CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — The old adage in sports is that its not always how you start a game that matters. Its how you finish it.
The New Hampshire Wildcats may beg to differ.
For the second straight night, No. 12 UNH jumped out to a lead and held off a late charge by No. 17 Boston College after the Eagles clawed back within a goal late. James van Riemsdyk’s empty-net goal, his second of the game, with 8.5 seconds remaining, sealed the deal as the Wildcats earned a 4-2 victory to sweep the weekend series over the Eagles and solidify their position in the race for home ice.
The victory moves UNH into a tie for third place in Hockey East with Vermont, which fell, 1-0, at home to Mass.-Lowell on Saturday. Lowell sits in fifth place, two points behind the Wildcats and Catamounts.
The game was a near mirror image of Friday’s 3-2 UNH victory at New Hampshire. In that game, the Wildcats jumped out to a 3-0 lead and held off a wild BC flurry in the third.
Saturday, the Wildcats got out to a 2-1 lead through one on goals by Danny Dries and Phil DeSimone sandwiched around a Kyle Kucharski tally, and then extended the advantage to 3-1 in the second on van Riemsdyk’s first goal of the night. In the third, BC stormed the UNH net, firing 17 shots on UNH netminder Kevin Foster (28 saves) but could only beat him once on a Ben Smith power-play goal with 11:57 remaining.
Said BC head coach Jerry York, his team’s lack of consistency in both games on the weekend, particularly Saturday, was what cost them.
“The game was a reflection of how the season has gone,”said York. “The second period was one of our worst periods we played this season. Then the third period was one of the best we’ve played this season. With ebbs and flows like that, you can’t be a successful hockey team.”
The second period was a major struggle for the Eagles. They not only allowed UNH the only goal of the frame, they also took five penalties, stealing any chance for BC to climb back in the game.
“We took five penalties and four were undisciplined penalties,” said York. “That’s eight minutes of killing penalties. We did a good job of killing but that wears you down.”
UNH jumped out to the early lead by capitalizing on defensive mistakes. The first was by Eagles blueliner Nick Petrecki, as he skated out in front of his net. Petrecki lost control of the puck and Dries was able to quickly pick it up and pick a spot top shelf past BC netminder John Muse (25 saves) at 2:27 for the 1-0 Wildcats’ lead.
The period progressed to the closing minutes with little in the way of scoring chances for either team, but in the final 95 seconds, each team got clear-cut opportunities and cashed in.
Kucharski knotted the game at 18:25 when he one-timed a feed from Matt Lombardi over Foster’s glove. UNH answered before the close of the period, after BC turned the puck over in the neutral zone and DeSimone finished off a two-on-one with Bobby Butler, patiently pulling the puck around a sprawled Muse and tapping it into the open net with four seconds remaining to give UNH a 2-1 lead through one.
After a penalty-free first period, the second frame became whistle city, with BC called for five minors and UNH charged with two. Though neither team scored on the power play, the game lost all of its flow.
The only goal of the period came from UNH’s van Riemsdyk, who finished off a rush by beating Eagles’ defenseman Edwin Shea and tucking the puck by Muse at 5:22. Once again, it was a Petrecki turnover that started the play, as the blueliner gave away the puck in the neutral zone, allowing the Wildcats’ offense to turn up ice and attack the net.
In the third, the Eagles swarmed the UNH zone. After Benn Ferriero was stopped twice on doorstep bids, BC drew a penalty on UNH’s Greg Collins for slashing at 7:45 and 18 seconds later BC’s power play connected. Ben Smith deflected a Tim Kunes shot from the point off the right post and in to pull BC within a goal at 3-2.
It was BC’s first power-play goal since February 9 against Harvard, snapping an 0-for-26 streak.
With momentum, the Eagles continued to pepper the Wildcats’ net. Ferriero once again was stopped, this time by a toe save on the rush with 10:10 remaining, and then Barry Almedia was robbed by Foster when his rebound bid appeared headed for an open net, only to see Foster dive across and stop the puck before it crossed the line.
The Eagles continued to press and with 3:14 remaining beat Foster, only to have the goal disallowed. Prior to Kucharski’s shot entering the net, Andrew Orpik was pulled down by a UNH defender and crashed into Foster and the net. The referees didn’t call a penalty on the play and thus disallowed the goal, ruling Orpik was in the crease.
“I thought there was a shove,” said York. “I thought our player was pushed into the net. The referees thought he lost an edge. If you lose an edge it’s a whistle but if you get pushed in, it’s game on.”
The Eagles still wouldn’t relent, and with less than three minutes remaining, Ferriero had what was possibly the best chance, firing a clear cut shot from the slot that Foster deflected off the pipe.
After the junior netiminder stood tall on a number of additional late-game bids, van Riemsdyk’s empty-netter accounted for the 4-2 final.
The win and the weekend sweep was just what the doctor ordered for the Wildcats. Entering the weekend 3-3-1 in its last seven, the two victories help UNH’s cause in not only the race for home ice, but also its bid for an NCAA berth.
“Nothing is easy and we knew that going [into the weekend],” said UNH head coach Dick Umile. “We knew it would be a [tight] game, but this was a great weekend for us. I’m very pleased with the overall effort.”