Parity is good in sports, but what was witnessed on Saturday night, the final night of the Hockey East regular season, was simply crazy.
Each of the top three teams in the standings shifted position, with Boston University completing an improbable rush from battling for home ice to capturing a league championship in the span of nine short weeks.
Each of the five Hockey East games on Saturday night had standings implications. At the bottom, Massachusetts-Lowell and sister school Massachusetts were jockeying for the final two playoff seeds. So Lowell’s game versus Vermont (a 5-2 Lowell win) and UMass’ game at Maine (a 5-3 Maine win) gave Lowell the number-seven seed, with UMass slipping to eighth.
Providence needed a victory over last-place Merrimack, seemingly a simple task, and would have to get a little help from BC against New Hampshire to avoid hitting the road.
That became the first done deal of the night when the Friars dropped a 4-3 overtime decision at home, leaving New Hampshire alone in fourth place, the 10th straight season the Wildcats have enjoyed home ice.
To keep its playoff hopes alive, BU minimally needed to tie Northeastern and hope for some help from UNH. Tied at 3 in the third period, the Terriers scored the final two goals for a 5-3 win.
So everything hinged on the final game on the season. Boston College was in the driver’s seat as the night began. Simply put, it was a win-the-game-win-the-championship scenario.
A 2-2 tie late in the third between the Eagles and the Wildcats left everyone from Orono to Durham to Boston on pins and needles. At 9:21 p.m. ET, less than 10 minutes after BU’s game went final, Josh Ciocco scored on a wraparound with 6:52 remaining in regulation.
The cheers from Commonwealth Avenue could be felt in Durham as the Wildcats had pulled ahead, 3-2, and BU’s hopes for a regular-season title improved tenfold. When UNH’s Trevor Smith buried an insurance marker at 16:27 of the third (9:29 p.m. real time) and Daniel Winnik notched an empty-net goal at 9:35 p.m., the champagne was uncorked at Agganis Arena.
The Terriers were the champions. Maine and BC sat a point behind, with the Black Bears taking the second seed. The Eagles had slipped from first place to third in a matter of minutes.
“We came this close to a championship, so it’s disappointing to lose it,” said BC coach Jerry York. “You look up with 10 minutes left and think that a goal here could win it. But UNH is on the other side of the ice realizing that they might have to score so they don’t have to travel [in the first round].
“You’re 2-2 in the third and the championship was there for us and we just couldn’t get it done.”
Said UNH head coach Dick Umile, “BC ends up what, third? That just says a lot about our league. It was crazy. With one point [going either way] you could go from first place to fifth. It just shows how tight this league was.”
With the playoff pairings set (UMass goes to BU, Lowell to Maine, Vermont to BC and Providence to New Hampshire) everyone can turn their heads towards the national picture.
Saturday night, BU, which finished the regular season 16-3-1 in its final 20 games, all but locked up its position in the NCAA tournament. Fourth in the PairWise Rankings entering the night, the Terriers stayed put.
Maine, which was ranked 22nd when the PairWise was introduced seven weeks ago, had climbed into a tie for eighth and, similar to BU, may have punched its ticket to the dance. The Black Bears finished the regular season 10-1-2 over their last 13.
New Hampshire’s win put it in position to possibly earn an at-large bid in the tournament. The Wildcats are 14th and might not have to win the Hockey East tournament to keep the season alive.
BC, though, is the shocker. Seemingly a lock in fourth in the PairWise just six weeks ago, the Eagles’ 4-7-1 finish to the season currently has them on the outside looking in. BC is 15th in the PairWise and may, at this point, need to win the Hockey East tournament to ensure its dance ticket.
The national tournament is still a ways away, and teams will need to worry about the league title first. You can rest assured that it will be an exciting fight to the finish, but it will be hard to top the rollercoaster ride that Saturday night provided fans around Hockey East.