WORCESTER, Mass. - Minnesota Duluth watched many of its opponents this season scratch their heads in wonder trying to solve sophomore goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo.
On Saturday, it was the Bulldogs who were left scratching their heads, unable to solve the mystery that is Boston College junior goaltender Thatcher Demko until it was too late.
The Hobey Baker Memorial Award and Mike Richter Award finalist finished with 28 saves to lead his Eagles back to the NCAA Frozen Four, holding off a late Bulldogs charge for a 3-2 victory in the Northeast Regional final at DCU Center.
“How many people thought we were done when it was 3-0?” UMD coach Scott Sandelin said. “I’m really proud of our team. I think obviously we could’ve went a different way, but this group has really battled all year and certainly grown.
“It was a game of inches. Obviously, we were close at the end to tying it, but we made a couple of mistakes, not getting pucks out and they’re a very good transition team and a very good team that is going to capitalize on those opportunities."
The Bulldogs trailed 3-0 early in the third period, but got goals from senior wing Austin Farley and sophomore wing Karson Kuhlman late to pull within one.
UMD had a power play in the final 40 seconds, giving them a 6-on-4 advantage. Demko made a pad save on a blast by UMD senior defenseman Andy Welinski with 19 seconds left. Then three chances in the final 10 seconds came up empty with a stick breaking on a shot by senior wing Tony Cameranesi, Demko making a save on a shot by Kuhlman another and after Farley whiffed on a shot with a defender all over him, Boston College junior center Austin Cangelosi swept the puck off the goal line to safety to secure the Eagles’ win.
“I think our strategy there was just to get pucks to the net,” Kuhlman said. “I think that’s where we got our opportunities all game. The very last one there, the puck bounced to me and I just threw one on net. I think it rattled around, hit one of their guys, hit one of our guys, and I think the goalie got his glove on it or something. Like coach said, it’s a game of chances, and unfortunately, it didn’t bounce our way.”
It was Boston College’s 14th all-time win in 15 NCAA tournament games in Worcester. The Eagles have now won the last six Northeast Regionals at DCU Center, which is just a short drive from their campus.
This year’s Frozen Four is two weeks from now in Tampa, Fla., which happens to be where the Eagles won their last national championship in 2012. The Eagles were last in the Frozen Four in 2014.
“I have always liked the regional games because you get a hat and a T-shirt and I think that is important,” Boston College coach Jerry York said. “I picked that up from Bill Belichick who is always talking about these things as a hat and T-shirt game so we started using that about 10 years ago. And we kind of look forward to those types of hats.
“It was an interesting game because all of a sudden we were 3-0 and not coasting, but we could see the end, and with an eye bat it changes and it’s 3-2. Now to make it even more interesting, there’s 6-on-5, then we take a penalty so it is 6-on-4. So we had to win this one.”
The Bulldogs’ season comes to an end in the Northeast Regional final for the third time in five years and second year in a row. Boston University dispatched the Bulldogs 3-2 a year ago in Manchester, N.H., while Boston College did the honors in 2012 in Worcester, 4-0 in the final.
The Bulldogs came into the 2015-16 season as the favorites to win the NCHC and ranked No. 2 nationally in the USCHO.com preseason poll.
The Bulldogs themselves had similar goals of winning a league title and contending for a national championship. Instead UMD finished fourth during the regular season in the NCHC, fell to St. Cloud State a week ago in the NCHC tournament championship game and again fell a goal short of the Frozen Four in the Northeast Regional final.
Despite not achieving their goals and meeting expectations, UMD senior captain and defenseman Andy Welinski of Duluth said he couldn’t help but be proud of what his team accomplished.
Especially since most of college hockey had pronounced the Bulldogs dead on Feb. 9 after a 2-1 home loss to Bemidji State.
“That adversity made us stronger,” said UMD senior captain and defenseman Andy Welinski of Duluth. “Again, down three goals tonight, guys stuck with it. It’s one little thing that got us going. Bug (Farley) obviously put one in and gave us some hope there. I don’t want to say too little too late, but I think we had opportunities to finish the game there and tie it up. Unfortunately it didn’t go our way.
“It’s tough it’s a one-game shot and has to end that way.”
UMD controlled the puck and tempo early on Saturday, but it was the Eagles that went into the locker room with a 1-0 lead at the first intermission. Kaskisuo mis-gloved a shot late in the period that senior wing Teddy Doherty ripped past an unsuccessful block attempt by Welinski. The captain’s well-intentioned effort may or may not have impaired Kaskisuo’s view of the puck on the play.
Doherty, who came into Saturday’s game with 11 goals this season, struck again 2:52 into the second to put UMD down 2-0. The BC captain got the puck on UMD’s doorstep after his team was able to race down the ice in time to wave off icing. UMD junior defenseman Brenden Kotyk then lost a battle for the puck in the corner allowing Boston College to win possession.
