PROVIDENCE — When Boston College senior right wing Steven Whitney was called for high-sticking at 16:29 of the second period, the grimace on his face was representative of the acute frustration the Eagles were feeling.
The senior class, with two national titles under its belt and a trophy case full of hardware, was used to winning. Its dream was to become the first class to win three NCAA championships, particularly with two Pittsburgh kids — goaltender Parker Milner and defenseman Patrick Wey — wanting to play on the ultimate stage at the Frozen Four in their hometown.
But it wasn’t to be. Union, which brought a six-game winning streak into the NCAA East Regional semifinal at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, poured on the offense and stymied the Eagles’ attack on the way to a 5-1 victory.
When asked about being intimidated playing the defending champ, Union defenseman Mat Bodie said it was something they weren’t focused on.
“I thought we did a great job sticking to our game plan,’’ said Bodie. “At no point did we feel overpowered or intimidated by this team. We feel we’re a pretty good hockey team when we’re playing our best. Lately, we’ve been playing pretty good.’’
Union (22-12-5), which made it to the Frozen Four last year and lost to Ferris State in the semifinals, will return if it can knock off No. 1 overall seed Quinnipiac on Sunday night.
For BC, there would be no repeat.
As hot as the Dutchmen were, the Eagles were not at their sharpest when it counted. Granted, they were a year removed from losing top defensemen Tommy Cross (graduation) and Brian Dumoulin (turned pro), as well as top scorer Chris Kreider (turned pro). When you take that kind of talent out of your lineup, it’s hard to replace. And they missed Kevin Hayes (leg surgery), who would likely have made a difference.
Their young defensemen, while talented, lacked some of the seasoning needed at this point of the season and the big scorers couldn’t step up their games when it counted. Union did a fine job of putting the clamp down on BC’s top point-getter Johnny Gaudreau, who scored the Eagles’ only goal with 3:58 left in the game.
This result was not dissimilar to 2011 when BC was looking to repeat after the 2010 championship. After sweeping UMass in the quarterfinals and beating Northeastern and Merrimack to win the Hockey East championship, the Eagles were stopped abruptly by a Colorado College team that put an 8-4 whooping on them. The 30-win season ended on a sour note.
This year’s team simply wasn’t as good as that one. Their defensive liabilities haunted them on too many occasions.
In the first meeting between the schools, the Dutchmen were simply better.
Josh Jooris scored his first of two at 9:25 of the first, connecting from the left circle after taking a backhand pass from junior right wing Kevin Sullivan.
The killer came during a 25-second span of the second when Jooris made it 2-0 on a backdoor play 39 seconds in. Jooris was left all alone outside the left post and Wayne Simpson made it look easy. BC’s defense keyed on Simpson and he just relayed it across for his waiting teammate.
At 1:04, junior left wing Cole Ikkala made it a three-goal lead when he beat Milner from the left circle. BC coach Jerry York called a timeout after the goal to settle his team.
Right after the break, junior pivot Bill Arnold (who was BC’s best player by far) had two straight opportunities, but junior netminder Troy Grosenick was immense when he had to be throughout the game. The Eagles didn’t have a ton of Grade-A chances, particularly on the power play, but they didn’t convert when they had the opportunities.
Union added a power-play goal at 18:16 when sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere beat Milner on a hard slapper from between the circles.
The Dutchman tallied their third on the man advantage at 5:19 of the third when senior defenseman Greg Coburn delivered a pass from the far edge of the left circle and sophomore Daniel Ciampini redirected it past Milner for the 5-0 lead.
Gaudreau ruined the shutout, but it was small consolation.
For BC, it was a bitter end to the seniors’ fine careers.
“We feel like the luckiest kids in the world to be able to wear the maroon and gold for four years and represent Boston College and play under Coach York,’’ said an emotional Pat Mullane, the Eagles’ captain. “The loss hurts and not being able to win another national championship hurts. The ultimate goal was to be the first class in history to win three, but I think right now the pain is knowing I’ll never get to wear this jersey again.’’