BOSTON — Freshman goalie Clay Witt was making just his third collegiate start. Forward Randy Guzior and defenseman Mike Hewkin hadn’t scored goals all season.
Yet those three were among the heroes in an altogether unlikely game. Northeastern was locked into the No. 6 seed in the Hockey East quarterfinals and had little to play for, factoring in the decision to play Witt over usual starter Chris Rawlings. No. 13 Boston University had more at stake, as the Terriers went into the night with a chance to finish as high as second or as low as fourth in the standings.
The Huskies came through and won against the consistently inconsistent Terriers. As both teams fumed over the officiating, Northeastern survived a 19-6 shot advantage by No. 13 Boston University in the first period, rallying for a 4-3 win in front of 5,238 at Agganis Arena. Witt made 41 saves for his first collegiate win, while Guzior scored the first goal and Hewkin notched the game-winner. Charlie Coyle had two assists for the Terriers.
The upshot is that the two teams will now end up playing against each other at least four games in a row, as they will follow up this weekend’s home-and-home series with a best-of-three quarterfinal matchup at Agganis Arena next weekend.
“I thought this was a very strange game,” Northeastern interim coach Sebastien Laplante said. “The penalties obviously were a little bit of an issue; just tried to calm the guys down and start playing with a little structure. We certainly don’t want to play short-handed against such a powerful offense. I thought the guys did a fantastic job of staying composed and calm and actually did a good job of putting our plan in place for the second part of the game.”
One week after a great 60-minute effort in a 3-1 win over Vermont, BU looked great for much of the first period and threatening when they pulled the goalie, but there were too many breakdowns in between.
“Rule No. 1 is don’t beat yourself, and we just beat ourselves tonight,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “Stupid penalties, bad plays, bad passes, turnovers. We weren’t focused. It was disguised with us getting 44 shots. But we get up 1-0, and once again this team does not know how to play for 60 minutes.
“They haven’t learned that lesson all year long. I thought we played poorly last night and squeaked out a win, and tonight we played poorly and got beat. I couldn’t have been more disappointed with about 80 percent of my guys.”
Northeastern received four straight penalties in the game’s opening eight minutes, perhaps lulling their hosts into thinking it would be an easy night. On one of those power plays at 4:08, Max Nicastro scored with a shot from the left-wing circle after Charlie Coyle dished a blind backhanded pass to him from the slot.
Guzior tied it up at 15:44 on a nice redirect on a shot from the right-wing side. Then Coyle made his second nice pass to set up a power-play goal for BU at 17:13, threading a pass from behind the net to Chris Connolly at the center point. His wrist shot found its way through traffic and went in.
With one minute left in the period, BU freshman Garrett Noonan was called for a five-minute major for contact to the head elbowing. As it’s his third game misconduct of the season, he is currently due to be disqualified for Friday night’s game one of the quarterfinals. However, Parker plans to protest to the league. He felt that the elbowing call was fair enough, but that there was no contact to the head to warrant the major.
BU weathered that storm, though they were fortunate at the four-minute mark of the second period when Wade MacLeod somehow missed a 10-foot shot at a wide-open net. As the period wore on, Northeastern gathered momentum and tied the game again at 18:50. Drew Daniels slipped the puck through a defender before beating Kieran Millan with a low shot.
“Once we started playing five-on-five, we started looking like a hockey team,” Laplante said.
The Huskies simply outplayed the Terriers for most of the final frame. They took their first lead of the night at 6:29 when Hewkin floated a wrister through traffic and into the net. Then the visitors made it 4-2 61 seconds later when Tyler McNeely set up Steve Silva shortly after a faceoff.
That goal left Parker agitated with the officiating once again.
“I was upset because they won the faceoff back, and my guy goes out to get the puck, and he gets unbelievably interfered with, I thought,” Parker said. “The referee didn’t agree with me.”
That’s not to say that Parker thought that his players didn’t deserve many calls this weekend.
“If I benched everybody who took a stupid penalty this weekend, we wouldn’t have a team,” he said.
BU made it interesting for the last three minutes. Junior Kevin Gilroy poked home a rebound at 17:50, and the Terriers stormed Witt impressively once Millan was pulled.
“The hardest we played was when we pulled the goalie,” Parker said.
It was too little, too late, and the Terriers now have to try to do next weekend what they couldn’t do tonight: keep Northeastern from winning on the road.
It was a great night for the freshman goalie from the unlikely town of Brandon, Fla.
“He was terrific,” Laplante said. “He looked a little nervous at first, but we have nothing but 100 percent confidence in his ability to win hockey games.”
“He looked sharp,” agreed Parker. “I think he played extremely well. He didn’t get rattled. I don’t think we’ll see him again this year, though.”
The Terriers will see if they have better luck against Rawlings next weekend.