BOSTON — This was the hockey equivalent of a pitcher’s duel: While perhaps not as exciting for the casual fan, the hockey purists had to love it.
Tight defense, close checking and strong goaltending were the main attractions Wednesday night as Northeastern and No. 3 Boston College battled to a scoreless tie in front of 4,114 fans at Matthews Arena.
Mike Gilhooly made 28 saves while notching his second career shutout for the Huskies, while Scott Clemmensen added to his career shutout record for the Eagles by posting his eleventh doughnut.
“Tonight’s game really wasn’t a typical college hockey game,” Clemmensen said. It was more of a pro-style, chip it in, get it out [type of game].”
“I feel we had an exceptional effort from our goaltender,” BC coach Jerry York said. “I thought Scott handled a lot of good chances flawlessly.
“We were a little rusty early in the game coming off a 10-day layoff, but we kind of caught our legs and played very, very well both defensively and offensively,” York added. “And you think, 0-0, but our offense was stymied by terrific goaltending by Gilhooly and some blocked shots.”
For the Eagles (11-3-1, 5-1-1 Hockey East) this season, there is no place like the road. They remain unbeaten in road games at 8-0-1, while their home record is merely 3-3. Meanwhile, Northeastern (5-6-3, 2-4-3 Hockey East) is winless in its last six games, but you wouldn’t guess it from what coach Bruce Crowder had to say.
“I tell you, that was a good hockey game,” Crowder said. “It was a lot of character on our guys’ part again. I thought it was fantastic.
“We bent a little bit, but Gilhooly played great, and I thought our defense really sucked it up when we pretty much went with five guys — sometimes four guys — most of the night.”
The first period featured relatively few scoring chances for either team, as the teams combined for just 10 shots. Brooks Orpik almost had a fluke goal at 7:30 when his backhanded flip at the net deflected off a body and almost caught Gilhooly off guard. Northeastern’s fourth line showed great effort in the neutral zone to key a break in, but Kevin Welch shot just wide.
BC dominated play in the NU zone during one power play toward the end of the period but couldn’t get the puck through the clogged slot.
The most memorable moment of the period came at 9:45 when hit-happy Husky forward Brian Cummings crunched Bobby Allen into the boards with one of his trademark body checks. Allen was down for a few minutes and had to be helped from the ice.
“We think he has a minor concussion. We’re going to take him to an emergency room for a look,” York said.
The Eagles are already short a defenseman, with Bill Cass undergoing surgery on Tuesday to repair a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Cass is expected to miss three to four weeks; Allen presumably will sit out the game this weekend.
The second period featured more tight, defensive play. The Huskies enjoyed a half-minute, five-on-three advantage early on but generated little on it. There was a dramatic exchange beginning at 15:30, when Eagle freshman Tony Voce flipped the puck to Marty Hughes just outside the crease, but the pass went through Hughes’ feet. On the counterattack, Brian Cummings broke in, only to have Clemmensen make the save.
“I wasn’t really ready for it,” Clemmensen said. “He was kind of a late guy coming in, and he picked up the puck. I kind of reacted a little bit late, but I got to where I wanted to be.”
A BC power play early in third brought the offense to life, as some tic-tac-toe passes at the one-minute mark almost paid off, only to have John Peterman get a skate on Brian Gionta’s pass.
The action took off in earnest from there on. Jeff Giuliano had a good whack at a rebound at 4:50, then freshman center Ben Eaves rang an 8-footer off the far post at 5:30, giving the Huskies’ fans their biggest fright of the night to that point.
“I think there was one stretch in the third period,” Crowder said. “I think there was about seven minutes without a stoppage of play. It was pretty exciting game, I think, for the fans.”
Mike Ryan brought the crowd back to life a few minutes later, following a strong rush with a redirect that almost broke the scoreless duel.
BC looked to be wearing down the Husky defense in the closing minutes of the third, dominating the action territorially. Giuliano caught the outside of the post with 1:45 left, but the teams closed the third period with the score unchanged from the opening draw.
The overtime featured more of the same, with BC having the edge in terms of possession and chances but to no avail on the scoreboard.
Crowder was very pleased with the effort.
“In our last two games, the way we competed compared to how we competed last Friday night, it’s just night and day,” Crowder said.
Northeastern travels to Dartmouth on Saturday for one last game before a long layoff, while BC plays at Maine on Sunday night before its holiday break.