The rollercoaster year for Boston College’s Tony Voce continues.
The junior forward for the Eagles began the season on a scoring tear, only to see his offense dry up leading into the holiday break. After being a healthy scratch in the Eagles first game back after the break, Voce returned a house afire, scoring 17 points in nine games at one point.
But a little more than a week ago, Voce’s road hit another speed bump. A violation of team rules led to a one-game suspension last Friday against Merrimack, and his return last Saturday night was met by an ugly 6-1 loss by the Eagles to the Warriors.
So when Voce netted two goals on Friday to key a 5-2 win over Northeastern, the effort, for him, was as significant as a critical late-season victory.
“I played awful last Saturday night,” said Voce, not wanting to talk about his suspension last Friday. “I had a great practice last Tuesday and focused myself on just working hard and kind of getting to the net and doing the little things. I think that helped out tonight.”
Help it certainly did, as Voce scored twice after Northeastern had cut the Eagles’ lead to two goals, with each of his goals giving the Eagles the all-important cushion in the game.
“At this stage [of the season], the games are difficult to win,” said Eagles head coach Jerry York, whose club pulled into a tie Friday night with New Hampshire when the Wildcats played to a 4-4 draw with UMass-Lowell.
As much as Voce’s two goals could be considered game-breakers, York firmly believed the key plays in the game came from his last line of defense, goaltender Matti Kaltiainen. Though forced to make but 19 saves on the night, his most critical came in the second period when twice he stopped Northeastern best sniper Mike Ryan on breakaway.
The first came shorthanded at 8:05 of the period, and was followed by Voce’s first goal of the night less than three and a half minutes later to make it a 4-1 game.
And with the game still 4-1, Kaltiainen again stopped Ryan, this time with a toe save at 14:15, a save that proved critical when Northeastern struck three minutes later.
“Matti played extremely well,” said York. “His two saves on Ryan, those were game-turners.
“You don’t want to allow any breakaways, but when you look up and see someone coming in of [Ryan’s] caliber, you really worry. Those two saves, I think, backboned the victory.”
The Eagles were helped by a fast start in the opening period when Northeastern looked legless. Huskies coach Bruce Crowder briefly joked that his team had “bus legs” from the 15-minute ride from the nearby campus.
“I don’t know what happened,” said Crowder, turning serious. “We had a good week of practice and had played well last weekend. It could be anything. I just don’t know.”
The result from NU’s slow start was an early 3-0 lead for BC on goals by Brett Peterson at 1:21, Ty Hennes — who backhanded a highlight-reel shot under the crossbar on the breakaway at 5:17 — and a David Spina rebound goal at 10:58.
NU, now winless in eight straight at Conte Forum dating back to November 13, 1998, showed life in the middle frame, particularly when Joe Mastronardi’s blast from the left point beat Kaltiainen on the power play at 1:35 to pull within 3-1.
But after Ryan missed his shorthanded attempt, the Huskies failed on the man advantage at 8:16 and instead drew a penalty of their own minutes later.
BC was able to capitalize when Voce deflected home a perfect shot-pass from Peter Harrold on the power play for the 4-1 lead.
“It was a really good look by Harrold,” said Voce. “I was behind the net and just had to come out front to tip it in.”
Joe Santilli pulled the Huskies within a goal again, scoring from 30 feet out at 17:34 to cut the score to 4-2. But that is as close as they got.
Mike Gilhooly (24 saves) took the loss in net for the Huskies, despite keeping his team in the game during multiple BC flurries.
With the two clubs sitting at opposite ends of the standings in Hockey East, the result of Friday’s game had similarly opposite impact. BC is now tied with UNH for first place with three games remaining. The Eagles will rematch with NU on Saturday while New Hampshire will be idle.
BC and UNH will meet in a home-and-home series to close the season and potentially decide the regular -season championship.
Northeastern is now holding on for dear life trying to capture the eighth and final playoff spot in Hockey East. NU’s lead shrank to one point over ninth-place Lowell, which earned a point for its tie Friday with UNH. Northeastern and Lowell will face off next Saturday in the final game of the regular season for both clubs.
BC and Northeastern will play one other for the fourth and final time in the regular season on Saturday at Northeastern’s Matthews Arena.