BOSTON — Sixth time is a charm, right?
Wrong. After Saturday night’s 1-1 tie with Northeastern, the sixth-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats are winless in their last six ventures to the Huntington Avenue grounds.
“They play well here, it’s a tough place to come and win,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “They work hard, and it’s a credit to them,”
UNH goalie Michael Ayers, fresh off a sterling 40-save performance, added to the sentiments of his coach.
“They play a tough game; a lot of the seniors haven’t won here,” Ayers said of Matthews Arena. “They feed off the fans a lot, but you have to expect that.”
All 40 of Ayers’ saves came in regulation, but with under 20 seconds to play, the junior turned aside what many of the 3,112 in attendance thought was the game-winning goal.
NU senior Mike Ryan wheeled around the back of the net and tossed the puck into the crease for linemate Eric Ortlip. After a blind glove save and scramble in front, Ayers’ twisting body swiped the puck behind him aside with his glove.
“I’ve known Mike since we were little, he’s one of my good buddies,” Ryan said. “I tried to throw it to Eric but Michael made a great save — he’s got tremendous reflexes. I thought I had that one, but then again I thought I’ve had it against Mike Ayers for four years now and he always seems to have my number.”
The extra frame was dominated by UNH, with senior Lanny Gare possessing multiple chances at breaking the streak.
With 2:30 left in overtime, Gare seemed to be bearing down on Northeastern goalie Mike Gilhooly uncontested. However, the 6-0, 185 Gare had company.
Moments before the left winger was able to uncork a shot, Husky defenseman Joe Mastronardi left his feet, diving to poke-check the puck safely into the corner.
“Lanny made a great effort, I thought he was going to pull it off,” Umile said.
30 seconds later, Gare stumbled upon the puck in front of the NU net again. This time, though, his shot fluttered wide after being deflected by Gilhooly.
The NU netminder didn’t seem to know how he stopped it. “They had us trapped in our end there for a while in OT. When Gare came around that screen, I think I got the end of my stick or glove or something on it, but it went wide,” Gilhooly said.
Gilhooly, who has started six of NU’s last seven games, stopped 30 pucks of his own. With familiar names like Hemingway, Gare, Collins and Saviano swarming the net all night, Gilhooly was forced to equal the effort of Ayers.
“You look down at the other end and see Ayers make a great save, and you know that you have to match it,” Gilhooly said. “At the end of the game you shake hands, look at each other, and just kind of say ‘great game.’ We had a good battle tonight.”
Through two periods the Huskies held a 29-18 advantage in shots, but the score was even at one.
Junior defenseman Tim Horst opened the scoring at the 5:51 mark. After a slapshot by Nathan Martz from the point was deflected by NU’s Donny Grover, Horst picked the puck out of Joe Mastronardi’s skates, walked in alone on goal, and lofted a backhand shot past Gilhooly. It was one of only six UNH shots on target during the frame.
Later, at the 6:42 mark of the period, NU appeared to have tied the game. After Ayers chased a loose puck well out of the net, Grover pinched into the zone and threw the puck towards the goal, deflecting off a player before crossing the line. The score, however, was waved off.
“We were in a situation where we scored a goal that was disallowed, and the kids had to deal with some adversity,” NU coach Bruce Crowder said. “With a season like we’ve had, it’d be easy to just give up after that, but they kept plugging.”
Indeed they did. Seven minutes later, with Ayers again out of position, NU forward Mike Morris fed Ryan in front of the vacant crease. Ryan’s 109th career point knotted the game.
Although happy with the point, Crowder felt his team deserved more.
“A lot of times you look at the end of the game, and you think you deserved better. This was one of those games,” he said. “I think we’ve battled for two nights, and it’s been a long time since we’ve done that. A point is a point, though, and in Hockey East you’ll take them any way you can get them.”
“I’m not happy,” Umile said of not being able to notch a win. “I’m pleased with the way we played in the third period, though. We’ll take the point.”