When It Matters Most
BC Aces Dominate Denver in Worcester
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
WORCESTER, Mass. They skated off the ice two weeks ago. Defeated. Solved.
They were quiet that weekend. Not entirely silent, but they were stifled. They weren't used to that.
Kevin Hayes, Bill Arnold and Johnny Gaudreau do special things. They make the simple look elegant, the difficult look routine. They're best line in college hockey. Gaudreau, the best player. But two weeks ago, they remember it well, they were quiet.
"It was tough losing to Notre Dame," Hayes said. "They're a great team. Not being able to play at the Garden kind of hit everyone hard. The coaches did a great job in the last two weeks of practice getting everyone ready. The motivation, like coach said, we have nine freshmen. We want to show them how it's done."
Notre Dame went into Conte Forum and shut BC down. The Fighting Irish took two of three games from the Eagles to win a Hockey East quarterfinal and advance to the TD Garden.
For BC, it was its first season without a quarterfinal win since 2004. For Gaudreau, Arnold and Hayes, it was a wake up call. Motivation to be even better to lead this BC team to its loftiest goal.
Ahead of Saturday's Northeast Regional semifinal with Denver, the Eagles' three best players knew the test approaching. Denver, the champion of the first-ever NCHC Tournament, ranked seventh in the nation in team defense. Goaltender Sam Brittain was tied for third in the nation in save percentage. The Pioneers' blue line makes up one of the best groups in the country, a unit as deep as it is talented.
Twenty-five seconds into the game, none of it mattered.
Not Denver. Not a disappointing Hockey East Tournament exit. Nothing. There was Johnny Gaudreau, Bill Arnold and Kevin Hayes. And they weren't to be denied.
Gaudreau scored 25 seconds into the game, finding an open patch of ice in front of the DU goal, accepting a pass from Hayes and effortlessly lifting the shot over Brittain's shoulder — 1-0.
"Denver's a great team. They won their conference," Gaudreau said. "Coach said we had to come out in the first period and have a good night as a line. We needed a big statement as a line. … We had to start the game off right."
Hayes followed a few minutes later, somehow turning a puck battle into a breakaway and dangling in and around Brittain — 2-0.
The first period wasn't over before Gaudreau solidified the message he and his linemates promised to send. The slightest turnover in the DU zone quickly became a 2-on-1. Gaudreau darted down the wing. The slightest fake drew Brittain to the near post, and Gaudreau whipped around the cage and tucked the puck in — 3-0 in 9 minutes, 34 seconds.
"I think it was just working for us," Hayes said. "Luck was definitely involved. Pucks were definitely bouncing our way. All year, playing with these two guys, things are pretty simple."
Two weeks ago, the line looked solved. They couldn't beat defensemen. They couldn't beat Notre Dame goaltender Steven Summerhays. They couldn't beat posts. Saturday afternoon they beat Denver in 10 minutes.
The line combined for another three goals in the second period. This time Hayes kicked it off, lifting a shot over Brittain after Gaudreau and Arnold combined to work the puck to him. Gaudreau and Arnold added the fifth and six markers before York called them back for the night.
"We can play them a lot more minutes because of the TV timeouts," York said. "There are two-minute timeouts three times per period. … Our gameplan was to play them at least 24 minutes. I think we excdeeded that. We sat them down for the last six or seven minutes. You can't do that during the regular season."
In the end, Gaudreau finished with six points (his first career hat trick), Hayes with four (two goals and two assists) and Arnold with three (one goal and two assists). They had five total in the two losses to Notre Dame two weeks ago. All three players were on the ice for each of the six BC goals.
The 6-2 win on Saturday night doesn't solve all of BC's problems. It doesn't answer the questions that made this team less the favorite than it so often is. It, however, did send a statement to the Eagles' opponent on Sunday afternoon.
This team isn't perfect. This team isn't deep like York's teams have been. This line, though.
"It's nice to have balanced scoring, but, if they're going to score goals, six is certainly enough to win most hockey games," York said. "The goal is to have a good offense. If it happens to come from three players, it comes from three players."
Gaudreau and Arnold and Hayes. They want your best players. They want the biggest stage. They want a national championship. And they're good enough to do it all by themselves.