BOSTON — Two seconds away from losing its home opener for its new coach, Northeastern used an extra-attacker goal by Braden Pimm to salvage a 3-3 tie with Massachusetts. The Huskies had threatened mightily during stretches late in the third period but hadn’t been able to get the equalizer.
With the puck outside of the zone and only 13 seconds remaining in regulation, the outlook appeared grim for the Huskies. A strong play by sophomore defenseman Anthony Bitetto, however, allowed them to get the puck into the zone and then on net for the “greasy” goal.
“I was just trying to get hard to the net,” Pimm said. “[Vinny] Saponari made a nice play to flip the puck in the air. I was just coming at it at the right time and it went off my shoulder. I whacked away as hard as I could. Luckily it crossed the line.”
The tie, which included two earlier goals by Justin Daniels, avoided a bad start for new Northeastern coach Jim Madigan.
“It was my inaugural game so there was a learning curve for all of us, from the coaching staff to the players, who’ve really worked hard all preseason long to get us to this point,” Madigan said. “We were happy with the outcome. There were some things we’ll have to work at, but I liked our battle-level and our compete-level.
“In the third period, we came at them pretty hard and had some chances but couldn’t convert until two seconds left…. I liked the way we responded at the end. We’re just going to keep getting better.”
For UMass, the tie might have felt in many ways like a loss, considering that they’d held off Northeastern’s late charge, including a few outstanding flurries, until the final two seconds.
The Minutemen played well during a first period that ended in a 2-2 tie and then took a 3-2 lead on a T.J. Syner goal early in the second period. Freshman goaltender Kevin Boyle, who finished with 29 saves, stymied the Huskies, particularly during an 11-shot third period.
“The first two periods, I was pretty happy with where we were, but the third period was a challenge for us,” UMass coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said. “Northeastern carried the play to a pretty large extent and Boyle stood up to it until the very end.
“We cheated on a couple plays, tried to get pucks out of the zone by taking easier routes and not being thorough. It cost us.
“The tie was well-earned on their part.”
The two teams opened the game with a spirited first period complete with power-play goals by both sides. Five minutes in, Syner attempted to break in but was hauled down by Luke Eibler. On the resulting man advantage, the Minutemen moved the puck well until Conor Sheary at the right point fed Colin Shea in the left faceoff circle. Shea’s shot eluded Husky goaltender Chris Rawlings and UMass had a 1-0 lead.
That score held until four minutes left in the period when Northeastern evened the score and then some. On a play in front with bodies falling in and around the crease, Daniels stuffed the puck past a down-and-out Boyle.
Adding insult to injury, UMass defenseman Oleg Yevenko was whistled for hitting from behind on the play, sending the Huskies onto the power play. They capitalized when Garr Vemeersch shot from the point and Daniels whacked in the rebound at the doorstep.
The 2-1 lead, however, proved remarkably short-lived. Nine seconds exactly. Off the center ice faceoff, Branden Gracel broke in and beat Rawlings from the lower right slot.
Little more than four minutes into the second, Syner ripped off a low shot from the slot that hit paydirt, giving the Minutemen a 3-2 lead that would last until the closing seconds.
Halfway into the period Sheary threatened to widen the lead, walking into the low slot only to shoot wide from 10 feet. It would be a missed opportunity that threatened to loom large as the Minutemen wore out a path to the penalty box, picking up four penalties over the rest of the period, including 5-on-3 disadvantages of 30 and 53 seconds. The UMass penalty killers and Boyle, however, kept Northeastern off the scoreboard, maintaining the lead going into the third.
Northeastern’s Rob Dongara had an open short side at the five-minute mark but couldn’t capitalize from the right faceoff circle. With six minutes left, the Huskies buzzed in front with Boyle momentarily down and out, the puck lying in the crease, and bodies sprawled everywhere.
It was left to Pimm with two seconds left, however, to get the equalizer.