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MEN'S HOCKEY: Looking Up At First

Merrimack Moves To Top Of Hockey East After BC Ties With UNH

Assoc. Sports Editor

Published: Monday, February 18, 2013

Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 00:02

Parker

Graham Beck / Heights Editor

 

With the game deadlocked at four goals apiece and the clock winding down, a shot from BC’s Destry Straight ricocheted off of New Hampshire goalie Casey DeSmith. As the puck hung in the air, sophomore Johnny Gaudreau took a backhanded swing at it and made contact with a put-back attempt. The puck made it past DeSmith, but slowly trickled mere inches away from the goal line before being cleared. In a game of inches, Sunday afternoon’s pivotal Hockey East matchup literally went down to the line.

“It was tough for us to get our chances,” said senior captain Pat Mullane. “I think the chances were there, but tonight they just didn’t go in for us.”

Despite battling through its second consecutive overtime game, the Boston College men’s hockey team’s effort against New Hampshire amounted to a 4-4 draw.

“Back to back OT games for us,” said head coach Jerry York, reflecting on a closely contested weekend of hockey for the Eagles. “It just kind of shows you how close this league is.”

The contest’s implications on conference standings brought both teams out of the gates with an added physicality and aggressiveness on the offensive end. BC struck first, however, as forward Bill Arnold charged through the wing. Sensing an early opportunity, the junior sent a perfect pass in stride to forward Steven Whitney, who deposited the puck into the net for his team-leading 19th goal of the season.

Yet before the period came to a close, UNH defenseman Eric Knodel took possession of the puck and sent a searing slap shot flying to the net from mid-rink. The long-range attempt caught goalie Parker Milner by surprise, and found its way under his glove and into the back of the goal.

After stealing back the game’s momentum right before the first intermission, Maine carried over its offensive spark into the second frame. Left wing Dan Correale snuck the puck right past the goal line for a quick score only 34 seconds into the period. The Eagles soon answered on the power play, however, when Gaudreau sent a backhanded cross feed to freshman Michael Matheson, who connected on a game-tying score. An impressive kill of a subsequent UNH 5-on-3 advantage culminated in a go-ahead score from Mullane, who showed no hesitation in sending a rebound off DeSmith into the net for his 14th goal of the season.

“For us to get back out there and provide some offense for our team is huge,” Mullane said of his team’s offensive execution. “I think whenever you win special teams and out-special team the other team, you’re going to be successful.”

Despite BC’s comeback, UNH struck early on in the period once again when sophomore Grayson Downing took a rebound behind his opponent’s net and caught Milner out of position with a wrap-around goal. The Wildcats struck again with another wrap-around move off of a rebound, this time coming from the stick of sophomore Matt Willows less than eight minutes into the frame.

Though the goal threatened to close the door on another BC comeback, New Hampshire’s 4-3 advantage lasted for only seven seconds. On a break down the ice, Whitney fed the puck to Arnold for a game-tying score. 

Yet that moment marked final team both squads exchanged goals. What began as an offensive shutout was suddenly stifled by an all-around seamless defensive effort. Gaudreau’s near miss on the rebound, which the referees placed under review, was the closest BC would come again to scoring last night. 

The tight defense carried over into the overtime period, as neither side could capitalize on its possessions. For Mullane, BC’s inability to send home a game-winner is a credit to a polished brand of hockey rather than poor execution.

“Compared to the beginning of the year,” he said, “where you’re still trying to figure out your team defense and where you’re supposed to be, I think teams have kind of figured that out now. So obviously it’s tougher to get open offensively.”

Although the Eagles managed to salvage a point from their overtime-riddled weekend, they were unable gain ground in a Hockey East that is up for grabs. Only five points separate the top six teams in the conference. While second-place BC stares up at Hockey East leading Merrimack, who the Eagles trail by a single point, even a two-game winless streak is enough to spark a sense of urgency. 

“My initial thoughts were—and I think they’ll still be the same—that this is probably going to go down to the final weekend of the season, who wins the [Hockey East regular season title],” York said. “It’s going to go right down to the wire. Right now, at least six of us have a really realistic chance at winning the championship.”

Yet just like the Eagles fought back time and time again in yesterday’s game, York expects the same sort of fortitude from his squad down the stretch.

“I think it’s in our DNA,” he said. “We’ve always prided ourselves on staying real tight as a team. Part of that’s resiliency coming back.”

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