DURHAM, N.H. — Danny Tirone slammed his stick down in frustration, echoing the obscenities from the New Hampshire men’s hockey faithful. For the second time against Boston College, Hockey East’s infamous, often-bumbling referees hadn’t a clue whether a puck should have counted.
On the first one, there was no doubt that Colin White found the back of the net. But on this review—a blast from Scott Savage from above the right circle—Tirone was sure it’d be waved off. After all, Mike Booth had planted himself firmly in front of the net, and appeared to make contact with Tirone. But five minutes later—the second almost as long as the first—the refs couldn’t determine any wrongdoing.
Tirone couldn’t believe it. The Eagles, well, they just shrugged on the bench.
In total, three goals went to review in Friday’s game at Whittemore Center Arena. Unlike typical road-ice refereeing, all three went in the Eagles’ favor. Thanks to that little bit of good luck—and, for the second-straight game, a late, extended penalty kill—BC escaped with a 6-4 victory over UNH (11-12-4, 6-6-3 Hockey East). Winners of four straight, the Eagles (18-9-2, 13-3-1 Hockey East) remain hot heading into Monday night’s Beanpot matchup against Boston University.
The Eagles got off to an electric start beneath the incessant buzzing of the Whittemore Center Arena’s industrial lights. Exactly five minutes in, J.D. Dudek and Colin White tag-teamed to put BC on top. White boomed a shot on a 2-on-1 from the bottom of the right circle. The attempt hit Tirone on the shoulder, but trickled right to Dudek, who cleaned it up in front of the net.
A couple of minutes later, it was Dudek’s turn to help out his linemate. White danced around the net, unable to find anybody open. So instead, he skated around to between the circles and chucked one up low past Tirone on the left to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead. And, aided by a picturesque screen by Dudek, White immediately pasted on a huge smile as he gave a hug to his right winger.
The fast start masked the makeshift lines by head coach Jerry York. Christopher Brown was supposed to join White and Dudek on the first line, but a bout of mononucleosis will cause him to miss 3-4 weeks. Instead, York decided to put freshman Graham McPhee alongside his Ottawa Senators prospect. When asked about the line change, York credited McPhee’s strong performance in recent weeks as reason for the promotion.
“I think Graham’s play has earned it,” York said. “He’s had a freshman year that’s getting better and better and better.”
In the final two minutes of the first period, the Wildcats reclaimed the momentum. Taking advantage of a 4-on-3 opportunity, UNH’s Tyler Kelleher got some space on the left side of goaltender Joseph Woll. Kelleher drew Ryan Fitzgerald toward him, allowing Patrick Grasso to get space in between the circles to cut the lead in half.
New Hampshire roared back to open the second, as Ara Nazarian took advantage of a juicy rebound set up by Chris Miller. The goal elicited a frenzy in the UNH student section, as chants of “Daddy’s trust fund!” and “Harvard rejects!” rained down upon the Eagles.
But the momentum wouldn’t last long. About a minute later, Fitzgerald struck back. Matthew Gaudreau’s strong forechecking forced a turnover on Tirone’s right. The senior poked the puck out to his classmate, who went top shelf for the go-ahead goal. The Eagles ended the frame with the aforementioned reviewed goal by Savage.
Luke McInnis ripped the air out of Whittemore’s dwindling fans with a goal a mere 34 seconds into the third period. His shot took a funky bounce off the inside of the post, leading to another review. This one, however, only lasted a few seconds to give BC what appeared to be a runaway, three-goal lead.
But New Hampshire never lost its fight. Fitzgerald and Michael Kim both found themselves in the box past the 10-minute mark of the third period. That gave way for Kelleher, one of the nation’s leading point scorers, to go over Woll’s right shoulder. With 3:29 to go, Jason Salvaggio got another. Mid-hit by BC captain Chris Calnan—a five-minute major and game misconduct for contact to the head—Salvaggio rocketed a goal from between the circles. In a flash, the Eagles went from up three and rolling to clinging by one while facing a lengthy penalty kill. And York knew his boys were in trouble.
“I thought UNH never had any quit in them,” York said. “It’s clearly the best power play I’ve seen [this season] from my bench.”
Like against Notre Dame on Saturday, the Eagles’ third-period penalty kill remained strong…barely. Grasso barely missed one mid-stride in front of Woll, who York believes was the key to keeping his guys in this game late.
“Joe Woll was outstanding throughout the game,” York said. “Even though he gave up four goals and he’s probably not happy about it, he stood up when the game was on the line.”
Then York’s decision to go with McPhee on the first line paid off. Laying out with full extension, McPhee poked the puck free at center ice for Austin Cangelosi. The senior speedster used his breakaway speed to push ahead for the empty-netter, icing the victory for the Eagles.
But a close victory almost wasn’t, without help from the boys in black and white. Those three reviews could have easily gone the Wildcats’ way. And instead, we might be talking about a painful blown lead to one of Hockey East’s middle-of-the-road teams.
Yet, as any opponent in Hockey East can attest to, no one over the last 20 years has had luck quite like York and the Eagles. He couldn’t be sure if the referees got those calls right or wrong—after all, the 71-year old York has spent much of this season recovering from eye surgery or with a patch. Nevertheless, York was grateful for the way the calls bounced. Even if it meant adding a few extra minutes.
“You can never quite see it from the bench, especially with my eyes,” York said. “I just wish they wouldn’t have taken as long.”
Featured Image by Alec Greaney / Heights Editor