The Eagles went up 3-0 via a power-play goal early in the third period as junior wing Ryan Fitzgerald finished off a play that was started by his younger brother Casey Fitzgerald, a freshman defenseman. The elder Fitzgerald was able to put a laser in the top corner of the UMD net just as the advantage expired.
“I thought overall we were the better team for over half of the game and their goalie kept them in it,” junior defenseman Willie Raskob said. “They were an opportunistic team scoring on their chances. Eventually, we were going to find one, whether it took us 10 minutes into the first period or the final 15 minutes, we were going to find that first one. When we did, we rolled, but unfortunately that last one didn’t go in.”
Despite giving up two more goals, Kaskisuo bounced back strong from his early blunder, stopping 31 of 34 shots he faced. He was the reason the Eagles were held to just 1-for-5 on the penalty kill, making a number of big close-range saves.
The Bulldogs finally gave him some goal support with a power-play goal from Farley with 7:11 to play as he was able to put a feed from Raskob top shelf.
Kuhlman had a chance to bring UMD within one right off the ensuing faceoff from Farley’s goal, but Demko was able to turn just at the right moment to deny Kuhlman. Demko had so little time to get into position he took the shot in the chest, unable to get his stick, blocker or glove in the path of the blast.
Facing heavy traffic, Demko wasn’t able to stop Kuhlman with just under five minutes to play in regulation as the Esko native and former Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjack slid the puck past the goal line after an assist from Farley.
“He’s a top-end goalie, one of the best in college hockey,” Kuhlman said. “You got to go upstairs on a goalie of his caliber. I mean, if you can get one or two more bounces and bang home a rebound, it’s a different game. It’s just the way it goes.”
Both teams entered the regional final coming off a long Friday that consisted of UMD playing an extra 20 minutes and 57 seconds of hockey to beat defending national champion Providence in the first semifinal of the day. Kuhlman finished off a shot by Raskob to give the Bulldogs a 2-1 double-overtime win in what was the longest Northeast Regional game ever.
The extended game resulted in the second semifinal between Boston College and Harvard starting over an hour late at 9:12 p.m. Eastern and ending at 11:37 p.m. with the Eagles on top 4-1. Sophomore forward Alex Tuch - one of two Minnesota Wild prospects on the roster - and junior forward Austin Cangelosi scored Boston College’s goals.
The Eagles and Bulldogs were given plenty of rest on Saturday, though, with ESPN making the game the last of the day, starting just past 9 p.m. local time.
UMD outshot BC 10-8 in the 9-o’clock hour and those missed chances are what haunted Sandelin in the minutes after his 16th season at UMD had ended.
“For us I think it was a lot of missed opportunities of missing the net, and things like that,” Sandelin said. “Maybe early in the game if we got a goal earlier or somewhere in there it changes the tone of the game a little bit. But I’m really proud. I thought our guys played a really good game and we kept fighting until the end. Unfortunately we came up a little bit short.”
Minnesota Duluth.................... 0-0-2-2
Boston College.................... 1-1-1-3
First period - 1. BC, Teddy Doherty 12 (Adam Gilmour), 14:06. Penalties - Austyn Young, UMD (cross checking), 16:10; Travis Jeke, BC (cross checking), 18:56.
Second period - 2. BC, Doherty 13 (Zach Sanford, Chris Calnan), 2:52. Penalties - Andy Welinski, UMD (cross checking), 8:44; Dominic Toninato, UMD (charging), 11:13; Steve Santini, BC (interference), 13:47.
Third period - 3. BC, Ryan Fitzgerald 23 (Scott Savage, Casey Fitzgerald), 6:35 (pp); 4. UMD, Austin Farley 15 (Willie Raskob, Alex Iafallo), 12:49 (pp). Penalties - Willie Corrin, UMD (slashing), 4:35; Carson Soucy, UMD (boarding), 7:48; Alex Tuch, BC (high sticking), 12:11; Miles Wood, BC (interference), 19:20.
Shots on goal - UMD 10-16-10-30; BC 8-10-10-34. Goalies - Kasimir Kaskisuo, UMD (34 shots-31 saves); Thatcher Demko, BC (30-28). Power plays - UMD 1-of-4; BC 1-of-5. Referees - Steve McInchak, Colin Kronforst. Linesmen - Brett DesRosiers, Johnathan Morrison. Att. - 4,572.
All-tournament team: Alex Tuch, F, Boston College; Teddy Doherty, F, Boston College; Tony Cameranesi, F, Minnesota Duluth; Andy Welinski, D, Minnesota Duluth; Casey Fitzgerald, D, Boston College; Thatcher Demko, G, Boston College (Most Outstanding Player).