CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The sellout crowd of 7,770 at Boston College’s Conte Forum on Tuesday night had every right to have high expectations for the top-ranked Eagles and the No. 2 New Hampshire Wildcats.
They got everything they expected and more — literally.
Thanks to one of the year’s tightest-checking, most defensive games and the inability of 60 minutes of regulation to settle the contest, those in attendance were treated to an edge-of-the-seat thriller. Sean Collins’ second goal of the game at 3:14 of overtime was the winner in a 3-2 New Hampshire victory.
“It’s one of those types of games that guys want to play in college,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “It’s early in the season but these are two of the teams that will compete for the top spot.”
The winning goal came a little more than halfway through a semi-wide-open overtime that was the exact opposite of a regulation that saw few quality scoring chances.
After Boston College’s Tony Voce was unable to get a stick on a pass in front of UNH goaltender Michael Ayers (22 saves) at 3:01, UNH responded shortly thereafter.
When the Boston College defense failed to clear the puck from the defensive zone, Lanny Gare wristed an innocent-looking shot on BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen (12 saves) that squirted free in heavy traffic in front. After Preston Callender took a swipe at the rebound, Collins batted the puck over the fallen goaltender for the winning goal, sending the UNH faithful making the trip from Durham into celebration.
“I just took a whack at the puck and was lucky it went in,” said Collins. “I think it went up and over his arm and it seemed like it took forever to get that puck into the net.”
It certainly made the most of a rare UNH opportunity in a game that saw the Eagles limit the Wildcats to only 15 shots on net, with only nine of those grade-A scoring chances.
“We think we’ve done pretty well if we can limit that type of offense [UNH's] to only 15 shots,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “We did a good job checking and conversely New Hampshire did a good job checking and that makes for a tight game.”
UNH’s Umile felt that the game showcased that which is often overlooked.
“Both teams don’t get enough credit for their defensive play,” said Umile, whose Wildcats have now won five straight against the Eagles. “They play good defense and did a good job in the center zone bottling us up. And I thought tonight we did a good job of bottling them up.”
The game began with UNH showing an immediate spark, but as is often the case, it was the Eagles who struck first.
At 2:12, BC’s Ty Hennes entered the offensive zone with speed, took a pass from Ryan Murphy after crossing the blue line and deked Ayers on the breakaway goal at 2:12 for the 1-0 lead.
UNH would answer back before the end of the period on a goal that Kaltiainen might like to have back. Wildcat defenseman Tyson Teplitsky wristed what seemed to be an innocent shot on the BC net but Kaltiainen going down on the shot allowed the puck to trickle through his five-hole and slowly roll into the net to even the game at one.
An defensive second period saw the teams once again trade goals. Boston College’s own Collins — Chris Collins — scored first at 1:46, taking a breakaway pass after substituting for Andrew Alberts as he exited the penalty box, walking in alone on Ayers and firing a goal-scorer’s shot: a hard snapshot over the glove and under the crossbar for the 2-1 lead.
Late in the period, UNH would take advantage of an Alberts penalty for interference when Collins gathered his first tally of the game. Gare fed Collins in front of the BC net, where the sophomore sniper caught Kaltiainen looking the wrong way and wristed a shot between the goalie’s left leg and the post to even the game through two.
The only scoring chance of the third period was identical to UNH’s opening goal. Teplitsky once again wristed a soft shot that made its way through Kaltiainen’s five hole but this time came to rest an in short of the goal line allowing the sophomore netminder to cover.
That set the stage for a heated overtime. Forty-three seconds into the extra session, two of the game’s top stars — BC’s Patrick Eaves and UNH’s Colin Hemingway — were both issued majors penalties and game disqualification penalties (Eaves for spearing and Hemingway for fighting).
Though no power play resulted, each player will be suspended for the team’s next game.
“I didn’t see what happened,” admitted Umile. “But it was unfortunate because I thought the game was very well-played by both teams.”
The win lifts UNH to 7-1-2 on the season, 5-1-1 in Hockey East, and gives it a lead on first place over Boston College. The Eagles record slips to 8-1-1, 5-1-0 in Hockey East, one point behind New Hampshire with a game in hand.
Despite the nation’s top two teams meeting this early in the season, the two clubs won’t see one another again until the last weekend of the season, when they play a home-and-home series on February 28 and March 1.
“That will be interesting,” said Umile of the late-season matchup. “But it’s a long way to go and Hockey East is a very difficult league. You have to pay attention every single night.”
In the meantime, UNH will return to the ice Friday night to face archrival and seventh-ranked Maine in Orono. BC also is back in action on Friday, hosting crosstown rival Northeastern.