In a battle of two top ten teams, 65 minutes of close hockey was not enough for either the No. 6 University of New Hampshire Wildcats (4-1-2, 2-0-2 HEA) or No. 9 Northeastern Huskies (5-1-2, 4-1-1 HEA) to pull away, with the two sides settling for a 2-2 tie in front of 4,761 fans at Matthews Arena.
UNH opened a two goal lead before the Huskies added two of their own.
Goaltending ruled the evening. Northeastern goalie Brad Thiessen continuing his impressive season while freshmen Matt DiGirolamo played brilliant in his first collegiate start for New Hampshire after usual UNH starter Brian Foster tweaked his ankle the previous night versus the Huskies.
“We wouldn’t know until [Foster] went out for warm-ups, and he knew right away into warm-ups,” said Dick Umile. “We told Matt if he could go, he was in. Kid did a great job. We knew he was a good goaltender and he got his shot tonight in a tough situation and he responded unbelievably.”
“I was excited, everybody loves a shot to play, and I just had to run with it,” said DiGirolamo. “Everybody is nervous, but they were good nerves.”
UNH started the scoring at the 9:33 mark of the first period when Paul Thompson got a brilliant feed form Alan Thompson (no relation) and hit the back of the net. Alan Thompson was near the far side hash marks of the faceoff circle and fed a pass towards the slot. Thompson lunged towards the puck and was able to one-time it past Thiessen.
UNH added the second even-strength strike of the night less than five minutes later when Peter LeBlanc scored off a rebound. The entire play got started when Thiessen played the puck just off his own net. As Thiessen swung the puck off the glass, it hit one of the many steel seams holding the sections of the glass together and hurled back towards the net, where Steve Moses tried a quick shot towards the net that Thiessen turned away. Bobby Butler then took a whack at the rebound, and Thiessen turned that one away too, but the third time was the charm as LeBlanc corralled the final rebound and shot it past a sprawled Thiessen.
The Huskies didn’t get on the board until late in the second when Tyler McNeely beat DiGirolamo high to the glove side at 17:20 on a power play. The Huskies worked the puck into the corner, and David Strathman found Alex Tuckerman down low. As the UNH defenders tried to collapse in on Tuckerman, he threaded a pass between them to McNeely, who came from behind the net to the middle of the slot to McNeely all alone in front, who ripped a shot that beat DiGirolamo.
“When we got that goal it was almost like whatever hangover we had was washed away because we started to play our game, which is puck pursuit and physical and cycling the pucks,” Northeastern Coach Greg Cronin said. “I thought that was a turning point in the game.”
With less than a minute left in the period, the Huskies got another power play and made the most of it. Ryan Ginand scored his fourth goal of the season, beating DiGirolamo five-hole to tie the game at two. Strathman took a feed from Wade MacLeod and began to make a move towards the net from the blue line. He took a shot which DiGirolamo turned away but Ginand put the rebound in.
Though neither team would score again, both had opportunities, but both goalies played well though the penalty-filled third period. Twelve penalties were called between the two teams in the third, including two 10-minute misconducts for Chirs Donovan from Northeastern and Phil DeSimone for UNH, both getting called for hitting after the whistle.
The Wildcats spent practically the last two-and-a-half minutes of the game on a power play, part of a run of four straight power plays, but they could not get one past the Northeastern penalty kill.
“We had our chances obviously in the third period and going into the overtime, the power-play is not great, we didn’t get it done,” Umile said. “Thiessen played well, but we had a five-on-three as well, so I am not pleased with the power-play for sure.
“Obviously you have to give them credit. They did a good job on the penalty kill. Half of that is that they did a good job on the penalty kill, but a big part of it is the goaltender. He made a couple of great saves on it. If one goes in we look good, but one didn’t go in, so part of that is the goaltender. We had it in the zone so it’s not like we didn’t get it in the zone. We moved the puck around. Maybe we were trying to be too cute with it and didn’t get enough shots, but the fact of the matter is we had our chances to win it and we didn’t do it.”
For Cronin, it was a little more never racking being short-handed for so much of the period,
“In the third period it became just a penalty kill exhibition for us. It was one after another and we were very fortunate to survive.”
In overtime the Huskies had the best opportunity when Steve Quailer and Ginand came in on a two-on-one. Quailer passed to Ginand, who shot the puck towards the blocker side of DiGirolamo. DiGirolamo went into the splits and the puck ricocheted off his pad to the corner. Had Ginand been able to shoot the puck even a few inches higher, the Huskies might have gone home winners, but the two teams had to settle for a tie.
“I was just thinking don’t let it in; it happened so fast” DiGirolamo said about the big save.
Next week the Huskies host the Bentley Falcons of the AHA Saturday night, while New Hampshire travels to Minnesota for a pair with the No. 5 Golden Gophers.