BOSTON, Mass. — At first it may sound like a contradiction in terms.
Although the weekend’s officiating experiment — in which WCHA referee Mike Schmitt was sent East to call two games in preparation for the NCAA tournament — seemed to be a success, it still proved to be the primary bone of contention, as a controversial call by one of Hockey East’s assistant referees factored significantly in the outcome of an outstanding contest between Boston University and Cornell.
With just 1:11 left in a hard-fought, 3-3 game, Big Red Captain Stephen Bby checked Terrier freshmen Justin Maiser into the Cornell bench. One of the assistant referees called Bby for unsportsmanlike conduct, theoretically because Maiser struggled to get untangled from the opposing bench.
Fifteen seconds later on the power play, Terrier co-captain Mike Pandolfo kicked the rebound of a shot by fellow captain Chris Dyment onto his stick. The puck hit goalie Matt Underhill, who knocked it into his own net for the decisive goal in a 5-3 BU win in front of 3,730 at Walter Brown Arena.
Cornell Coach Mike Schafer minced no words about the critical call.
“[It] killed us,” Schafer said. “There’s a neutral official from the WCHA who waves it off, and the Hockey East linesman calls it a penalty. So, is it a penalty? I don’t know, but the head official’s looking right at it and the Hockey East linesman’s looking right across at it, and he ends up calling it from standing directly in front of their bench.
“It’s a pretty frustrating call for a linesman to make with a minute and ten seconds to go in the hockey game.”
Although frustrated with the call, Schafer acknowledged that “at the same time, we didn’t end up killing the penalty off.
“I think Schmitt did a great job,” Schafer said. “I’ll complain about the other official, but at the same time we’ve got to eliminate some of the mistakes that we made throughout the course of the hockey game.”
Terrier Coach Jack Parker had no insight on the call.
“I had no idea what it was,” Parker said. “When they called it, I thought it was too many men on the ice, and then I heard unsportsmanlike conduct. I went right down to my assistant and said, ‘What was that for?’ And he said, ‘I have no idea.’”
The controversy detracted from an otherwise great toe-to-toe battle between two skillful and scrappy teams.
“I was talking to the team between the second and third periods telling them, ‘This is a great hockey game,’ Parker said. “‘Cornell’s making us a better team, and we’re making them a better team.’
“In general, I thought, toss a coin. It was a real well-played game by both clubs. Pleased to get the ‘W,’ but pleased to see my team play with so much emotion.”
Jack Baker — who had two goals on the night — potted an empty-netter to seal the game shortly thereafter. But the real star of the night was senior defenseman Pat Aufiero, who had a goal and two assists and played terrifically.
Characteristically of late, BU had a sluggish start. Cornell took a 1-0 lead just 1:45 into the game. On a faceoff in the Terrier zone, the puck caromed out to senior Brian McMeekin at the right point. The defenseman fired a low shot that Terrier goalie Jason Tapp stopped with his blocker, but the rebound bounced straight out into the skates of Krzysztof Wieckowski. The Ottawa native kicked the puck onto his stick and shoveled it home.
BU had the better of the scoring chances for the remainder of the period, but no goals to show for it — partly thanks to Underhill, who split to make a sparkling glove save on Jack Baker eight minutes in.
At 2:50 of the second period, Tapp made an excellent sprawling save to deny Wieckowski another goal, but Cornell still got their second goal less than two minutes later. With Freddy Meyer pinching on the left point, a Cornell defenseman made an outstanding outlet pass, caroming the puck off the boards around Meyer to spring Mike Iggulden and Sam Paolini, two-on-one. Iggulden carried the puck in on the right wing before passing to Paolini, who released a quick shot. Tapp made the kick save, but Iggulden was skating through the rebound and tucked it around Tapp’s leg to make it 2-0.
It was the first collegiate goal for the right wing, meaning that 15 different players have scored Cornell’s 30 goals this season.
The Terriers have shown excellent resiliency this season, and once again bounced back with an answering goal. Just one minute, 21 seconds later, the Terriers’ stellar sophomore line rushed into the zone, resulting in Kenny Magowan beating Underhill low.
With the exception of some good power-play chances for Cornell, there were few threatening moments for either team until the Terriers game-tying goal materialized unexpectedly. Pat Aufiero picked up the puck near his goal line and proceeded to go end-to-end, somehow evading trouble in a clogged neutral zone. Aufiero’s resulting shot was nothing special, but the rebound kicked out to Jack Baker, who fired a high one past Underhill to make it 2-2 at 18:18.
Cornell took the lead at 8:04 of the third, as rebounds haunted Tapp yet again. Bby took two whacks at the puck before Tapp and teammate Justin Maiser attempted to cover the puck just outside of the crease. The whistle may have been slow, and somehow the puck squirted out once more for captain Bby, making it 3-2 Cornell.
BU came within an inch of tying the game at 10:45, when freshman Brian McConnell had Underhill dead to rights, but his shot hit the inside of the glove-side post and bounced clear.
The Terriers kept coming and were rewarded with a goal to make it 3-3 at 13:58. Brian McConnell threaded a nice pass through the slot to Aufiero at the bottom of the left-wing faceoff circle. The defenseman certainly looked like a forward on the play, eyeing the net and beating Underhill with a pinpoint shot.
“Brian McConnell made an unbelievable pass to me, and I knew to go up top because I knew that goalie was going to go right down,” Aufiero said.
The two teams square off again at 3 p.m. on Sunday. Cornell faces some long bus rides next weekend, playing at Yale and Princeton. BU plays one game at UMass-Lowell next weekend.