If you’re an opposing coach, player or fan looking at the New Hampshire roster, the list of offensive weapons is a daunting one: Lanny Gare, Colin Hemingway, Sean Collins, Steve Saviano, Jim Abbott, Preston Callander, Nathan Martz and Josh Prudden. Add in defenseman Garrett Stafford, who records almost a point a game, and you’ve got quite the formidable list.
You’d have to figure that if you could keep that stellar group off the scoreboard for 60 minutes in the Hockey East championship game, you’d walk away with the hardware.
Boston University did exactly that, primarily on the Atlas-like shoulders of goaltender Sean Fields, but still fell at 11:43 of overtime when UNH finally broke through.
Which of the Wildcat offensive stars did the trick?
None of them.
The hero’s mantle went to Tyson Teplitsky, whose shot on net from the right boards deflected in off a BU defender’s stick and set off jubilation among UNH partisans.
— UNH coach Dick Umile
It was a bit like a Bucky Dent home run knocking you out of the World Series.
Teplitsky, a sophomore defensemen, had scored only a single goal all year prior to the game-winner that gave UNH its second straight Hockey East title. You’d read 13 names on the Wildcat scoring list before you got to him.
You can forgive BU fans then if they echo their Red Sox counterparts by moaning Tyson Bleeping Teplitsky.
“Tyson is probably down the bottom of the chart with me in terms of scoring a goal,” said UNH coach Dick Umile with a grin. “But he’s a very offensive defenseman, someone who is very clever and very smart out there. He knows what to do. He isn’t the strongest physically or doesn’t have the strongest shot, but the decision he made with the puck at the end of the game is how he plays.”
The sophomore from Saskatchewan had more offensive success last year when he scored four goals and finished with 15 points, but this season the points have been harder to come by. The dry spell became especially pronounced down the stretch as he recorded a mere two assists over the last 14 games. Without question, the game-winner was just what the doctor ordered.
“We have a lot of depth in our lineup and we had so many chances all through the game and especially in overtime for all those big names to score goals,” said Teplitsky. “I was just fortunate enough to go down the wing, get a good bounce and let it go in. I’ve been struggling a little bit offensively this year, so this was a great time to get a big goal.”
At the other end of the expected hero’s spectrum was UNH goaltender Mike Ayers, a household name in Hockey East circles. Two days earlier, the netminder earned league co-Player of the Year honors along with a berth on the All-Hockey East First Team.
On this evening, he recorded the first ever shutout in a Hockey East title game.
And got shut out himself from tournament honors. No MVP. No all-tourney team.
Deservedly so. Sean Fields stood on his head, recording 40 saves while Ayers followed a busy 12-save first period with a mere four stops in each period that followed.
For your average Joe, the opportunity to catch a few zzzz’s on the clock might be considered the dream job. But not if you’re a goaltender in the Hockey East championship game. While your counterpart is flashing his glove, stacking his pads and in general getting mentally in the zone, your muscles are stiffening and your focus is growing stale.
“It was difficult,” said Ayers. “In the first 10 minutes of the game I had a little bit of work to do, but after that it kind of slowed down.
“You have to keep focusing, but it’s tough when [the other goalie] is making save after save and making some great ones. It was difficult, but I felt my concentration was there all night.”
Somewhat like Teplitsky, Ayers hadn’t come into the title tilt on top of his game. He had entered the playoffs having allowed more than three goals only four times all season, but in two quarterfinal games and the semifinal he surrendered four goals each time.
“I wasn’t happy with my play coming into tonight,” said Ayers. “[But] the most important thing I felt was that we were winning games. At this point in the season, that’s the most important thing.
“I knew I could come in here, play well and help my team win. I felt like I did that.”
A first-ever shutout in the championship game? Stopping 24-of-24 shots?
Yeah, one could say that he did.