BOSTON — One way not to upset the No. 8 team in the country, courtesy of Northeastern: hit the post twice in the opening period, allow three goals during the same span and send one shorthanded clearing attempt off the referee and onto the stick of the most offensively talented player on the other team — just outside your own crease.
Such was the case for host NU (13-15-4, 8-9-3 Hockey East) during the first period of Saturday’s 5-2 loss to eighth-ranked New Hampshire (22-7-3, 15-3-2).
Halfway through the first, after Husky defensemen Donny Grover and Chuck Tomes had connected with the metal behind UNH goalie Kevin Regan (39 saves), sophomore winger Brett Hemingway deflected a point shot from junior defenseman Brian Yandle past NU goalie Keni Gibson (23 saves) to put the Wildcats up, 1-0.
Two minutes later, at the 12:01 mark, Grover kicked the puck to UNH center Daniel Winnik in the slot, and the Phoenix Coyote draftee snapped a shot over Gibson’s right shoulder.
With less than a minute remaining in the first period and Northeastern shorthanded, a hard Mike Morris clearing attempt slammed off referee Scott Zelkin’s ankle before popping right to UNH senior Sean Collins in front of the NU net.
Bad news for Husky fans.
Collins buried the puck, giving the Wildcats a commanding 3-0 edge and helping them keep hold of first place in Hockey East before next weekend’s showdown with second-place Boston College.
“The third one was a real strange one,” NU coach Bruce Crowder said. “What’re you gonna do? We got control of it, they’re on the power play, we rim it around, it hits the referee, it goes out in front of the net, and you don’t fault the referee, that’s just part of it. Sometimes that’s the night that you get.”
But there was still fight in the Huskies — literally.
Sparked by a second-period scrum that sent three players from each team to the box (and eventually a fourth for Northeastern, as sophomore Yale Lewis earned a roughing penalty halfway through), the Hounds peppered Regan with 32 shots over the final 40 minutes.
Freshman Jimmy Russo got the home side on the board eight minutes into the second, slamming a rebound past Regan for his second goal in as many games. UNH answered, however, 1:30 later when Collins checked the puck away from Grover and fed senior captain Preston Callander in front for the score.
Northeastern sophomore Ray Ortiz pulled the Huskies within two in the third period, when he deflected a power play shot from Grover past Regan with 12:36 left.
UNH sophomore Jacob Micflikier added an empty-net tally with :52 left for the Wildcats.
“We were fortunate in the second period — they outshot us, came at us hard and kept going to the net,” Umile said. “We stayed with it, made some plays. It’s a big win for us, coming down here. This is a tough place to play and they’re a real good team.”
“I can’t fault our guys’ work ethic,” Crowder said. “Three-zip the guys kept coming, kept battling. I think that’s kinda the character of this team.
“One of the biggest differences was we didn’t finish and they did,” he added. “They made the most of their opportunities. We had plenty of chances and we didn’t bury them. They buried the ones that they needed to bury.”
Second-ranked BC, three points behind New Hampshire for top billing in the conference, will host the Wildcats Friday night before traveling to UNH Saturday.
“It’s something that you see in the schedule and early in the season you hope that you can get to this situation, where we’re both fighting for first place,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “Now we can focus on Boston College, which we couldn’t do until we got here tonight. But beating a real good Northeastern team was good for our confidence.”
“This is it, this is the big time,” said Regan, who stopped 39 shots. “Basically it’s for first place in Hockey East. It’s gonna be huge, we’re gonna have to prepare hard all week.”
Northeastern plays host to Boston University Wednesday night before visiting the Terriers on Saturday. All four games, including UNH’s home-and-home with Boston College, start at 7 p.m.