CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — BCA. The UMass-Amherst Minutemen use that acronym to describe how they seek to play each game: Big, Confident and Aggressive. With their playoff lives at stake, they did just that to earn a 3-3 tie with Boston College, an opponent that few gave them a chance against.
BCA may also have stood for “Boston College Assassin” in the form of goaltender Mike Johnson, who recorded a school-record 60 saves, including 21 in the third period and six in overtime.
“Good goaltending is like good pitching; it can do a lot of things to help a team out,” said UMass coach Don Cahoon. “I thought our guys competed. Obviously, we are what we are and they [BC] are what they are. Clearly they’re very good offensively and put so much pressure on you. But we were resilient enough and never got discouraged when they got goals back and we stayed within ourselves.”
Heading into the weekend, the Minutemen had only games left against number-two ranked Boston College and number-seven New Hampshire. Combined with their last-place position in Hockey East, many concluded that they would go 0-for-4 and be the odd-man out in the eight-team Hockey East playoffs.
The tie, however, puts UMass-Amherst (7-20-4, 6-13-2 HEA) into a tie for the last playoff berth with Merrimack since the Warriors lost in overtime to Maine, 5-4. The Minutemen now not only hold a tiebreaker win with Merrimack, but also a game in hand.
“This is huge,” said Minuteman captain Jeff Turner. “A lot of guys looked to last year when we came in here [in a similar situation] and we beat them and it propelled us into a playoff position. We just had confidence coming in here. Getting a point is gigantic.”
For Boston College (23-8-2, 14-5-2 HEA), the tie tightens the battle for a Hockey East regular season title, a crown that had been all but conceded to the Eagles in recent weeks. They still hold control of their own destiny, but their lead over Providence has shrunk to a single point and a game in hand after the Friars’ Thursday-Friday sweep of UMass-Lowell.
“It was important for UMass, but it was important for us, too,” said BC coach Jerry York. “Both of us had a lot on the table.
“We certainly put a lot of shots on Johnson, but the finishing part wasn’t very good for us. If we get that many chances, we’ve got to get more goals. UMass battled hard and stayed right in the game.”
Much of that was attributable to Johnson, who might have wanted BC’s second goal back but otherwise was exceptional. He fell short of only one other game in his career: a 64-save, one-goal performance for Edina High School. His previous collegiate best was 35 saves in a 0-0 tie with Merrimack last year.
“I didn’t really feel that great before [the game], but you feel good after the first save and a few saves later it turned out okay for us,” said Johnson with a laugh. “I’d rather have a night like tonight where you’re just diving around. You’re into the game the whole time. The guys helped out, [denying] them third and fourth chances. I just had to make one and they’d clear it.”
The Minutemen got out of the gate quickly, capitalizing on a BC defensive zone turnover at 3:38. Kris Wallis beat goaltender Scott Clemmensen from 10 feet out for his seventh of the year.
Turner threatened to make it a two-goal lead at the midway point of the period. He shot as he cut across the goalmouth, but was foiled by Clemmensen. Late in the period, Turner would send R.J. Gates in on a partial breakaway as he split the defense only to be stopped by Clemmensen.
Most of the first period pressure after Wallis’ goal, though, was applied by the Eagles on the way to a 21-9 shot advantage. However, Johnson came up big repeatedly, especially on an end-to-end rush by Ben Eaves and a breakaway by Brian Gionta.
However, the Gionta breakaway — sprung by a nice indirect pass by Bobby Allen — led to a Minuteman penalty and BC did score on the power play. At 18:45, Jeff Giuliano fed Gionta from the right post to the left and the senior roofed it to tie the game at 1-1.
The Minutemen took the lead back at the nine-minute mark of the second period. Gates collected a puck that bounced off a BC defenseman, toe-tucked it and beat Clemmensen from the slot.
Krys Kolanos responded barely more than a minute later. Failing to lose defender Samuli Jalkanen with a shake-and-bake move, Kolanos nonetheless gained enough separation as he cut in from the left wing to get a shot off that beat Johnson five-hole.
At 16:53, UMass-Amherst took back the lead on what was technically a four-on-four, but in reality was the remnants of a four-on-three since the man from the penalty box had barely entered the defensive zone.
Originally, the Minutemen had gained a 1:07 five-on-three advantage, but lost that 37 seconds later when they were assessed a penalty. Undeterred, Toni Soderholm fed the puck from the right point to Jeff Turner on the right post and he fed his brother Tim on the weak side, where the younger Turner put it into the open net.
At 7:08 of the third period, Jeff Giuliano tied the game at 3-3 on a rebound of a Gionta shot. From that point on, Boston College applied considerable pressure, but couldn’t solve Johnson.
The two teams meet in a rematch on Saturday night at the Mullins Center.
The evening also marked the retirement of David Emma’s number 16. From 1987-1991, the Hobey Baker Award winner scored 239 points on 112 goals and 127 assists. He remains the all-time BC leader in points, was passed in assists by Mike Mottau last year and in goals by Gionta earlier this season.
Emma joins six other former Eagles in the honor: legendary coach John “Snooks” Kelly, Tom “Red” Martin, Ray Chaisson, Edward “Butch” Songin, Jim Logue and Joe Mullen.
The retirement coincided with the appearance of Justin and Jay Shaw, Emma’s cousins, in UMass-Amherst jerseys.