BOSTON — In a game of dueling goalies, Northeastern’s Keni Gibson made 43 saves, while his counterpart, Michael Ayers of No. 1 New Hampshire, recorded 40 as the Wildcats and Huskies skated to a 2-2 tie.
Senior Jim Abbott and sophomore Sean Collins scored for UNH, while senior Joe Mastronardi and sophomore Tim Judy tallied for Northeastern.
The Huskies continued to befuddle New Hampshire at Matthews Arena. Northeastern holds a 3-0-2 mark against the Wildcats in their last five meetings in Boston.
“It was a good hockey game. Both teams played well. Each team had opportunities to win the game, and both goalies played very well. This is a tough place to play. I’m pleased with the play of our team tonight,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile.
Added Northeastern head coach Bruce Crowder, “It’s early in the season; you’re trying to find out what your team is all about. The last two weeks, we’ve played the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country.”
The game was a showcase for two of the top goaltenders in the country, let alone Hockey East. Ayers came into the game with a 1.95 goals against average and .944 save percentage; Gibson entered the contest posting a 2.91 GAA and .913 save percentage. Both were on top of their games throughout the contest.
“It’s always fun coming in to Boston and playing here. They had a good crowd. The guys played a great game in front of me,” said Ayers.
New Hampshire, ranked No. 1 in both major polls coming into the contest, took the lead in the first period. Preston Callander barreled across the Northeastern blue line on a two-on-one with Abbott. His slapshot clanged off the left post, but Abbott was there to put home the rebound past a sprawled Gibson at 8:36 for a 1-0 UNH lead.
Northeastern answered just 23 seconds later. Tim Judy let go of a blast from just inside the UNH blue line which found its way past a partially screened Ayers, and just like that it was 1-1. Collins had a great chance to put the Wildcats back out in front less than two minutes later, but as was the case most of the night, Gibson stood tall with a great glove save.
The first period ended tied at one. Northeastern held the edge in shots, 12-10.
“UNH is an extremely explosive team. We did an outstanding job in controlling rebounds tonight. I was very pleased with the way we played defensively,” said Crowder.
Ayers got some help at the start of the second period. Sophomore defenseman Tyson Teplitsky was forced to make a sprawling save when Ayers lost his stick after making a succession of saves.
Gibson made perhaps the save of the game at the 4:00 mark. After a turnover in the Northeastern zone, the Wildcats found themselves with a 3-on-1 break 10 feet in front of Gibson. After some nifty passing, sophomore Justin Aikens had the puck at point-blank range, but couldn’t coax Gibson after deking left, then right, and the game remained tied.
The Huskies took their only lead of the night at 13:34, when a poor clearing pass out of the UNH zone was intercepted by junior Scott Selig, who fed Mastronardi in front. The senior from Vestal, N.Y., was able to get the puck past Ayers for a 2-1 Husky lead.
Less than three minutes later, however, Collins scored from a nearly impossible angle to the right of Gibson near the faceoff circle. With Gibson seemingly having the near post covered, Collins was able to sneak past a wrist shot to tie the game at 2-2.
If they hadn’t already done so, both goalies took the game over in a scoreless third period.
Midway through the third, senior Mike Ryan had perhaps the best chance to break the deadlock. With Ayers down in the crease, Ryan had a wide open net to shoot at, but his backhander went high over the net.
Just minutes later, sophomore Steve Saviano of Reading, Mass., was sent in alone shorthanded, only to be robbed by Gibson. And with less than four minutes left in regulation, sophomore phenom Jason Guerriero also went in by himself, but Ayers came up huge with a right pad save to preserve the tie.
The Wildcats had one final chance near the Northeastern crease with under two seconds left in regulation, but senior Colin Hemingway’s shot was gobbled up by Gibson
“Team defense is one of our strong points this season. Either team could have won this game,” said Ayers.
Neither team could muster much offense in the overtime session, with UNH outshooting NU 3-2.
“I thought both goalies were fantastic. Both made huge saves. It was pretty wide open the last 10 minutes of the game,” said Crowder.
“They’re a well-coached team. I think its (Matthews Arena) a great place to play: great atmosphere,” added Umile. “I told the guys that this could be a big point down the line.”
If this game is any indication of things to come, there won’t be much scoring to be had when the teams meet again February 14 at the Whittemore Center in Durham, N.H.
“They’re an awesome hockey team. They’re No. 1 for a reason. But we were up to the task tonight,” said Crowder.
Northeastern gets right back into action on Saturday when the Huskies take on Wisconsin at Matthews Arena. New Hampshire plays its home opener this coming Friday, when the Wildcats host Merrimack.