Pulling Rabbits Out Of Hats

How do you beat the Hockey East Player of the Year?

Any way you can.

When New Hampshire’s Thomas Fortney scored a shorthanded goal midway through the second period to give the Wildcats a 4-1 lead, the Hockey East semifinal appeared to be over.

Finito. Kaput.

New Hampshire had allowed more than four goals only twice all season and not once since January. The Wildcats had swept the season series with BC, outscoring the Eagles, 12-3. In a late-season home-and-home series, the Wildcats held BC to only a single goal.

So, down by three to the runaway winner of the Hockey East regular season, Boston College seemingly had only two chances: slim and none, especially with the brick wall in the UNH nets. One night earlier, UNH goaltender Kevin Regan was crowned the league’s unanimous Player of the Year after leading Hockey East in wins, goals against average and save percentage.

The Eagles would need to pull a few rabbits out of their hats if they were going to get three past Regan to tie and four to win. The problem was: they’d already used one when Ben Smith swatted the puck out of the air for their first goal. How many could be left?

“We’ve always had skilled players at BC and we always will have,” BC coach Jerry York said. “This year, I think we’ve set a benchmark for mentally strong kids. 4-1 is a pretty good knockout blow.”

BC got its only “vanilla” goal of the game on a five-on-three advantage to make it 4-2. Less than three minutes later, Brian Gibbons followed Smith’s lead, whacking another one out of midair to make it 4-3.

In the third period, the tying rabbit popped out of the hat when a Matt Price shot deflected off Dan Bertram’s skate in front past a helpless Regan.

By the time regulation ended, the league’s Player of the Year had stopped 42 shots and allowed only the single conventional five-on-three goal plus the three rabbits pulled by BC magicians out of their hats. As BC continued to apply pressure through two overtimes, Regan made big stop after big stop.

His helmet made another. With 1:30 remaining in the first overtime, he and Benn Ferriero raced for a loose puck and collided inside the right faceoff circle. His helmet flew off, stopping play well before Matt Greene put the puck into the vacated net.

As the third overtime began, Regan had stopped 62 of 66 shots and was nearing Chris Terreri’s 1986 record of 66 saves. In just 43 seconds, however, the deciding rabbit popped out of the hat. Ferriero’s shot from the point deflected off a UNH defenseman’s stick, rattled iron, and went in.

After a first period that had gone decisively UNH’s way, Boston College had gotten the best of the Wildcats, outshooting them 67-49, but not the best of Regan without those rabbits.

With consummate class, Regan still gave the credit where it was due.

“I’m a firm believer that you create your own luck,” he said. “They got pucks to the net. They got guys in the crease. You do that and you’ll get lucky, you’ll get bounces off skates and pucks off sticks in midair.

“That’s what we weren’t doing and that’s what they did. That’s why they won.”