WORCESTER — The questions have been present all season. However, as the games have become more pressure-packed with more at stake, the inquiries only intensified.
Would Boston College’s young defense corps and youngest in the nation goaltender (Thatcher Demko) be able to handle the pressure? Would they be able to withstand the experience and physical presence of more seasoned teams?
The answers have turned out to be yes.
Freshman blueliner Ian McCoshen was the unlikely hero Sunday night when his goal at 11:16 of the third period broke a 3-3 deadlock and lifted the Eagles to a 4-3 victory over UMass-Lowell in the NCAA Northeast Regional final, propelling BC into the NCAA Frozen Four in Philadelphia in two weeks.
McCoshen, positioned in the left circle, whacked his stick on the ice calling for the puck from his defense partner, sophomore Teddy Doherty.
Doherty, deep in the right circle, answered the call and passed to McCoshen, whose low shot beat sophomore goaltender Connor Hellebuyck for the winner.
The Eagles will take on No. 3 seed Union (the team that knocked them out of the Northeast Regional semis a year ago) April 10 at the Wells Fargo Center. It is BC’s 24th trip to the Frozen Four, tying Michigan for the record.
“Kevin Hayes was hanging on to the puck down low, maintaining a good cycle and he passed it off to Teddy,’’ said McCoshen, who scored his fourth goal of the season. “Teddy was about to shoot it and he saw me at the last second and I was fortunate enough to put it away.’’
Doherty said it was impossible not to hear McCoshen’s clamoring.
“He’s always talking,’’ said Doherty, with a smirk. “He’s loud, he’s one of the louder guys on the team. When I was coming down, I was thinking, ‘Shoot all the way.’ But he was screaming and . . . I passed it over and he made a nice shot.’’
The win didn’t come easily.
After putting on an offensive clinic Saturday, it took BC longer to break through against Lowell.
At 12:57 of the first period, junior left wing Johnny Gaudreau (coming off a 6-point effort against Denver) got it started when he threaded a pass across the top of the crease to Hayes.
Hayes rapped it home past Hellebuyck (25 saves) from just outside the right post and it was 1-0.
But the River Hawks pulled even at 18:08 during a power play. Freshman defenseman Michael Kapla, high above the circles, fired a low shot on net that beat Demko (29 saves) through a screen.
The second period was more hard sledding. Both teams had chances, but strong defense kept the offensive opportunities down.
BC regained the lead at 17:34 on a goal by senior Bill Arnold. Gaudreau, skating down the right circle, tried to find Arnold in the slot. His feed caromed off Lowell defenseman Zack Kamrass and right to Arnold, who cashed in to make it 2-1. But with 1:16 remaining, the River Hawks made it all square again. This time it was senior wing Josh Holmstrom, who beat Demko on a rebound from the slot.
UMass-Lowell earned its first lead of the contest just 43 seconds in when the team took advantage of an Arnold turnover in the neutral zone.
Freshman left wing Evan Campbell skated down the right side and his shot from outside the post caromed off BC freshman defenseman Scott Savage and past Demko.
But 21 seconds later, the Eagles made it even yet again. This time it was freshman Ryan Fitzgerald, who scored a highlight-reel goal under his own steam. He charged into the left circle, split the defense, moved to his backhand, and slid a shot under Hellebuyck’s pads at 1:04.
That set the stage for his fellow rookie to close it out.
“Certainly the two late goals in the third period by both freshmen, Ryan Fitzgerald made a really good what we call ‘run to daylight,’ coming across Connor and was able to beat him on that play,’’ said BC coach Jerry York. “And Teddy Doherty made a really patient pass to a weak side defenseman coming down — Ian McCoshen — who almost had the open net. Teddy froze Connor. So it’s a great way to win the game, two late goals by two young guys.’’Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.