BOSTON — It may be a cliche, but “it’s worth the wait” could be Northeastern’s favorite line.
After waiting five minutes for referee John Gravellese to determine whether Scott Selig’s rebound of a Joe Mastronardi shot at 12:17 of the third period would be counted as a goal, Selig and the Northeastern Huskies, along with most of the 4,206 Northeastern fans in attendance, could celebrate.
Gravellese ruled the puck had crossed the line under a sprawled Ty Conklin, giving the Huskies the eventual game-winning goal in a 5-3 victory over New Hampshire Saturday night.
The controversy was actually two-fold for the officials. Gravellese never saw the play, as he was blocked out by Conklin, Selig and other players in his way. So Gravellese, according to a statement issued by Hockey East, talked with assistant referee Chris Low to determine whether the puck had been kicked in by Selig. Low told Gravellese that the puck had hit Selig’s shin and not his skate, but Low was not sure the puck had crossed the goal line.
From there, Gravellese was left to talk to the goal judge, who told him that the puck indeed had crossed the line, leading Gravellese to award the goal.
Of course, with any controversial call, both sides see it differently.
“[Gravellese] said he didn’t see it,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “He said that he went to his linesman and he thought that it went past the net. But then he checked with the goal judge, who felt it went in.
“I didn’t have a good view, but [Conklin] said that he didn’t think [the puck] ever went in.”
Selig himself admitted he was surprised to see the goal, because he didn’t know it ever hit his shin.
“I backhanded [the rebound] on net and it didn’t go in at first,” said Selig. “I think it hit off my right leg and went it. It definitely went in. I saw it in.”
Northeastern coach Bruce Crowder didn’t care much how the puck went in, just that the goal was allowed.
“We needed it,” said Crowder in as simple an opening statement as you can get. “We got down 2-0 and we had to find a way to come back.”
“Needed it,” indeed, were the right words for the Huskies, who fell into last place after Friday night’s 4-1 loss at UNH. The win catapults the Huskies (9-10-3, 4-7-3 Hockey East) over UMass-Lowell and into a tie with for seventh with Merrimack, 2-1 loser to UMass-Amherst on Saturday.
New Hampshire’s loss gives Boston College, a 4-2 winner over third-place Providence on Saturday, some breathing room at the top. The Wildcats (16-5-5, 7-3-4 Hockey East) sit three points behind first-place Boston College.
Umile characterized the loss as “tough to swallow,” saying that he thought that the Wildcats outplayed the Huskies. The shot chart would agree, as New Hampshire held a 40-18 advantage on the night.
But Crowder felt the difference in the game was traffic in front of Conklin (13 saves).
“On every goal, except [Willie Levesque's] empty-net goal, we had someone in front of the net taking away [Conklin's] eyes,” Crowder said.
“We had a lot of firsts tonight. We scored our first power-play goal of 2001. [Brian] Cummings scores and [Jim] Fahey scores [their first goals of the season].”
Crowder was also impressed with his team’s physical play, noting that Northeastern had 31 hits in the first period.
“I think we only had 32 hits all night [Friday] night.”
The opening frame was, at best, sloppy. Neither club mustered much of an organized offensive attack, with offside and icing dominating over goals and assists. The play remained in the UNH attack zone for most of the period, as evidenced by the shots on goal, where UNH led 16-5 through one. Most of those chances, though, were harmless perimeter shots.
But the Wildcats found themselves late in the period, with the first grade ‘A’ chance and certainly made the most of it. With just under two minutes remaining, Matt Swain pushed the puck to David Busch and beat both defenders for a two-on-none. Busch got NU goaltender Mike Gilhooly (37 saves) to commit and fed a quick pass for Swain to bury into the open net to give UNH a 1-0 lead.
The second period was the opposite of the first. After the single goal in the opening stanza, the two teams combined for five markers, with the result a 3-3 deadlock through two.
UNH got the first goal just 31 seconds after killing a penalty to Eric Lind for interference. Sophomore Josh Prudden was Johnny-on-the-spot when a loose puck bounced to him at the bottom edge of the left faceoff circle. His wrister beat Gilhooly over the left shoulder to open the Wildcats’ lead to two.
Crowder credited the fans in old-fashioned Matthews Arena for helping his team stay in the game when they fell behind early.
“I think the hometown crowd helped us tonight,” said Crowder. “When we went down 2-0, they stayed very vocal and kept us in it.”
Crowd or no crowd, Northeastern certainly stormed back. At 3:26, the Huskies scored on the power play. Wildcat Corey-Joe Ficek lost his stick along the goal line, allowing Mike Ryan to walk out in front. Ryan partially fanned on the shot, but the puck trickled to Levesque, camped at the left post. Levesque pushed the puck into the open net, getting the Huskies within a goal at 2-1.
It was Northeastern’s first power-play tally in nearly two months. The last time the Huskies scored with the man advantage was Dec. 3, 2000, against Maine. From that point, Northeastern went scoreless on its next 33 power-play chances.
At 7:45, Northeastern drew even. Mike Josefowicz’s wrister from the right point moved through heavy traffic in front of Conklin before Brian Cummings finally tipped home the shot for his first goal of the year. His last goal came on March 10, 2000, in a Hockey East quarterfinal lost at Boston College.
UNH regained the lead at 15:58 when Lind was sent in alone from the blue line on Gilhooly. Lind made a nifty move that Gilhooly seemed to follow, but the senior defenseman found just enough room to tuck the puck for his third goal of the year.
But the Huskies answered again. On just its fifth shot of the period, Northeastern scored its third goal when Jim Fahey’s slapper through traffic beat Conklin. As with Cummings, it was Fahey’s first mark of the season, his last coming in last year’s Beanpot consolation game against Harvard on February 14.
That set up the third period for the excitement and controversy that followed. After Selig was credited with the fourth goal, Levesque’s second goal of the night into an empty net with 22 seconds left sealed the win and brought the roof down on old Matthews.
“[The win] was what we needed,” said Crowder. “Now we need to take hold of that and get moving.”
That move can begin as early as Thursday night when the Huskies host Merrimack. UNH will next face Boston University next Friday (away) and Saturday (home).