BOSTON — The New Hampshire Wildcats had to wonder if they could ever put one past Boston University goaltender Sean Fields, as the junior had denied UNH on all 40 shots through 71 minutes of play.
Fortunately for the Wildcats, the Terriers managed to pull off the feat for them. At 11:43 of overtime, UNH defenseman Tyson Teplitsky carried the puck in on the right wing and flipped a backhander into the crease, where the puck caromed off BU defenseman Ryan Whitney’s stick to finally beat Fields. The goal gave UNH a 1-0 win and its second consecutive Hockey East championship in front of 16,763 FleetCenter fans.
“The puck was just sitting there; they were on a line change,” said Teplitsky. “I took advantage of it and grabbed the puck, went wide. We were on a line change too. I was just trying to bring it in and get it on net, and fortunately it went off their player and in.”
“Unfortunately, we put it in — they weren’t going to put it in our net by Sean tonight,” Terrier coach Jack Parker said, chuckling ruefully about the fluke goal. “In general, I thought UNH played with a lot more zip than we had tonight.
“I liked the first period,” Parker said. “We had some legs, and we had some jump — we were controlling the game. Then in the second period I thought it slipped away; we hit a wall. From then on it was a struggle to get any offense going.”
Wildcat goalie Mike Ayers made 24 saves for the first shutout in league championship history, though Fields walked away with the hardware as tournament MVP in a losing effort.
“I’d rather hold the Hockey East championship than be the MVP, personally,” said Fields.
“Obviously, the fans got their money’s worth — it was a great tournament,” Wildcat coach Dick Umile said. “I was really proud of our team — the way they played after the first ten minutes. It was a great team effort, and I’m just thrilled for the team and happy for all of them.”
The Terriers had the better of the chances in the first frame, outshooting their northern neighbors 12-5 and getting just about all of the quality shots. In particular, BU’s third line of Frantisek Skladany, Brad Zancanaro, and Kenny Magowan dominated, as Skladany had at least three shots and Magowan ticked one shot off the top of the crossbar.
The second period was a mirror image of the first, as UNH had the bulk of the shots and almost every scoring opportunity. The Wildcats had several chances around the two-minute mark. Mike Lubesnick’s slapshot from the right point bounced off Fields, popped up in the air, and almost landed in the net. Then Kevin Truelson’s shot from the left point hit the outside of the post.
On the Wildcats’ first power play of the night shortly thereafter, Nathan Martz had a great chance denied by Fields in close quarters. At 7:43, Sean Collins had a shorthanded breakaway for the Wildcats but didn’t get much on his backhander. UNH had another near miss at 13:50 when right wing Jim Abbott’s shot got through Fields but went just wide, with Terrier d-man Mike Bussoli kicking the puck into a logjam of players as Fields frantically searched for it.
The Wildcats outshot BU 14-4, meaning that fans in the eastern side of the FleetCenter had a close look at 26 of the 35 shots through two periods — enough to make one wonder if the surface was going downhill in that direction.
The Wildcats disproved that theory in the third, racking up 12 of the period’s 16 shots. There weren’t too many grade A scoring chances, though, until the last five minutes. At 15:50, Terrier winger Kenny Magowan’s shot hit the inside of an Ayers pad before deflecting wide.
With a minute left, UNH pressed for the win. Fields denied Garrett Stafford’s slapshot and Josh Prudden’s rebound before lunging to cover the puck. The Terriers countered with a give-and-go between Dan Spang and Justin Maiser, with Maiser’s last pass going off of Spang’s shin, forcing Ayers to make his acrobatic save of the night. It was a beauty — even if it likely would have been waved off it went in, given that Spang made a kicking motion at the puck.
In the last few seconds, Fields redirected one last shot wide of the net, and the game went to overtime. It marked the first time that even one goalie — let alone two — had gone 60 minutes without surrendering a goal in a Hockey East championship.
The overtime proved to be the survival of the fittest — not a good development given that BU had gone to double overtime to beat BC last night. Only the valiant play of Fields continued to give the dog-tired Terriers a chance to win.
“We had two gears of slow tonight,” Parker said. “I don’t know if we were worn down from the long haul or more worn down from last night’s game, but we couldn’t generate much because of our lack of legs more than anything else. It turned the game into the Sean Fields Show for a lot of it.”
At 4:47, Steve Saviano almost won it, but Fields beat him to the corner of the net. The puck stayed in play with BU in serious jeopardy until referee Scott Hansen whistled because Nathan Martz was in the crease.
Fields’ top glove gem of the evening came at 6:40 when Saviano took a feed just inside the crease and saw plenty of net, only to have Fields take it away with a great leg save.
When Saviano was asked about that particular save, though, he couldn’t pinpoint it among so many terrific stops.
“He’s definitely a great goalie — he showed that all through this tournament,” Saviano said. Pausing, he added, “Which save are you talking about?” drawing laughter from the media. “Hopefully I’ll get his number sometime.”
For a while it looked like he could duplicate his performance the night before, when he held off Boston College long enough for the Terriers to steal one, but it wasn’t to be.
“It’s great for the program,” Umile said of the back-to-back championships. “It’s extremely difficult to do in our league.”
As a host team in the NCAA tournament, BU (24-13-3) must play in Worcester — almost certainly either as a No. 1 or No. 2 seed.
“The idea of being a No. 1 seed is that you don’t have to beat a No. 1 seed to get out [of the bracket],” Parker said. “There’s a couple of teams behind us that could pass us … I just hoping that they don’t put a bunch of Hockey East teams in the same area, so we don’t have to play each other again. Maybe we could meet in the semifinals.”
UNH (25-7-6) looks likely to be a No. 1 seed, but they could be shipped west if Cornell finishes higher in the PairWise Rankings and the NCAA selection committee sticks to its guns on having nonconference matchups.
“I would not be very happy at all, to be quite honest with you,” Umile said of the prospect of heading west. “I don’t make those decisions, but I’m not even thinking about going west at this point. I think this game tonight solidified it — I think we should be a No. 1 seed in the east.”