BC's Glory Days are Over
Eagles' Season Ends with Title Game Loss
BOSTON The expectation was that, when February would come, Boston College would win the Beanpot and then roll through everything — and everyone — and land in the Frozen Four.
Sometimes, four times precisely, it ended with a national championship. Other times, the Eagles fell a game or two short, still laying claim to a season almost any other program would envy. That's how it used to be anyway.
Perhaps it's not fair to deem a program that played in a Frozen Four a year ago and advanced to its most recent conference championship game somehow in decline. And the Eagles aren't exactly crashing down to Earth.
The descent, however, is well under way. The era of BC being the program against which all others are measured has ended.
Between 1998 and 2012, the Eagles won nine of 15 Hockey East tournament championships.
They haven't won one since.
Saturday night, the Eagles fell, 4-3, to UMass-Lowell in the 2017 Hockey East title game. The Eagles' hopes of an NCAA tournament appearance died with the loss despite a late rally led by senior Ryan Fitzgerald. In his final collegiate game, he pulled BC back within one in the third period and hit the crossbar in the final minute.
"It comes down to Fitzy’s crossbar shot to send it into overtime," BC coach Jerry York said. "Lowell has an outstanding hockey team. They have proven it from October through March. I thought we held our own. In this game, when crossbars go in, you advance to national tournaments. You get a chance to do something special. I thought we deserved better tonight. We will live with it. We wish Lowell and our league to have a terrific run in the national tournament."
The only tournaments the Eagles have won since their national championship in 2012 were the Beanpots in 2013, 2014 and 2016. The Beanpots are important, but only to the four teams participating in the annual Boston city championship. The long-celebrated Beanpot Bounce simply hasn't manifested itself for the Eagles in recent years.
"There are a lot of good teams in the league," York said. "A lot of good coaches and players. We do the very best we can every year."
Saturday's loss to UMass-Lowell extended BC's Hockey East championship drought to five years. It also ended the Eagles' streak of seven consecutive NCAA tournament appearances, which dated back to the 2010 season.
Before examining the Eagles' problems in recent years, it's worth remembering just how high they got from 1998 through 2012. Aside from their insane run of dominance in the Hockey East tournament, the Eagles won four national championships (2001, 2008, 2010, and 2012), claimed six Hockey East regular-season titles, and advanced to 10 Frozen Fours and eight national championship games. They were best in the country in that period, and it really wasn't even close.
It wasn't exactly an unprecedented run of dominance for a program. The Eagles, however, stood out as the class of college hockey in this period.
The end of this particular segment of the program's history didn't come because of any mistake or poor decision.
It was simply a matter of time.
York's former top lieutenant Mike Cavanugh moved on to a head coaching job at Connecticut. Long-time rival Boston University started landing premium recruits and other programs, long crushed by the Eagles, hired some great coaches and became legitimate competitors.
Hockey East is a tougher league.
Division I men's college hockey has more good teams than ever before.
It's simply a different world. The Eagles also lost seven players with remaining eligibility following last season and may well lose sophomore Colin White to a pro contract this offseason.
The Eagles can still contend for championships on a yearly basis. They won the Hockey East regular-season title this year, sharing it with UMass-Lowell and Boston University. They've played in two of the last four Frozen Fours. However, they've also lost in the quarterfinals of two of the last four Hockey East tournaments.
The difference for BC now is that they're just another good team. They'll be the best some years. They'll struggle in others.
York hesitated Saturday night to call this season a failure. It's a courtesy to his players, particularly his seniors. Four players who stayed in Chestnut Hill and fought for their program, representing it valiantly and fighting to tie Saturday's championship game until the last possible moment. It was fitting that Fitzgerald, who scored twice in Friday's semifinal win and brought BC within one on Saturday, hit the crossbar in the final minute. He was close, like the Eagles, but just not close enough this time around.
"Very proud of what this club achieved," York said. "We had a lot of players in the senior class that left for the NHL. ... Within a whisker of winning the Lamoriello trophy. Very proud of them. I thought that they did an outstanding job. I thought (Austin Cangelosi) and Ryan Fitzgerald especially were special players. Very excited on how our players played during the year."
BC won't be picked to lead Hockey East next season, but they'll be in the thick of the race for home ice and likely challenge for another regular-season title. They may even be able to win a Lamoriello Trophy.
They aren't a lock for anything anymore, though. The only certainty for Boston College in 2017 is that the glory days are over.