WORCESTER, Mass. -- For all of his talents, its' almost unbelievable that prior to last night, Boston's Johnny Gaudreau had never recorded a hat trick.
The junior picked the perfect time the achieve the milestone, potting three goals and registering a total of six points to propel the Eagles to a 6-2 win over Denver in the NCAA Division 1 hockey tournament Northeast Regional semifinals.
Boston College will play UMass-Lowell in a matchup of Hockey East's regular season and conference tournament champions tonight at 5 p.m. on ESPNU. The River Hawks punched their ticket to the regional final by winning a defensive struggle with Minnesota State 2-1.
"I’m just kind of excited to play the game ... I didn’t want to send Kevin [Hayes] and Billy [Arnold] out of their [Boston College] careers without a good run for this championship, and that’s what pushing me. Just trying to just improve and get them a national championship. Getting to play with these two guys, it’s been a fun year. It’s hard not to produce on the score sheet when you’re playing with Kevin and Bill," Gaudreau said in the post-game press conference.
Boston College had been scuffling a bit heading into the tournament. After a 19-game unbeaten streak, the Eagles lost three of their last four games, all to Notre Dame, including an early exit from the Hockey East playoffs in the quarterfinals.
"It was rough losing to Notre Dame. They’re a great team. Not being able to play in the [TD] Garden [in Boston for the Hockey East semifinals and finals] kind of hit everyone hard," Hayes said. "I thought the coaches did a great job the last two weeks getting the guys ready. The motivation, like coach says, is we have nine freshmen and we want to show them how it’s done and I think they got a pretty good taste of how hard they have to play.”
Gaudreau, who had his 31-game point streak snapped in game three of the quarterfinals, came out on fire, along with Hayes and Arnold, who have been arguably the most formidable scoring line in college hockey since head coach Jerry York put them together.
In addition to Gaudreau's output, Hayes scored two goals and assisted two others while Arnold had three points with a goal and two assists as the line was responsible for every Boston College goal.
Gaudreau scored the game's first goal just 25 seconds into the contest when Hayes dug the puck out from the corner and centered a pass in front of the crease that was backhanded past Denver goalie Sam Brittain. Hayes scored his first goal just over five minutes later and Gaudreau essentially put the game away when he fooled Brittain with a wraparound that went in glove side at 9:34.
"Like coach said, Denver is a great team, they won their conference. We obviously had to show up in the first period," Gaudreau said. "With nine guys in the lineup, we needed a big statement from our first line showing how important it is to start the game off right."
Boston College was so dominant, Denver didn't record a shot on net until there were less than seven minutes remaining in the period and only had three in the frame.
In the second period, Hayed netted his second goal at 5:29 and Gaudreau completed the hat trick less than three minutes later to give the Eagles a commanding 5-0 lead.
Denver didn't score until it was down 6-0 when Trevor Moore finally solved Boston College goalie Thatcher Demko with eight seconds remaining in the second period.
UMass-Lowell was the beneficiary of some stellar goaltending and recorded a rare empty net game winning goal in a 2-1 win over Minnesota State in the late game.
Sophomore keeper Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding, making 35 saves to lead the River Hawks.
"He’s a great goalie. You don’t win anything special without very good goaltending this time of year," UMass-Lowell head coach Norm Bazin said. "He’s a calming presence back there and he’s done a great job for us."
Zach Kamrass scored what was the game-winner when Minnesota State, down 1-0 thanks to a first period goal by Joe Pendenza, pulled its goalie with a minute left for the extra attacker. Kamrass scored on the empty net, putting the River Hawks up two with 41 seconds remaining in the game, but Evan Janssen finally solved Hellebuyck for the Mavericks 30 seconds later, making the empty netter the game-winner.
Hellebuyck was matched for much of the game by his counterpart Cole Huggins, who recorded 31 saves and allowed just one goal in the losing effort.
"He’s a very good goalie. This time of the year every team’s going to have a good
goalie," Pendenza said. "Some nights you’re only going to get one or two goals by a goalie, but it’s important that you keep going and you don’t let that frustrate you, especially going into tomorrow. [Boston College] has a great goalie in Demko, so it’s important that we just keep going and not get frustrated."
Boston College now faces a River Hawks team it has not lost to since February 2013 and has earned at least a point against in four of their last five meetings. The Eagles are 1-0-1 against UMass-Lowell this season, getting 33 saves from Demko in a 3-0 victory at home, followed by a 2-2 tie in which the River Hawks scored two third-period goals to force overtime.
Boston College is a perfect 6-0-0 on neutral ice this season, while UMass-Lowell is 5-1-0.