CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — New Hampshire’s Friday night game plan was to make Saturday’s rematch at the Whittemore Center meaningful in the fight for a Hockey East title.
Mission accomplished. Barely.
Colin Hemingway’s game-tying, extra-skater goal with 42 seconds left in regulation gave UNH a 3-3 tie with Boston College and kept alive the Wildcats’ hope of a regular season title. A win in the back end of the home-and-home series will leave the two league powers as co-winners of the championship and give UNH the number one playoff seed as the tiebreaker winner.
Hemingway took a Sean Collins pass from the right faceoff circle to the far post, kicked it out of his skates and roofed it from a sharp angle over sprawling BC netminder Matti Kaltiainen. It wasn’t a complete artistic success, but for UNH fans it was a beaut nonetheless.
“Collins made a pretty good pass, but it was kind of in my feet,” Hemingway said. “I was going to one-time it, but then again it was in my feet and I wanted to at least stop it and settle it. By the time I stopped it, on the follow through I kind of fell down, but it went in and we’re going to fight for first place tomorrow night.
The tie clinched at least a share of the regular season title for the Eagles, but that was no solace for a team that was less than a minute away from winning it outright.
“You want to win the whole thing outright,” Tony Voce said. “There’s one champion, not two. We’ve got to go out and win it ourselves.
“You’ve just got to forget about it and push yourselves the next night and play 60 minutes the next night.”
Three times Boston College took one-goal leads and three times New Hampshire battled back for the tie.
BC wasted little time seizing the first lead, capitalizing at 3:51 on its first power play. Ben Eaves put the puck on net and Dave Spina redirected it past Mike Ayers for his 17th goal.
The lead lasted barely more than eight minutes as UNH responded with a man-advantage goal of its own. Steve Saviano fed Collins, his old high school linemate, in the slot and the sniper roofed it.
The Eagles regained the lead in the opening minute of the second period when Tony Voce caught Ayers napping. Brian Gionta slid the puck from left-to-right below the goalline to Voce, who walked in front and from the right post beat a slow-to-react Ayers.
Garrett Stafford’s first goal of the season tied the game, 2-2, in the closing minutes of the second period. The blueliner fought off his defender as he carried the puck through the slot and then beat Kaltiainen with a low backhander to the far side.
“It developed kind of slow,” Stafford said. “It was a one-on-three. I went toward the center defenseman, made a move and luckily got around him and was in on the goalie. The goalie pretty much gave me all of the right side of the net and I put it in.”
A huge momentum swing occurred four minutes into the third period when UNH’s Jim Abbott cut right-to-left across the goalmouth and had Kaltiainen down and out only to clang his shot off the crossbar. Play transitioned to the other end and from the right boards Eaves got the puck to Voce on the near post where the junior redirected it into the short side.
This set the stage for Hemingway’s goal, after which BC argued for a hand-pass call. Referee John Gravallese wisely conferred with his linesmen and the trio concluded that if there had been a potential hand pass it had gone into an area with stick blades from both teams and, as a result, the goal stood.
Boston College (21-8-4, 16-5-2 HEA) and New Hampshire (20-7-6, 14-5-4 HEA) complete their regular seasons on Saturday at the Whittemore Center where UNH coach Dick Umile will also try to achieve his 300th career victory.