BOSTON — Entering this all-important weekend in Hockey East play, the Northeastern Huskies knew one thing: with a two game sweep of Boston College, they would capture the Hockey East regular season title for the first time ever.
They come into the weekend with a one point lead on the Boston University Terriers. As the BU score went final (8-2 victory over Providence), the Huskies were behind a goal to the defending national champion Eagles late in the third and it looked as though the regular season conference title would elude the Huskies yet again.
Then lightning struck. Twice. In front of 3,399 fans at Matthews Arena, a frustrated Huskies team for much of the night scored late to tie, and again in OT to take two points from the Eagles.
The Huskies special teams were sub-par all night. However, it was killing off a 5-on-3 that gave the Huskies momentum halfway through the third. Head coach Greg Cronin spoke about the shift.
They made some terrific blocks, he said. That really changed the game, we got energized by it. How do you not acknowledge when your teammates are blocking shots with their arms and legs and their thighs. That energized our bench because we dodged a bullet. I thought we got some momentum out of that.
Our power play was bad, it was a joke, and their killing was terrific. They were in our face, they won loose puck battles, and they had a real purpose behind the way that they killed.
It was a different variety man advantage that the Huskies would ultimately capitalize on. With about a minute left, Northeastern pulled goaltender Brad Thiessen, and tied the game during a 6-on-5 advantage.
With just 26 seconds left in regulation, junior Randy Guzior found the back of the net to tie the game. Senior forward Ryan Ginand rushed the puck up ice through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone where he left it in the slot for Guzior, whose shot beat BC goaltender John Muse glove side.
Holding onto one point was not in the game plan for Northeastern, and a re-energized group came out flying in overtime. The game-winning goal was scored by freshman Steve Quailer, who seems to have a knack for big moments. Quailer was reluctant to take credit.
You just got to give all the credit to Joey (Vitale) and Wade (MacLeod), he said. They got it to the net, started crashing, and it just popped out to me, and luckily I got a lot of the net to shoot at.
MacLeod started the play by dumping the puck down behind the net as Vitale chased. Working hard off the boards, he curled to Muses left from in back of the net, firing the initial shot. A scrum ensued and the puck found Quailers stick at the top of the crease. He knew what to do with it.
There is much to be said about the way the Eagles played tonight, and Boston College head coach Jerry York spoke about his teams efforts:
Our team played well, gave ourselves a chance to win. Its just a tough, hard loss for us. I thought our penalty kill was excellent. We had a good power play going early, pretty solid, much like the rest of the game.
Cronin was quick to praise the Eagles as well.
I thought it was a real awkward start for us, Cronin said. I thought BC did a great job controlling the style and pace of the game. They were trapping us, and forcing turnovers. They did a great job of keeping us off balance. We dodged a bullet, I thought BC played a terrific game.
You could see it on the bench, it was one of those games where you are trying to come up with a solution because they had us contained and bottled up. They played a good game, Im sure they are walking out of here saying how they hell did that happen, we should have gotten two points.
Concluding, he said As a group, I thought we did a pretty good job of recognizing that we were getting frustrated and that we werent generating any rhythmThats what goes back to being a mature team. If you have a younger team, you might have a little bit more of an overreaction to it. I thought our guys kept it consistent and stayed with the game plan.
The Eagles struck first at 7:41 of the first period when senior Brock Bradford notched his Hockey East leading 22nd goal of the year on the power play. The Eagles were setup offensively in a 5-on-3, and just as Greg Costa stepped onto the ice to make it a 5-on-4, Boston College opened the scoring.
Bradford was staked out above the dot to Thiessens right, and as senior defenseman Tim Kunes slid the puck across the point he was loaded up for a one-timer. His slap shot through traffic found the back of the net for the frames only tally.
After the Eagles scored, they did a good job shutting down the middle of the ice, and possessing the puck in the offensive zones, giving Northeastern very few chances to tie the game.
I think they probably outplayed us for over half the game, said Cronin. The first period they
dominated us, it was a joke. They outplayed us so badly we were lucky it was only 1-0.
Boston College outshot Northeastern 12-7 and stayed out of the penalty box in the first period.
There was no scoring in the second period, and frustration mounted for the Northeastern Huskies.
They had two power play opportunities in the second that created very few chances. The man advantages created puck possession, but very little in the way of scoring chances, as Boston College was extremely disciplined on the penalty kill.
The best chance for the Huskies developed with under ten seconds left in the period, as Greg Costa curled to the front of the net from Muses left. After the original shot was stopped, there were second and third opportunities for Northeastern, who were unable to capitalize.
The two teams will meet again tomorrow night at Boston College.