BOSTON -- The gap between the No. 1 and No. 20 hockey teams looked enormous on Friday night, as the nation's top-ranked Boston College Eagles took the visiting Maine Black Bears to the woodshed, 5-1, before 6,304 at Conte Forum. And the biggest reason for the Eagles' comfortable win was the inspired play of local product Chris Kreider, who had a hand in BC's first three goals.
"I thought it was our most solid game in a long time," said BC coach Jerry York. "We've been giving up a lot of shots. Tonight, I thought our structure, and our defense, was much better."
The top-ranked Eagles (8-1-0; 6-0-0 Hockey East) came into Friday's game on a roll, winning five straight after their home-opening loss to Denver three weeks ago, and are undefeated in league play. The Black Bears (3-3-1; 3-2-0 HE) were nipping at the Eagles' wingtips, arriving in Boston with a 3-1-0 league mark.
"We didn't get out of the gate the way we wanted to," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. "BC was clearly the better team in all three facets: goaltending, defense and offense.
"We had the opportunity to come in and knock off the No. 1 team in the country, and we couldn't do it."
The teams traded early chances, but Maine's Dan Sullivan was able to pick up a deflection off Paul Carey's skate with his right pad, and BC's Parker Milner matched the save moments later, catching up to a redirect off the stick of Maine's Theo Andersson.
After Sullivan made another nifty stop on a wraparound bid by BC's Johnny Gaudreau, the first period turned into the Chris Kreider Show. The BC junior gave the Eagles the lead with a short-handed tally, after linemate Kevin Hayes got whistled off for tripping. Kreider picked up a loose puck after Patch Alber broke up a Maine bid, raced in alone on Sullivan and fired a dart between the Maine goalie's legs at 11:33.
"That breakaway goal, the short-handed goal, really set the tone," said York.
Less than two minutes later, BC doubled its lead, and again Kreider was at the center of the action. With Maine's Will O'Neil serving two minutes for elbowing, Kreider made a superb play in his own zone, breaking up a Black Bears scoring bid by deflecting a centering pass. He then charged the length of the ice before dropping a pass off to Bill Arnold. Sullivan blocked Arnold's bid, but BC's Hayes collected the rebound and banged it home at 13:26.
"We've emphasized that good defensive zone play and good neutral zone play leads to a lot of chances," said Kreider. "The guys have really bought into that."
For Whitehead, BC's back-to-back tallies really put his Black Bears on their heels.
"To start off with a short-handed goal and a power-play goal was deflating, especially when special teams was a strength of ours coming in," he said. "But not tonight."
The goals came fast and furious to open the middle period, with Kreider again in the thick of it. At the 28-second mark, Kreider picked Sullivan's pocket behind the goal line, and quickly fed the puck to Arnold in front. Before Sullivan could recover, the BC sophomore from nearby Needham potted his seventh goal of the season.
"Chris Kreider was just so strong on the puck all night long," said York, adding that the trio of Kreider, Arnold and Hayes "has really established itself as a top line."
Maine showed some life a minute later, when Jon Swavely collected a rebound of a Klas Leidermark shot and snapped it past Milner for his first goal of the campaign. The emotional boost didn't last for the Black Bears, however, as BC stormed right back. At 2:16, Steven Whitney took a pass from Pat Mullane and ripped a wrister past Sullivan's glove for a 4-1 BC lead. The goal prompted Whitehead to yank his goaltender, and sophomore Martin Ouellette came on in relief.
"I thought we had a chance to grab back the momentum, and we lost it," said Whitehead. "That was a backbreaker."
At 10:14, the Eagles stretched their lead to 5-1, when Barry Almeida's wide-angle bid from the bottom of the left faceoff circle squeezed through Ouellette for a power-play tally.
BC could have had two more before the end of the period, but Tom Atkinson (14:50) and Mullane (19:25) were both unable to convert wide-open chances by the left post. BC's Isaac MacLeod kept the Black Bears at bay with just three minutes left, blocking a shot when Milner was caught down and out.
In the third, BC's Brian Dumoulin put an exclamation point on the win with a huge open-ice hit on Maine's Connor Leen, exemplifying the Eagles' dominance on this night.
"We were just better defensively, and our anticipation was better," said York. "This was a good, solid victory for us."
The Eagles travel west Saturday to take on the UMass Minutemen, while Maine squares off against archrival New Hampshire in Durham, N.H.
In other local college hockey action:
No. 7 Merrimack 1, Northeastern 1 (overtime)
Merrimack's Rhett Bly broke up a defensive struggle with his first goal of the season at 14:20 of the second, but the Northeastern Huskies (1-4-2; 1-4-2 HE) wouldn't roll over. The Huntington Hounds kept digging, and just 57 seconds into the third, Justin Daniels tied the game with his fifth goal of the season. However, overtime couldn't determine a winner, and the two squads settled for a 1-1 stalemate and a point apiece before 2,489 at Merrimack's Lawler Arena. The deadlock knocked Merrimack (6-0-1; 4-0-1 HE) from the ranks of the nation's "unbeaten and untied." The two teams renew acquaintances on Saturday at NU's Matthews Arena.
Princeton 4, Harvard 3
Princeton (1-2-1; 1-0-0 ECAC) capitalized on three power-play strikes to ruin the season opener -- and the home opener -- for the Harvard Crimson (0-1-0; 0-1-0 ECAC). Harvard's Alex Killorn (two goals) kept the Crimson in the game, but Ted Donato's squad couldn't get the equalizer after Luke Greiner got them within one at 11:47. Highly touted freshman netminder Steve Michalek had 34 saves for Harvard, while Princeton's Sean Bonar had 25 stops in the win. The Crimson return to the Bright Center on Saturday to face the Quinnipiac Bobcats.
New Hampshire 7, UMass 3
It was the "Shootout at the Whittemore Center," with the Wildcats (3-4-1; 2-3-0 HE) and Minutemen (1-4-2; 0-4-2 HE) combining for five goals in the first 20 minutes. UNH held a 3-2 lead after the first stanza, and pulled away with three more goals (by Brett Kostolansky, Mike Borisenok and Stevie Moses) in the second, assuring the Wildcats their second straight league win. UNH's Grayson Downing capped off the home squad's big night with his first goal of the season at 9:13 of the third. The Wildcats host Maine on Saturday, while the Minutemen return home to play the nation's No. 1 team, Boston College.
Providence 5, Vermont 2
The Friars (3-3-1; 3-2-0 HE) spotted the Vermont Catamounts (1-4-0; 0-3-0 HE) an early lead, but stormed back with three unanswered goals, including two by Tim Schaller, to put Providence in the driver's seat after 40 minutes. Vermont's Drew MacKenzie pulled the Catamounts within one at the 48-second mark of the third, but Derek Army restored the Friars' two-goal margin at 6:09, and Schaller completed his hat trick at 12:43 to complete the scoring. Meanwhile, the Catamounts were left still searching for their first league win. The teams meet again Saturday, again in Providence.