March 15, 2017 PRINT Bookmark and Share

One More Chance

BC Seniors Eye Elusive Hockey East Tournament Title

by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer (@JoeMeloni)

He probably shouldn't have done it.

The net was empty. The game was over. Sure, the whistle blew, but why not? So Austin Cangelosi slid the puck into the empty net. It would've been BC's 15th goal of the weekend — its eigth of the night. A final dagger in a weekend full of gashes for Vermont. But the official whistled the play offsides just as Cangelosi skated in on the empty net.

Brady Shaw wasn't pleased.

The Vermont senior, taking umbrage with Cangelosi's mostly harmless ploy, went straight for Cangelosi. A headlock, some struggling, maybe a jab or two took place just before officials stepped in to calm it all down.

Cangelosi understands.

He entered practice last Monday and played last weekend's game fully aware that it could all be over soon.

He's a senior, too, and an NCAA tournament appearance is hardly a given for the Eagles this season.

"Going into (practice) this week, it was the same mindset," Cangelosi said. "For all we knew, these could've been our last games."

Cangelosi and Shaw calmed their frustrations in the handshake line. Two players who've battled for four years sharing a moment of congratulations and understanding.

"He told me 'It's hockey out there. It's over with. Good series.' I told him the same thing."

Cangelosi's time at Boston College has come with plenty of decoration.

Two Frozen Fours.

Two Beanpots.

Three Hockey East regular-season championships.

Three NCAA tournament appearances.

It hardly seems like enough, though. As it stands, Cangelosi and fellow seniors Chris Calnan, Scott Savage, Ryan Fitzgerald and Matthew Gaudreau, are likely to become the second straight class to graduate without a Hockey East tournament title, nevermind a national title. From 1998 through 2012, BC won nine of 15 tournaments. They won four national titles between 2001 and 2012 as well.

BC coach Jerry York brings in young players to win trophies. He regularly turns to terms and phrases like "Trophy Season," "Hat and T-shirt games," and "taking your opponents' sticks away," because he wants to play in and win the most important games during the most important parts of the season.

The Eagles weren't supposed to play in those games this year.

With Boston University welcoming in a supremely talented freshman class, Massachusetts-Lowell coach Norm Bazin masterfully pulling all the right strings, Notre Dame looking for the perfect Hockey East swan song, and Providence determined to return to the Frozen Four, the Eagles just seemed a few pieces short, especially after seven players left for professional contracts after last season.

As the season progressed, BC seemed well behind the league's class as well, even if its overall record suggested otherwise. Against the five other teams in the league's top six, BC went 3-5-2, with one of those wins coming in an outdoor game.

Still, the Eagles were right there in the final weekend, earning a share of the league's regular-season title even after going 1-3-2 in six league games in February, including a sweep at the hands of UMass-Lowell in the final weekend.

Sweeping Vermont with 7-0 and 7-4 scorelines is precisely what the Eagles needed to regain some confidence and keep the hope of a first Hockey East tournament title since 2012 and an eighth straight NCAA tournament appearance alive.

"In February, two goals seemed to be the ceiling," York said. "We couldn't get past that to get to 3. To go back-to-back games with seven goals, we have our mojo back. We're making more hockey plays. When you score goals, you start feeling more confident about scoring even more goals."

With the sweep of Vermont, the Eagles head to TD Garden Friday night for another battle with Boston University.

This season, BU has won all three of the games between the teams, including a Beanpot semifinal matchup on Feb. 6.

From an individual standpoint, each of BC's seniors have enjoyed strong careers at the Heights. They've become better players, of course, and, with the exception of Fitzgerald, who missed time with an ankle injury, have enjoyed career-best seasons in 2016-17.

"They've all improved," York said. "They were all part of a Frozen Four team last year and this year the roster was stripped down with all the players leaving. They handled that curveball well. Now, they have a chance for a Hockey East tournament title. With that would come another chance to play in the national tournament."

Cangelosi, specifically, has been the Eagles' most complete player this season. Aside from his 20 goals and 34 total points, he is one of the league's best defensive forwards.

Last Saturday night, Cangelosi ensured his team and his fellow seniors wouldn't see their seasons end just yet. He scored two goals and added an assist. It was his 10th multi-point game and fifth multi-goal game of the season. Most importantly, though, it was the Eagles' 20th win of the season.

Advancing to the Garden also gives the team a reservation for Thursday's league banquet. An event Cangelosi missed twice in his career when BC failed to advance to the league semifinals. It happened in Cangelosi's freshman season and again in his sophomore year.

It's clear Cangelosi remembers these moments. Following Saturday's win, he was sure to remind his coach that he wasn't able to attend the banquet as a freshman or a sophomore.

"Austin is having a career year as a senior. He kind of willed us to get to the Thursday night banquet with the team. A number of years ago, we had to go with just the coaches and no team. That's awfully hard to do. We had a stretch of bringing our team to the Garden. The one year we didn't get it ..."

"It was two years," Cangelosi chimed in.

In each of those years, BC was still guaranteed a place in the NCAA tournament.

The last times the Eagles failed to get to the Garden, "we still had enough RPI that we were going to the national tournament. This time, we knew to get to the national tournament we had win a couple," York said.

Scenarios exist that can send BC to the NCAA tournament without winning the league's tournament Saturday night.

They necessitate a win against BU on Friday. Regardless, the Eagles have a chance at a trophy — one Cangelosi and classmates have yet to win.

It's why they were brought to Chestnut Hill. It's why they gave their commitment, and it's their last chance to get it done.

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