MINNEAPOLIS — Sunday afternoon games are rare in college hockey. After Sunday’s rough outing against top-ranked Minnesota, it’s likely Boston College will want to stick to the more traditional Friday and Saturday evening schedule.
The Gophers scored on four of their first seven shots, taking advantage of a defense that looked out of sorts and cruising to a 6-1 win at the Big Ten/Hockey East Challenge.
The fifth-ranked Eagles, who have just one more Sunday afternoon game on their schedule this season, got a goal from Evan Richardson and 26 saves from Brian Billett, but fell to 2-2-1.
“We gave them four quality chances in the first period, and they cashed in on all four,” said Eagles coach Jerry York. “That set the tone for the game. During the course of the 60 minutes, we played some really good hockey, but we didn’t match them. Our breakdowns were really taken advantage of by the Gophers.”
Minnesota’s early offense likely provided Billett with unpleasant déjà vu. Unlike Friday’s tournament opener, when BC went toe to toe with Minnesota for 65 minutes, forging a 3-3 tie and winning the exhibition shootout, Billett’s third start of the season was somewhat similar to the Eagles’ 8-1 loss in Minneapolis last season. In that game, BC trailed, 6-0, in the third when Billett came on in relief of starter Parker Milner and allowed two goals on three shots.
“We can’t blame any of it on [Billett],” said Eagles center Bill Arnold. “We were hanging him out to dry. We talked about neutral-zone turnovers and turnovers at their blue line. There was just too much of that. They’re a fast team that will capitalize when we do that, and we just weren’t good enough.”
As they had done on Friday, the Gophers (5-0-1) got the crowd whipped up early, taking a 1-0 lead less than five minutes in when Nate Condon capped a two-on-one break by slipping a backhander between Billett’s knees. Less than a minute later it was 2-0 when a defensive breakdown by the Eagles left Seth Ambroz all alone with the puck in front of Billett. The goalie stopped Ambroz’s initial shot, but could not control the rebound.
While the Eagles were struggling defensively, the Gophers’ defensemen were getting in on the fun. Mike Reilly and Brady Skjei scored before the first period was done. Still, when it was over, even the Gophers credited Billett for staying sharp in the face of adversity.
“After that [first period] he played very well,” said Minnesota coach Don Lucia. “The ones we scored on him were quality shots. That’s going to happen sometimes. We were tested plenty.”
The Eagles finally made a mark on the scoreboard six minutes into the middle period. Gophers goalie Adam Wilcox, who finished with 31 saves, stopped an initial shot by Quinn Smith, but could not recover in time to get the rebound. Richardson, a freshman playing in just his second game, snapped the puck past Wilcox for his first career goal.
“You have to take what you can from that game. We weren’t ready to play, they were a fast team,” Arnold said. “A lot of that has to do with preparation. We’re going to go back and watch film and there are a ton of things we will find out we can do better. I think we’re a much better team than the way we played today.”
Trailing, 6-1, late in the third, Eagles defenseman Michael Matheson was sent off for a major charging penalty for a hit on Condon. Minnesota controlled play for much of the five minutes, but the Eagles killed the penalty.
The Eagles have a home-and-home series with Northeastern next weekend, playing Friday at Conte Forum and Saturday at Matthews Arena.