CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — If the Massachusetts Minutemen hoped to rebound after a stinging 5-2 loss to Merrimack last Saturday night, head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon knew that there was one player who needed to step up to be successful against No. 1 Boston College.
His wishes were answered as that player, goaltender Gabe Winer, turned in a career game, making 51 saves, to force a 3-3 tie against the nation’s top team.
“We hoped for the type of game Gabe Winer typically is able to give us, and tonight he gave us that,” said Cahoon about his goaltender who turned aside 21 shots in the third period alone. “He worked like hell to make sure that we could score and maybe scratch out a few goals and deny [BC] on many of their opportunities.”
Winer was, in one word, spectacular. Though he fell shy of his career-high 59 saves (in last year’s triple overtime Hockey East championship game against Maine), he had no problem making sure that the saves he made Friday made a distinct difference in the outcome of the game.
“I was figuring maybe I could have about 30 [saves] tonight,” said Winer, who to this point in the season had never reached the 30-save plateau. “You don’t really expect 54 shots.”
On the other side of the coin, the UMass offense was extremely opportunistic, mustering three goals on just 17 shots, though many of them of the quality variety.
“We were patient enough to know that [BC] would extend themselves a little bit to keep the offensive things going,” said Cahoon. “There will be chances that will come your way; it’s more knowing whether you’ll be able to survive their offensive threat that comes at you.”
Boston College spent much of the first half of the game playing from behind after spotting the Minutemen a 2-0 lead.
The first goal came 5:15 into the game as Tim Vitek banged home his second goal of the season. A loose puck squirted in front of BC goaltender Cory Schneider and no Eagle defender was able to get a stick on it before Vitek swatted it home.
Early in the second, with Boston College on the power play, UMass extended the lead. Stephen Werner got behind the Eagle defense while killing a Martin Degon tripping penalty. As the puck squirted past the BC blueliners, Werner was able to corral it and walk in along on Schneider. After bobbling the puck 30 feet in front, Werner regained control and slid a shot underneath an outstretched Schneider for a 2-0 lead.
Still on the power play, though BC answered. Ned Havern scored his second of the season when he one-timed a John Adams pass just about the right faceoff dot at 4:18.
That began the BC onslaught that saw the Eagles pepper Winer with 19 second-period shots. The Eagles held a lop-sided 31-10 shot margin through two.
At 9:29 of the second, BC evened the game. Joe Rooney notched his first of the season when, camped out at the right post, he lifted a Pat Gannon pass from behind the net over the right shoulder of Winer to knot the game heading into the third.
Early in the third, BC took its first lead of the night. Adams’ one-timer from the right point deflected off of a UMass defender’s stick and floated over the right shoulder of Winer with 16 minutes left to play.
It was the third power-play goal for the night for BC, which was a welcome sight for BC head coach Jerry York.
“We’ve not been nearly as effective on our power play as we’d like,” said York about a power-play unit that had scored six times in 42 games coming into the night. “About half way through the game we said we’d just roll the lines and not have any strict power play formations.”
But even with the lead, the Eagles couldn’t close things out. Vitek scored his second goal of the game with 10:15 remaining in regulation to even the score. He broke in on a two-on-one and fired a shot that handcuffed Schneider a trickled into the net as he fell backwards.
From that point on, the Eagles offense through everything it could at the BC net but nothing was getting by Winer.
“[Winer] played very well tonight,” said a frustrated Eagles top gun Patrick Eaves, who was held without a point for the second straight game. “There were rebounds there that we could’ve had. He controlled a lot of those rebounds but there were some chances we should’ve had.”
The tie for UMass ends a four-game losing streak for the Minutemen against the Eagles dating back to January 3, 2003. It also keeps the Minutemen two points ahead of BC at the top of the Hockey East standing, though plenty of hockey is left to be played.
BC’s record moves to 4-1-1 and its number one ranking in the national poll could be threatened. This is the only game of the weekend for the Eagles, who will return to action Tuesday night to face cross-town Beanpot foe Harvard on the road.
The Minutemen, whose record moves to 5-4-1, will have one day to rest before facing Atlantic Hockey favorite Mercyhurst at home on Sunday.