For over a period during Sunday afternoon’s home opener, the Boston College men’s hockey team was locked in a tight contest with Rensselaer.
Sophomore Johnny Gaudreau’s nifty assist through traffic to teammate Kevin Hayes wasn’t enough to rattle the underdog Engineers. They answered by attacking the BC net, playing a physical brand of hockey with the intentions of shaking rookie Eagle goalie Thatcher Demko in his first start. With the score tied 1-1 after Rensselaer forced a puck past the freshman, it seemed as if the visiting team’s plan was working.
And then a play 13 seconds in frame two turned the tide of momentum for good.
After being slashed by his defender en route to a breakaway, Gaudreau took revenge into his own hands. The junior standout took a pass from Hayes and slapped it into the Engineer’s net for a go-ahead power-play score.
The clock barely started moving before the Eagles struck again moments later. Corralling a rebound off of a shot from teammate Chris Calnan, junior Quinn Smith locked eyes with a wide-open left corner and beat Engineer goalie Jason Kasdorf with a put-back.
When the dust settled, the Eagles were already storming away with a two-goal advantage toward an eventual 7-2 rout.
“I thought that tonight we really got some good play from a lot of different people,” York said.
Beyond a perfect penalty kill mark and efficiency on offense, the Eagle effort was characterized by a generational collision. Gaudreau tacked on two more points to his day and Bill Arnold came flying up the wing for a goal of his own, but the last two periods of Sunday’s game belonged to BC’s freshmen.
Demko anchored the youth movement with 60 minutes of consistent goaltending. His composure between the pipes and willingness to disrupt plays in the crease speak louder than 25 saves on the stat sheet.
Of course, there were moments when Demko inevitably looked like a freshman making his first collegiate start. After Engineer Jimmy DeVito charged up the ice on a breakaway and pulled Rensselaer within one, it seemed that the anointed 17 year-old goalkeeper was shakable after all.
Yet he responded to adversity like a professional, refusing to back down while being knocked around by Rensselaer’s attack. When Demko bore the brunt of a collision with Jake Wood inside the net, he didn’t falter.
Rather, the freshman landed a perfect flip.
While York didn’t indicate whether Demko would assume starting duties from junior Brian Billett on a permanent basis, he was impressed by the rookie’s poise—particularly throughout a first period in which the Engineers owned a 26-9 shot advantage.
“Thatcher held his ground very well,” York said.
Amidst Demko’s effort, BC’s freshmen began to make their mark on the scoreboard. Rookie forward Ryan Fitzgerald created some breathing room with a goal from classmate Austin Cangelosi.
The rookie crop stuck twice more, as Chris Calnan and Steve Santini sent goals into the back of Rensselaer’s net. A Calnan backhander and a Santini top-shelf shot worked in tandem to push BC’s lead to five.
Although the Eagles are the nation’s youngest squad, their combination of youthful newcomers and core veteran leaders can strike a winning balance. Taking powerhouse Wisconsin toe-to-toe on Friday night in Conte Forum will be a crucial step forward.
“There were good positive things for the Eagles this afternoon,” York said.