If you were to ask the University of New Hampshire Wildcats their favorite aspect of Boston University’s new Agganis Arena, they might say that it’s the back door.
UNH batted .500 on the power play, scoring three back-door goals to beat the host Terriers 3-2 in front of a sellout crowd of 6,224 for their first win in two appearances at the fledgling venue. The Wildcats dominated play early, only to cough up a 2-0 lead in an eventful third period before freshman left wing Jerry Pollastrone got the game-winner with 5:54 remaining in play.
Jacob Mickfikier added a goal and an assist, while Wildcat senior Jeff Pietrasiak (32 saves) and Terrier junior John [nl]Curry (34 saves) both played extremely well between the pipes.
“I think the game obviously turned out to be what you would expect: a typical BU-UNH game,” Wildcat Coach Dick Umile said. “I was thrilled with the way the team played, especially in the first two periods. Credit to [BU]-the worst thing that could happen did when they scored in the first minute of the third period, but then guys stayed composed and when we had our opportunity to score on the power play, it was huge. It was a big win for us coming down here. Jeff Pietrasiak did an excellent job for us.”
“We were back on our heels and played a horrible first period-got outshot badly-but got out-chanced badly as well,” Terrier Coach Jack Parker said. “As the game progressed, we played better, but they get three power-play goals, and we go oh-for-three, so that’s obviously the difference in the game.
“You’re not going to beat UNH with two goals, and I think we had five two-on-ones: four of them we shot wide, and one we shot right into his chest. We had some good looks on the power play but didn’t bury them when we were down in the four-foot area. And Pietrasiak played very, very well. Curry played great too. It was a really well-played game by both teams.”
After little happened during the first six minutes, a UNH power play ignited the offense. Just 20 seconds after Brian McGuirk was whistled off for cross-checking, UNH took the lead. Brian Yandle took a shot from the left point that went wide of the far post but landed right on the stick of Mickfikier behind the goal line. The first-line winger wrapped the puck around the opposite post for the goal.
There could have been many more goals in the period as the Wildcats outshot the Terriers by a robust 18-10 margin. Andrew Leach-in the first of about five strong scoring chances that he had on the night-broke in alone at 11:15, only to have Curry make the pad save.
Brett Hemingway fanned on a bouncing rebound at 16:00. In the last minute or two of the period, BU did a lousy job clearing the puck from their zone, resulting in many more chances but no goals thanks to Curry.
The second period was more even. At 6:15 on a Terrier power play, Sean Sullivan set up Jason [nl]Lawrence for a one-timer from point-blank range, but Pietrasiak stayed in position and made the save.
On a shorthanded two-on-one at 12:15, Bryan Ewing dropped the puck to Peter MacArthur for another great chance but to no avail. Less than a minute later, UNH potted what appeared to be a potential backbreaker. Mickfikier got the puck behind the goal line and flipped it to Hemingway, who beat his man to poke it in before Curry could smother it with a glove in the crease.
The Terriers came to life early in the third. Twenty seconds into the period, Laliberte attempted a wraparound before captain Brad Zancanaro poked the rebound home in traffic.
“Their D and goalie played me to one side, and I just pulled it to the other and tried to wrap it,” Laliberte said. “Their goalie didn’t really catch up to it, and I was scrapping at the puck. It somehow went in; I don’t know how.”
The crowd really came to life at 11:57 on a somewhat fluky goal. Wildcat defenseman Craig Switzer couldn’t get the handle on a bouncing puck near the crease, and Chris Higgins got a piece of it before Switzer could clear it. Trailing the play, Ewing skated in and one-timed the puck high into the net for a 2-2 game with plenty of time remaining.
Shortly thereafter, though, Jekabs Redlihs’ difficult night continued when he was penalized for hooking. Curry looked great through most of the ensuing power play, stopping Hemingway with a great save after a cross-crease pass gave him a golden opportunity, but UNH finally scored in the last few seconds of the man advantage.
Matt Fornataro took a shot from the left-wing faceoff circle; Curry blocked it with his pad. However, the puck caromed to Pollastrone, who gave the puck a slight nudge. It trickled into the net for the eventual game-winner.
“It’s a tough play to handle: You’ve got to direct it either to the corner or the slot,” Curry said. “I tried it to throw it to the corner, and he buried it. It’s a learning curve: We’ve got to make sure we tighten up on our penalty kill. You’ve got to win the penalty game in this league-especially against teams like that-or you’re not going to win.”
“The rebound came out, and I was just in the right place at the right time-put it home,” said Pollastone, a native of nearby Revere, [nl]Massachusetts. “Being from around here, getting the game-winning goal against BU, it’s been a dream.”
“He’s doing a pretty good job for us,” Umile said, when asked what a fourth-line freshman was doing on the ice during a critical power play. “He handles the puck well and he has composure, so that’s why he’s out there.”
“So we left John out to dry twice on non-coverage,” Parker said. “On the back-door goal to win the game and not having the guy’s stick up when we were right next to him-those two mistakes cost us the game. But I’m pleased with the way we played in the second half of the game and how we played in the third period.”
“We were giving up the back door quite a bit,” acknowledged Laliberte. “I didn’t cover my man on one of them, and a couple of other guys didn’t get theirs. We talked about it in the pregame, and we didn’t execute coverage on our back door. They burned us twice-pretty much three times actually if you include the first one when Micflikier went around the net.”
With Curry for the last minute and change, BU had some frenzied chances but couldn’t bury it. On an apparent icing situation with just 4.1 seconds left, referee Dave Hanson-already off of the Terrier fans’ Christmas card lists after giving Laliberte a controversial game disqualification in the team’s preseason exhibition-instead called BU for too many men on the ice. That put the faceoff in the neutral zone and took any suspense out of the last few ticks on the clock. Parker went ballistic, delaying the game and ultimately incurring an additional bench minor.
“He said we had seven guys on the ice while we changed up while there was an icing going on-nothing to do with the play whatsoever; they iced the puck down at the other end,” Parker said. “Obviously, I didn’t agree with the call,” Parker added in a moment of understatement.
The Terriers (3-3-0, 3-2-0) travels to [nl]Amherst to play Massachusetts tomorrow night, while the Wildcats (5-3-1, 4-1-0) host Maine.