DURHAM, N.H. — Okay, quickly guess the year in which scientists welcomed the return of Comet Hale-Bopp, and Boston College last defeated New Hampshire at the Whittemore Center.
If you guessed 1997, take a bow and pat yourself on the back. And if you’re an Eagles fan, take an extra minute or two to savor your first victory in Durham since the Clinton administration.
Five different BC skaters scored and senior Matti Kaltiainen stopped 32 Wildcat shots as Boston College ended a three-game winless streak and crept back into the race for the Hockey East regular-season title with a 5-2 victory over New Hampshire.
Boston College improved to 20-6-6 overall (13-3-6 Hockey East). New Hampshire (22-8-4, 15-4-3 HE) saw its six-game unbeaten streak come to an end.
It was just the second win for BC over UNH in the last 11 games between the two teams, and just the second win ever for the Eagles at the Whittemore Center. The last time Boston College won in Durham, the New England Patriots actually lost in the Super Bowl (35-21, to Green Bay).
“I was thinking on the bus ride up that it had been 7 1/2 years since we last won up here, which is an incredibly long time. We brought some outstanding teams up to Durham during that time span, too,” said Boston College coach Jerry York.
It certainly looked as though the Eagles were still feeling the effects of New Hampshire’s third period, come-from-behind effort the night before, in which UNH erased a late 3-1 deficit by clawing their way back to a 3-3 tie on senior Sean Collins’ goal with 83 seconds left in regulation.
The Wildcats came out firing on all cylinders. At one point, they were out shooting BC 9-2 in the period.
“The first eight or nine minutes of the game, I thought Matti was great,” said York. “They (UNH) created some outstanding scoring chances.”
Of those chances, none was better than sophomore Brett Hemingway’s blast from 20 feet out from the crease, on a pass from Collins. Kaltiainen made a big stick save in what would be the shape of things to come for UNH throughout the night.
“This will be a good confidence builder for the defensemen that we had out there,” added York.
BC was without the services of senior blue liners Andrew Alberts (left knee sprain), and Greg Lauze (dislocated left shoulder).
Boston College weathered the storm, and at 9:39 of the first period, senior Ryan Shannon took a feed from senior Dave Spina off a UNH turnover, and blistered a hard wrist shot that got by freshman goaltender Kevin Regan.
Three minutes later, senior Ned Havern got his second goal of the weekend series with the Wildcats, with assists going to junior Peter Harrold, and freshman Brian O’Hanley.
The floodgates were fully open 39 seconds later, as freshman Dan Bertram connected off a rebound of his own shot to make it 3-0, BC, to the dismay of the stunned Whittemore Center crowd.
At that point, UNH coach Dick Umile pulled Regan in favor of backup Jeff Pietrasiak.
“We played 10 minutes of a 60-minute hockey game,” quipped Umile, in reference to the Wildcats getting out of the gate quickly with nothing to show for it.
“The puck didn’t bounce for us the first 10 minutes, then they come down and make some plays.”
UNH again turned the puck over in their own end, giving it away to sophomore Joe Rooney, who sent a shot that went past Pietrasiak with traffic in front, and New Hampshire’s fast start was all but forgotten in the midst of a 4-0 deficit.
The Wildcats finally got on the board on the power play, as Hemingway scored his team-leading 20th goal of the year, with assists to Collins and senior Preston Callander.
When senior Ryan Murphy went off for interference with just 50 seconds gone in the second period, UNH had its chance to get back into the game. Coming into the weekend home-and-home series, the Eagles possessed the No. 1 ranked penalty kill percentage in Hockey East, while UNH had the best power play.
There would be no getting back into the game for UNH, though, as BC’s penalty-kill won out, holding the potent Wildcats to zero shots on goal during the man advantage.
Eagles sniper Patrick Eaves scored his 17th of the season off a faceoff to give BC a commanding 5-1 lead after two periods.
Junior defenseman Brian Yandle would get one back for the Wildcats in the third period, notching is 11th of the season. Senior Justin Aikins hit the post later on, and freshman defenseman Craig Switzer was stopped by Kaltiainen on back-to-back bids in front. But that would be as close as the Wildcats would get on this night.
“We started off good. We had them back on their heels, right where we wanted them,” said Callander. “Then the mental errors killed us.”
When the final buzzer sounded, one would have thought that the Eagles had just won the National title, as they rushed onto the ice from the bench, sticks held high in the air, on their way to mobbing Kaltiainen.
7 1/2 years is, after all, a long time. No one could blame the Eagles’ elation.
The victory by the Eagles, coupled with Northeastern’s win at Boston University and Maine sweeping two games from UMass-Lowell, creates a logjam at the top of the standings.
UNH still remains in first place, with 33 points. BC leapfrogs Boston University to second place with 32 points, followed by the Terriers with 31. Maine rejoins the hunt by virtue of their four-point weekend, with 30 points.
Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna couldn’t have planned it any better for the final weekend of the regular season: Maine visits BC for two games in Boston, while UNH and BU play a home-and-home series.
“It’s going to be a good weekend of hockey,” said Callander, in what may be the understatement of the season
Boston College hosts Maine in the first of two on Friday, while New Hampshire travels to Boston University on Thursday. Both games are at 7 p.m.