BOSTON — It has often been said that overtimes are often decided in the first minute, or the last minute, whether if one team will skate away with two points or if they split the points.
That old adage held true again tonight as the Northeastern Huskies scored with 50 seconds left on the game clock in OT to beat the Merrimack Warriors. That OT goal would stand as the lone goal of the game in a defensive battle dominated by the stellar play of two of the hottest net minders in Hockey East, NU’s Brad Thieseen, and MC’s Jim Healey.
Northeastern skated most of the game a man down after freshmen Chris Donovan received a game misconduct for hitting from behind 7:09 into the game. It was Donovan’s first game back since December 30, 2006 when he broke his collar bone versus Holy Cross in the Toyota UConn Hockey Classic.
Down one man the Huskies ended up having to shuffle the rest of their lines for the rest of the game. Along with being short a man, and a stifling Merrimack defense, the Huskies got their shots few and far between, mustering a total of seven shots in the final two periods.
“We play defense as well as anybody in our league, we can defend against anybody,” Merrimack head coach Mark Dennehy continued “and I thought our defense played excellent tonight.”
The biggest difference in the game tonight however was the goalies. 60 full minutes of shut out hockey from both goalies kept the crowd on their edge of their seats as it only seemed a fact that the next team to score would win.
Brad Thieseen ended the night with 23 saves. Thieseen kept up his fantastic 2007 year up, bringing his goals against average down to 1.28 and his save percentage up to .949 since New Year’s.
“Oh, he was great” Coach Cronin continued “he made a couple big time saves, it would have been ugly trying to score a goal down 1-0.”
Merrimack’s own netminder, Jim Healey also played fantastic, “Jimmy’s played the way he has over the last three or four game stretch. I know Jimmy is playing well when he is stopping pucks he doesn’t see, because he’s so big and technically sound…Jimmy made some key saves when he needed to, that goal wasn’t his fault.”
Merrimack coach Mark Dennehy raved after the game.
Merrimack’s best scoring chance of the night came late in the third when Matt Byrnes ripped a shot right off the post. Even though the goal light went on, referee Tim Benedetto was in perfect position and immediately waved it off as play continued.
“[Post's are] usually friends, right now they are friends,” Brad Thieseen joked after the game when asked about that shot.
As the clock ticked down in overtime is only seemed as if this game would end 0-0 and would end up as NU’s second 0-0 tie of the year. However, the Huskies had a different idea. Northeastern won a draw back to Steve Birnstill who ripped a shot at Healey, Healey made the initial save but the puck went towards Joe Vitale who put it in the open net.
“Those are the one’s you dream about, wide open net, overtime, nothing really to it, anyone could put that one in. Just tap it in, I think my little sister could have done that” Vitale said after the game.
“Coach preached to us at the end that good teams find a way to win even in the worst circumstances and tonight was a bad circumstance. We were not playing well, just sloppy all over the ice, not doing our systems, just not working that hard. But good teams find a way to win, get a bounce here, get a bounce there and try it keep going and something good is going to happen,” Joe Vitale said after the game.
Northeastern (10-12-4, 7-10-4) is riding high into the Beanpot which starts Monday going 6-2-2 in their last ten games. They take on Boston University in the first round Monday at 5 p.m. Merrimack (3-19-4, 3-14-2) has a pair with UNH February 9 and 10 at Lawler Arena.