Eagles Advance to Hockey East Quarters with 4-3 Win
Chestnut Hill, MA – It’s “win or go home” time in college hockey from here on out. For some teams, a loss in their conference tournament won’t disqualify them for the NCAA tournament later this month. In the case of the New Hampshire Wildcats and Boston College Eagles, it’s genuinely “win or go home.” Both schools must win the Hockey East postseason Championship to capture the automatic NCAA berth.
The Hockey East tournament kicked off on Wednesday night, and the Eagles sent the Wildcats packing dramatically at Conte Forum. Marc McLaughlin netted the game-winning goal at 10:54 of sudden-death overtime to set up a Saturday night tilt against regular-season conference champ Northeastern at Matthews Arena.
McLaughlin won a battle along the boards in the UNH zone before zipping a pass to Marshall Warren. Warren deked on a Wildcats defender or two before passing back to McLaughlin down low for the dagger in the UNH hearts.
“The goal was an outstanding play by Marshall (Warren),” said BC coach Jerry York. “He lost the puck but got it back and found the back door (to McLaughlin).”
“Marc’s not in a great situation because (Mike) Robinson is a big goaltender but he (McLaughlin) was kind off of balance a little bit and he snapped up top. He’s been great for us.”
The Wildcats battled back from a 3-1 deficit late in the third period to force the extra period, but BC’s top line proved to be too much. Graduate transfer student Erik Dop continued to backstop the resurgent Eagles to victory as UNH put 47 shots on goal.
“I’ve always thought that winning is hard. Winning in the playoffs is, no matter what league we’re in, what division, it’s extremely hard,” said York. “Tonight, a lot of ebbs and flows to this particular game.”
“It was a great college hockey game,” said UNH head coach Mike Souza. “It’s disapointing to come out on the short end of it. I was proud of the way our team played.”
“Their big guys make a big play. That’s what their supposed to do in those moments,” said Souza of the game-winner.
In the opening period, Eagles forward Jack McBain kicked off the scoring at 6:08 on some nifty passing by BC as they entered the Wildcats zone. McLaughlin carried into the offensive zone and dropped a pass back for Marshall Warren, who dropped the puck back to McBain. McBain fired off a wrist shot from the top of the right circle that beat Mike Robinson (14 saves) far-side high for McBain’s 19th goal.
The senior from Toronto, Ontario, has been on fire since returning from the Olympics. McBain has had six goals in the five games since. The 6′-4″ Minnesota Wild prospect is riding a seven-game point streak.
UNH pulled even at 18:17 of the period on Tyler Ward‘s first of three on the night. Ward fired off a Robert Cronin pass from the slot that Dop saved. Ward crashed the net for his rebound and swatted past Dop for his eighth goal.
Ward has been hot during February and March, notching eight of his eleven goals in that stretch. Ward had 13 shots on goal during the 70 minutes of action. The Wildcats had 47 shots total. Robinson only faced 18 BC shots on goal all game for the Wildcats.
Three penalties in the second period could have spelled doom for BC, but Nikita Nesterenko‘s shorthanded strike gave the Eagles the lead at 2:48. The Brooklyn, NY native took off past UNH defenseman Kalle Eriksson at the Eagles blueline and beat Robinson five-hole on the breakaway to give Bc the 2-1 lead. Jack St. Ivany assisted on Nesterenko’s seventh goal. St. Ivany had 15 assists in HEA play, third-best among defensemen in the conference.
“Nikita’s improved. I’d still like to see him skate more. He’s an excellent skater,” said York when asked about the sophomore’s play the last week. “As you can tell by the shorthanded goal, he has a great burst of speed. I’d like to see more of that from him during the course of the game. He’s smart, he’s got good size and when he skates he’s dangerous.”
“I thought we were playing alright,” said Souza. “We gave up a shorthanded goal. We had a chance to make the game 2-1, then the next thing you know you’re down 2-1 and its ‘whoa.'”
The Wildcats couldn’t convert on their man-advantages in the second, but when the chance came for the Eagles, they took full advantage of it.
Eric MacAdams earned a Tipping penalty at 14:16, and McLaughlin potted his first of the night just twenty-six seconds later. McBain flubbed a shot attempt from the bottom of the left circle before poking the puck out to Drew Helleson just below the face-off dot. Helleson attempted to pass over to Brandon Kruse in the opposite circle, but UNH forward Joseph Cipollone deflected the puck. McLaughlin was right there to bat the puck into the Wildcats’ net to make it 3-1.
Ward put the Wildcats on his back in the third period. Two BC penalties led to two UNH power-play goals by the 5’10” senior from Kamloops, British Columbia.
The first came at 8:41 with BC senior Patrick Giles off for Tripping. Jackson Pierson dished to Ward on the goal line to the left of Dop. Ward skated towards goal and buried a shot over the shoulder of Dop, cutting the lead to 3-2.
Ward tied the game at 15:11 when he tipped an Eriksson blast from above the left circle past Dop to earn his second NCAA hat-trick, his first as a member of the WIldcats. Ward played his first two seasons at the University of Denver.
It only took four seconds of power-play time to tie the game. Before Ward tipped it in, Filip Engeras won the face-off back to Eriksson for the blast.
“He was outstanding tonight,” said Souza of Ward’s night. “He’s just so competitive. He’s got sneaky skill, he ended up leading our team in scoring this year. Coming into the year, I probably wouldn;t have said that was going to be the case, but we were hoping he was going to have a year just like he did.”
“He’s certainly been a great addition to our program,” added Souza.
The Wildcats couldn’t clear the zone before McLaughlin picked up a loose puck at the top of the right circle. He dished to Warren, who toe dragged on Pierson before trying to fire off a shot. UNH’s Cronin got on Warren’s stick, but Warren quickly regained the puck before dishing to McLaughlin on the goal line at the left post. McLaughlin fired an off-balance shot past Robinson to end the Wildcats’ 2021-22 season and started a celebration in the corner for the Eagles.
“You win and you advance and you go forward,” added York. “Forward for us means going down the street and play Northeastern, the league champion, so another battle for us.”
The Eagles will take on the number one seed Huskies on Saturday at 7:30 pm at historic Matthews Arena for a chance to move onto the Hockey East Semi-Finals at TD Garden on Friday, March 18, 2022.