BOSTON, Mass. — Seeing as Friday’s opening semifinal of the Hockey East tournament between fourth-seeded Boston College and top seed New Hampshire was a tale of two games, it seems appropriate that the game was nearly two games long.
Despite being on death’s door down 4-1 past the midway point of regulation, the Eagles rallied with three goals in regulation to tie the game and then needed three overtime periods before Benn Ferriero scored 43 seconds into the third overtime period to give BC the 5-4 victory.
The Eagles advance to the finals for the 13th time and the eighth time in the last 12 years and will be in search of their league best eighth title on Saturday when they face the winner of Friday’s second semifinal between Boston University and Vermont.
“This was two good teams just battling back and forth,” said BC coach Jerry York.
The battle ended just seconds after both clubs returned to the ice for the third overtime period. Boston College was on a power play for the first 55 seconds of the period after UNH’s Danny Dries was whistled for interference with 1:05 remaining in the second OT.
After forcing an offensive zone draw, Dan Bertram won a loose puck in the left corner. He slid a pass to the left point to Joe Whitney who threw a cross-ice feed to Ferriero at the right point.
The junior winger playing the point on the power play wristed a shot on net that deflected off UNH’s Craig Switzer and over the left shoulder of UNH goaltender Kevin Regan to end the longest semifinal game in tournament history and the 11th longest game in NCAA play.
The goal also spoiled a career performance for Regan, the league’s regular season MVP, who finished with a career-high 62 saves, the third most in Hockey East tournament play and most ever in a semifinal.
“Regan is a very good goalie and he played unbelievable all year,” said Ferriero. “So, [the way he played tonight] was no surprise.”
The Wildcats looked as if they were ready to rout the Eagles early on. Despite each team mustering 13 shots in the first period, UNH came away with the only goals. Bobby Butler found space in the slot after fanning on his original shot and fired a shot high blocker side, beating BC goaltender John Muse (45 saves) at 5:17.
Later in the frame, with a delayed penalty call on the Eagles, defenseman James Fritsch pinched from the left point and fired a low shot that caught Muse off his post, finding the exact spot necessary to squeak past the rookie netminder at 15:16 for a 2-0 lead.
The Eagles climbed back early in the second when Ben Smith scored his 20th goal of the year on a power play. Smith batted a rebound out of midair at the right post, a shot that needed video replay to validate it.
However, UNH didn’t allow the Eagles to gain momentum. Butler scored his second of the game at 10:33, taking a no-look pass from James vanRiesdyk and burying a shot low on the blocker side.
A Ferriero giveaway on the power play resulted in a two-on-one for the Wildcats that Thomas Fortney buried for his second goal of the year at 12:23.
Just as you wanted to count the Eagles out, they responded.
A penalty to Mike Fornataro put the Eagles on an extended five-on-three, and York decided now was the time to gather his team and call his timeout. York said that he was just trying to settle his club down, but if there was any wisdom shared on the BC bench, it certainly had the right effect.
Joe Whitney’s one-timer from the right point deflected off a UNH defender and past Regan to pull the Eagles back to 4-2. Brian Gibbons then followed Smith’s lead, similarly batting a puck out of the air and past Regan to get BC within a goal.
The Eagles dominated the second period on the shot chart, outshooting the Wildcats, 23-8, and with seconds remaining nearly tied the game. Nathan Gerbe missed a wide open net on a power play, an omen that many thought UNH needed.
However, BC grabbed the equalizer in the third on a fluke goal with 15:07 remaining. Matt Price intercepted a clearing pass and fired a low puck back on net. The shot hit Bertram in the right skate, bounced off the left post and in.
With all the momentum, the Eagles had the best chance to win the game in regulation and Whitney nearly completed the comeback with 2:40 left. A bouncing puck landed square on his stick 20 feet out and his low shot forced Regan to flash a quick left pad to force the overtime.
Both teams had chances to end the game in the first overtime, but it was the Eagles who actually appeared to win with 1:30 remaining. After Regan challenged Ferriero for a lose puck near the bottom of the right faceoff circle, Matt Greene fired the rebound into a wide open net to set off the celebration.
Video review, though, showed that Regan’s helmet had come off in the collision, an automatic whistle to kill the play in college hockey. Video replay official Dave Hansen disallowed the goal, ruling it had been scored when the play should have been dead.
“Obviously it hurt [to have the goal disallowed],” said Ferriero. “But it shows the character of our team that no one gave up.”
After the second overtime seemed it would end without event, an odd-man rush saw Dries slide to take out a BC player just inside the blue line. Referee John Gravallese whistled his only penalty of the overtime periods and just before the penalty ended, it was Ferriero’s turn to play the role of hero, ending the marathon game and sending the Eagles to the title game.
UNH’s bid for a third Hockey East title ends a bit short, but the Wildcats can somewhat rest assured that the season will not end, as the club will be in the NCAA tournament field when it is announced on Sunday.
Friday, though, that’s little consolation.
“I told the team we have the opportunity to win it,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “We thought the game was over at 4-1. But you have to give Boston College credit. They played hard and battled back.”