in the second and third periods. But bizarrely enough, anyone you asked would tell you that the game was won in the first.
The winner? That would be Cory Schneider, the third-seeded Eagles' stalwart sophomore goalie, who rejected all 16 Maine offerings in a Black and Blue first period for BC to give his team a clean slate for the second.
"He made some big stops when they needed them early," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead, "and then they were able to seize the momentum in the second."
But there was no question that momentum came straight from the back. In a first period that featured a relentless Maine attack, Eagles coach Jerry York would be the first to admit that his team — the youngest squad in the nation — was a little nervous.
"I thought we were jumpy, we were a little nervous — the puck was like a hot potato to us," York said. "We never would have been there without Cory early."
The potato certainly didn't look hot to Schneider. When the Eagles at times frantically chased the puck around their own end — giving second-seeded Maine a number of chances between the circles — Schneider was calmly in position. He didn't have to be flamboyant or spectacular, because he was simply there — most memorably early for Rob Bellamy's wide-open look in front.
"About a month ago when we were in Maine, they really came at us hard in the first period both nights," said Schneider, who finished with 35 saves as the Eagles were outshot 36-29. "So I knew they were gonna be out early trying to put the game away, just like they had before. I think they thought they could come out and bully us, and if they got a few goals, we'd pack it in. I kinda put it upon myself to make sure that we'd come out of the first period no worse than 1-0, and at best, tied."
In that case, it worked out best for the Eagles. BC broke the scoreless tie with two goals midway through the second. Schneider allowed his only goal of the night — a pinpoint power play snipe by Josh Soares — late in the period, but he granted the Black Bears no more.
When the predictable surge came from Maine late in the third, Schneider was there again, making perhaps his best save of the night on a Jon Jankus rush with around seven minutes to play.
"I kinda saw that our guy got beat up the middle," Schneider said. "I got there, I got in position, and fortunately, I don't know if he panicked or bobbled the puck or what, but he just tried to throw it back from where I came."
While sliding to his right, he stretched out his left pad and kicked the shot away with his toe. Of course, Schneider — who's as good at handling postgame questions as he is pucks — gave all the credit to his teammates for clearing it away quickly.
"I thought we were blocking shots, we were selling out, diving, doing everything we could to keep the puck out of the danger areas," he said.
When it did get there, it never got too dangerous. But the Eagles are used to this. Schneider (2.17 goals-against average; .925 save percentage) has been the one constant in an uncharacteristically tumultuous year for BC — especially recently. Friday night, he proved that his team is as primed as ever for another postseason run, even if he has to carry them on his back.
Not only did Friday's win set up a dream matchup between BC and Boston University in Saturday's Hockey East championship game, but it, in all likelihood, locked up an NCAA Tournament bid for the Eagles.
But first, Schneider has some other business to take care of — BU scored nine goals against UNH Friday, and has more goals against Schneider this year than any other team.
"They've kinda had our number lately," Schneider said. "It will be nice to get after them and try to get a big win when it counts."