For more than two and a half hours of clock time, and 71 minutes of play in Saturday night’s Hockey East championship game, fifth-seeded Boston University and top-seeded New Hampshire played the perfect hockey game.
There were scoring chances galore in front of a packed FleetCenter, the atmosphere was perfect, the goaltending was perfect. Heck, with everything going right, even the popcorn seemed perfect.
As the game entered overtime scoreless, the first time a Hockey East title game had ever ended regulation without a goal, there was a recurrent theme around the press box.
“Let’s hope this game ends on a great goal.”
Sorry. folks. The hockey gods were on a coffee break.
After BU netminder Sean Fields turned aside 40 shots through three-plus periods — saving his best saves for overtime — an innocent-looking Tyson Teplitsky pass through the goalmouth bounced directly from Terrier defenseman Ryan Whitney’s stick into the net, providing the dreaded ending to an otherwise impeccable game.
“Whenever you get into a playoff game and go into overtime, it seems goals go in that way,” said Fields. “Between the third period and overtime we were saying [in the locker room] to throw everything at the net and maybe get a bounce. [UNH], though, was the one that got the bounce.”
The result, of course, was a FleetCenter and a UNH bench in pandemonium, and a stunned Fields in disbelief that his armor was breached not by a Wildcat, but by his own teammate.
“I wasn’t that concerned about something getting by [Fields] tonight,” said BU coach Jack Parker. “They were going to have to drill something by him, I thought, and it turned out to be something even weirder than that.”
UNH goaltender Michael Ayers, who became the first goalie ever to record a shutout in a Hockey East championship game, sympathized with Fields and noted that he himself was concerned about bad bounces getting past him before the overtime started.
“I said to myself going into overtime, ‘Pay attention to every little thing,'” said Ayers. “With every bounce and every rim off the glass, you never know what’s going to happen.
Fields’ only prize might have been going home with the William Flynn trophy as tournament MVP. He became just the third player in tournament history — all goaltenders — to take home the MVP trophy from a losing team.
That though, was little consolation.
“I’d much rather bring home the Hockey East championship, personally,” said Fields matter-of-factly.
That takes nothing away from how deserving he is. He made a total of 143 saves in the tournament, including a remarkable 88 during a championship weekend that included back-to-back overtimes.
Faced with elimination on Friday night, Fields stonewalled Boston College in the first overtime before Justin Maiser propelled BU into Saturday’s championship tilt.
In a similar situation Saturday, Fields did his job to keep his club alive as long as possible. There was no doubt that by period two, BU had become a little legless and fatigued from Friday night’s marathon semifinal.
In overtime, Fields made the save of the night and possibly of the playoffs stopping Steve Saviano on a split-second doorstep redirect by flashing his right leg to turn aside the bid.
When asked to talked about “that” shot and Fields’ save, Saviano said, “I’m not sure which save you’re talking about,” further proof of Saviano’s scoring frustration versus BU’s brick wall.
Regardless, as good as he played and as many saves as we’ll talk about for days and weeks, luck wasn’t on Fields’ side.
There are no words that ease the pain of losing. There’s nothing you can say to make things better.
Still, UNH coach Dick Umile did a good job of putting it all in perspective.
“In this profession, [bounces] are what you live on,” said Umile. “You get into a game and all of a sudden you get to an overtime, whether it’s for the Hockey East championship, the regionals, or the national championship game.
“You’re just living on the edge waiting for the bounce of a puck and that’s usually what happens. You can play really well and not win it. You’ve got to be good, you’ve got to be lucky — there are a lot of factors that go into it.
“I’ve seen it on both sides. But that’s what you chase — every single game, every single season — to get into a game like that and hopefully the final one.”
And even for Fields, for whom a bad bounce spoiled a good skate and a perfect game, the knowledge that there’s always a chance for revenge tomorrow will keep him wanting to come back.