FROZEN FOUR | Boston College looks to regain Tampa title touch

Alex Tuch was on the bench when Boston College teammate Austin Cangelosi sprawled behind goalie Thatcher Demko and swept the puck away from the open net with less than five seconds remaining. That move preserved a 3-2 victory  in the Northeast Region championship game.

Tuch couldn’t see where the puck was from his vantage point, but when he saw the replay, his jaw dropped.

“I was in absolute shock at how close it came to going in,” the 6-4, 220-pound sophomore said. “What a play by Austin. It’s been that way all season with different players stepping up. It doesn't matter who does what to help us win.”

A night earlier it was Tuch stepping up in showcase fashion and scoring two goals in a 4-1 win over Harvard.

On one goal the 2014 first-round pick of the NHL's Minnesota Wild turned a broken play into a breakaway and wristed a shot past Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen. On the other, he bulled his way past multiple Harvard defenders and refused to be knocked off the puck.

It’s been that way all season for the Eagles, who return to the place of their 2012 national championship  triumph at the Frozen Four in Tampa.

A different player seems to deliver each night. One player, senior Teddy Doherty, has played forward and defense this season and throughout his career. He scored twice against Minnesota Duluth in the region final.

That team concept on a squad loaded with 12 NHL draft picks is a key reason why BC will be vying for its sixth national title and fifth since 2001 when the Eagles open the Frozen Four against top-seeded Quinnipiac on Thursday at 5 p.m. ET.

North Dakota takes on NCHC rival Denver in the second semifinal with the winners meeting for the national title on Saturday.

“You have to buy into a culture here, a tradition at BC,” Eagles coach Jerry York said. “It’s such a difficult process to recruit players who’ve been put on pedestals all of their lives and they get to our school with all the other good players and it changes. The driving force to our success is to take really good players, exceptional players, and have them put the team first and don’t let egos get involved.”

BC has six players who’ve scored more than 30 points, including Tuch, who has 17 goals and 16 assists, and leading scorer junior Ryan Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has more than doubled his output from a year ago with 23 goals and 23 assists. Colin White, a first-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2015 (21st overall), is second on the team with 19 goals and 23 assists.

Five more players have at least 20 points, but the real backbone of BC is Demko (right).

The junior goalie had operations on both hips in the offseason and the result was more flexibility that led to 10 shutouts, a .936 save percentage and 1.85 goals-against average. He is the only Hobey Baker finalist remaining in the Frozen Four field. Only he and Yale goalie Alex Lyon are finalists for both the Hobey and the Mike Richter award for the top goalie in the nation.

“He’s our best player and it all starts with Thatch,” Tuch said. “You can’t say enough about what he’s done for us. I mean, 10 shutouts. That’s incredible.”

Both Tuch and Demko will be counted on for BC to have success against a Quinnipiac team that limited BC rival UMass Lowell to 15 shots on net in the Bobcats’ 4-1 victory in the East Region title game.

Quinnipiac’s average of 3.8 goals per game was fourth best in the nation while BC is right behind at 3.79. The Bobcats also rank fifth in goals allowed (1.86), and they have the fourth-best power play (27.5%) and third-best in penalty kill (89.3%). BC’s penalty kill is fourth at 87.9%.

While York lauded Quinnipiac for shutting down UMass Lowell’s shots on goal, Tuch looked at a bright side of the matchup.

“I watched that whole game and a lot of shots Mass Lowell got off never reached the net or were off target,” he said. “I’m not sure they were ready for a team that collapses to the net like Quinnipiac does and makes you shoot through three or four players. We’ve played that style against Vermont and a few other teams.  We’ll be more prepared.

“I know that big guys like me and Miles Wood are going to be needed to crash the net and get in front of (Quinnipiac goalie Michael Garteig). As long as we keep the mentality that this is the playoffs and teams won’t give up once they get behind so we have to press on we should be OK. We have to keep pushing forward and dominate the entire game all around.”

Thursday’s game will mark BC’s record 25th Frozen Four appearance, most of any program.
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Above: Sophomore Alex Tuch has been one of the many Boston College players to step up this season. (Courtesy John Quackenbos/BC Athletic Communications)

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