LOWELL, Mass. — Saturday night was ‘Star Wars’ night at the Tsongas Arena, which seemed appropriate, given the fact that the game between No. 11 Boston College and No. 19 Massachusetts-Lowell seemed like it was played in a galaxy far, far away.
In the end, the talk was more about non-goals than goals along with non-icings, bouncing pucks and good and bad breaks. The final outcome was a 3-1 victory for the host River Hawks, but you couldn’t blame the 5,711 in attendance if they left Saturday’s game scratching their heads.
In a tight checking game, Boston College had two goals disallowed in the third period and then were befuddled when the linesmen didn’t whistle an icing on Lowell when BC was pressing to tie the game, allowing River Hawks’ sniper Cory Falite to score an empty-net goal with 3.7 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
Needless to say, BC head coach Jerry York was left asking questions after the game.
“The linesman said it hit one of our sticks,” said York, first discussing the non-icing. “[The Lowell defender] is in the top of the faceoff circle and ripped the puck out of the goal. I don’t understand how that’s not icing.”
Backtracking, York had commentary about the two disallowed goals. Both came with the Eagles trailing, 1-0, early in the third.
Twenty seconds into the frame, BC’s Ben Smith appeared to score a goal that deflected off of Lowell netminder Carter Hutton (25 saves). Immediately, though, referee Jeff Bunyon signaled no goal, but didn’t make any further signal.
After a lengthy video review, Bunyon confirmed the call and then spent a long time explaining the call to York.
“Jeff [Bunyon] told me that ‘Smitty’ hit it with his hand and then it hit Hutton and rolled into the net,” said York.
Lowell coach Blaise MacDonald, who had a good view of the play from the Lowell bench, jokingly said he approved of the call.
“It looked like they were playing beach volleyball out there,” laughed MacDonald.
Minutes later, this time with Lowell on the power play, BC had another great scoring chance and again thought they’d evened the score. Defenseman Brian Dumoulin fired a rebound past Hutton at 2:21, but again Bunyon sat on the goal line waiving his arms, this time because the goal came dislodged before the puck entered the net.
“My understanding is that if the goalie knocks the net off intentionally, you have to have a goal,” said York. “They said it was part of the play.”
The result was the Eagles remaining a goal down, but to their credit, BC finally did tie the game when Ben Smith knocked home a goal-mouth pass with 12:44 remaining.
That, though, wasn’t enough as Lowell’s Paul Worthington scored on a breakaway with 7:03 remaining, taking a perfect feed from Michael Budd at the offensive blue line, walking in alone, and snapping a shot through the legs of BC netminder John Muse (26 saves).
“I had the defenseman beat and [Michael] Budd made a nice pass up to me,” said Worthington. “As I was going down, I tried to shove it at the net and it went five-hole.”
“Paul Worthington has tremendous breakaway speed,” said MacDonald. “He was just not going to be stopped; that was a tremendous inspirational event for our team.”
It was possibly more inspirational for Lowell given recent results. Since returning from the holiday break, Lowell has struggled in the third period, three times giving up game-winning goals in the final minutes of regulation and twice allowing massive comeback efforts by the opposition before eventually winning the game.
So the ability for Lowell to not only answer BC’s tying goal, but to then close the game after Worthington’s game winner, is something MacDonald feels is key for the River Hawks heading into the home stretch.
“It’s tangible experience with a lot on the line,” said MacDonald of Saturday’s third-period effort. “You play a team like Boston College at home after winning last night. This was a big game; it was hard fought and we got it done.”
The game began with a defensive stalemate in the opening period, which finally turned to solid offensive chances late in the opening frame when the River Hawks got on the power play. Both Ben Holstrom and Michael Scheu had doorstep chances just seconds apart, but in both cases Muse made quick-reaction pad saves to keep the game scoreless through one.
It appeared the second period would be more of the same, as neither team could muster much in the grade ‘A’ department. A late BC power play seemed to be BC’s first hope, but a careless turnover at the offensive blue line forced Carl Sneep to haul down a Lowell player to prevent a breakaway.
It was on the ensuing power play that the River Hawks successfully pinned the Eagles in their own end. As the penalty expired, BC looked to be in the clear, but a turnover by Edwin Shea below the goal line allowed Scott Campbell to pick up the loose puck in the slot, walk in alone and patiently deposit the puck under Muse for the 1-0 lead at 18:21.
The loss for BC provides the Eagles an empty weekend, following a 5-4 overtime loss at Boston University, despite solid efforts in both games.
York said at this point his team needs to learn how to win games when the outcome hangs in the balance.
“We have to finish games better,” said York. “We’re playing well. We’re competing well. We’re playing pretty solid hockey. We’re right there at game time; we’ve got to make a play. There just wasn’t good players making good plays.”