DURHAM, N.H. — Josh Ciocco is one of those players who does all the “little things” on the ice that don’t always show up on the score sheet.
On Saturday, however, the junior right wing scored the biggest goal of his collegiate career, breaking a 2-2 third period tie, as No. 15 New Hampshire defeated No. 9 Boston College, 5-2, in front of a raucous sellout crowd on Senior Night in Durham.
Ciocco picked up a loose puck in back of the Boston College net, and with Eagle netminder Cory Schneider out of position near the left post, deftly skated around the front of the net and squeezed a wraparound shot inside the right post just barely before Schneider could get a glove on the puck.
It was only Ciocco’s sixth goal of the season, but it couldn’t have come at a better time.
“I can’t really replay how I got the puck on my stick. I just tried to stick it in there. I saw him (Schneider) go down, and I think it went in off his blocker,” said Ciocco, a product of powerhouse Salmon Arm of the British Columbia Hockey League.
While the victory was not necessary in the end to ensure New Hampshire the fourth and final home ice position for the upcoming Hockey East playoffs (Merrimack’s stunning 4-3 overtime win at Providence solidified that), it proved to be a very satisfying way to end what has been at times an up-and-down season for the Wildcats.
“I couldn’t be happier with the way the team responded,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “We knew it came down to a 20-minute hockey game, and the guys came outfiring in the third period.
“This puts us back, maybe, in the picture nationally,” added Umile.
Indeed, the game could very well have a significant impacton the postseason aspirations of two teams on the bubble going in opposite directions.
With the win, UNH improved to 18-11-7 (14-7-6 Hockey East). The Wildcats have gone 5-1-3 in league play since losing at Maine, 4-1, on February 3rd when seven players were suspended for violating team rules. New Hampshire will host Providence in the quarterfinals.
UNH and Providence went 1-1-1 with each other during the regular season.
The once high-flying Eagles-who were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier in the season-dropped to 20-11-3 (17-8-2 Hockey East) and have gone 1-5-1 in their last 7 games. To add insult to injury, with the loss, archrival Boston University leapfrogged over Boston College with its win over Northeastern, laying claim to the Hockey East regular season title.
And, with the loss, BC went from sole possession of first place in Hockey East to third place and a date with Vermont in the upcoming Hockey East quarterfinals next weekend.
“That’s probably the best game we’ve played since early December as far as our effort and our execution,” said Boston College coach Jerry York. “Its 2-2, third period, and the championship is right there for us. We just couldn’t get it done.”
The Eagles certainly played well enough to get the victory, however they were continually thwarted by UNH senior goalie Jeff Pietrasiak (34 saves).
UNH opened the scoring when freshman defenseman Jamie Fritsch sent what looked like a harmless shot from the BC blue line past a screened Schneider at the five minute mark of the first period.
Later in the period, two of the Eagles’ promising freshmen gave BC the lead.
Off a turnover in the UNH end, sophomore Dan Bertram fed the puck out to a wide open Ben Ferriero, who sent a laser past Pietrasiak for his 11th tally to get BC on the board.
Barely a minute later, senior Stephen Gionta sent a pretty pass off the boards to Nathan Gerbe, who beat the UNH defenseman and then beat Pietrasiak for his ninth goal of the season.
But just 26 seconds later, UNH’s Jacob Micflikier answered to tie things up at 2-2, setting up the dramatic third period, and Ciocco’s heroics. BC looked to have surely tied it at 3-3 just seconds later on an odd-man rush, but Pietrasiak miraculously stopped Chris Collins’ shot while sprawled in the crease.
Freshman Trevor Smith finished off a nice two-on-one with fellow first year Jerry Pollastrone to make it 4-2, and junior Daniel Winnik added an empty-net goal.
“I can’t wait (for the playoffs). It will be a good weekend of hockey,” said UNH captain Brian Yandle, one of five Wildcat skaters honored before the game. “Obviously, we match up well with Providence. We knew we had to win this game. Anything less would have been unacceptable.”
Umile knows full well the value of playing good hockey this time of year.
“The playoffs are going to be very, very tough in this league. It’s a good time to be playing well, going into the playoffs.”
Boston College will host Vermont next weekend, while New Hampshire hosts Providence. Both games will be at 7 pm.