March 8, 2012

Hockey East Journal: Ex-Terrier Saponari spoils BU's finale

By Andrew Merritt

Vinny Saponari couldn’t do anything to salvage his new team’s playoff hopes Saturday night. Instead, he did something to alter his old team’s playoff plans.

Vinny Saponari finished his first year at Northeastern with 23 points in 34 games. (Dave Arnold Photography)

 Saponari scored a rather poetic game-winner for Northeastern Saturday night, giving the Huskies a 5-4 win over Boston University. The goal, scored halfway through the overtime session, came nearly two years after Saponari played his last game at BU before being dismissed in May 2010, reportedly after a drinking incident and missing a team bike training session. 

And, while the Huskies were eliminated from playoff contention a night earlier with their loss to BU combined with UMass’ win over New Hampshire, there was still something on the line.

“This game was all about pride for us; we had nothing to play for (and) we’re out of the postseason,” Saponari said. “It’s always fun playing BU for everyone, especially for me, a lot of good friends out there.”

The goal also gave the Hockey East playoffs one last jolt after a tightly contested final month of the season. The Terriers were in first place for a stretch before surrendering the top spot to UMass-Lowell on Feb. 10, and then the River Hawks gave way to Boston College a week later. Still, there was a chance for BU to sneak away with the regular-season Hockey East title if they could pull off a sweep of Northeastern in the final weekend and get a little help from last-place Vermont against Boston College.

Saponari and the Huskies had other ideas. BU took the first of two games Friday night at Agganis Arena, but with BC also victorious that night, the Terriers needed to win Saturday at Northeastern and hope for a miraculous win by Vermont at Conte Forum.

On the flip side, a BU loss combined with a win by UMass-Lowell at Providence, would result in a tie for second place between the Terriers and River Hawks, with UML earning the No. 2 seed on the head-to-head tiebreaker (Lowell went 2-1 against BU this year).

UMass-Lowell put the finishing touches on a 4-2 win over the Friars at about 9:22 p.m. Saturday night. Eight minutes later, Saponari pounced on a rebound and rapped a shot past goaltender Grant Rollheiser – his roommate during his two years at BU – and dropped the Terriers to the No. 3 seed for the Hockey East quarterfinals.

Though he denied premeditation afterward, one couldn’t help but notice Saponari skating to the left wing corner after scoring the goal and celebrating right in front of a large group of BU fans that made the trek from Commonwealth Avenue in the hopes of seeing their team snatch the regular season crown.

He then skated through the postgame handshake, giving and receiving warm embraces from many of his former teammates.

“Chris Connolly and (Alex) Chiasson, guys that would have been in my senior class, (I just told them), ‘Congrats on a great four years.’ Chris has been a great kid for them all four years since he stepped on the campus,” he said.

At the end of the line stood BU coach Jack Parker (Somerville, Mass.), and in a sign that no love is lost for Saponari, he skated away from the longtime coach, who reached out in vain to shake Saponari’s gloved hand.

Games of the Week

Hockey East Quarterfinals (games at higher seeds; *-if necessary)

Boston College (1) vs. UMass (8) – Friday 7:30 p.m., Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m.*

UMass-Lowell (2) vs. Providence (7) – Thursday 7 p.m., Friday 7 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m.*

BU (3) vs. UNH (6) – Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m.*

Maine (4) vs. Merrimack (5) – Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 7 p.m., Sunday 7 p.m.*

Hockey East power rankings

1. Boston College (25-10-1, 19-7-1 HEA) – The No. 1 Eagles finish the regular season atop our power rankings after winning their final 11 games, cruising to the top spot in Hockey East and the nation.

2. UMass-Lowell (22-10-1, 17-9-1 HEA) – UML rebounded from a tough penultimate weekend with a key sweep of Providence to set up a series with – that’s right – Providence. The River Hawks outscored the Friars 9-3 over two games last weekend, which should give them plenty of confidence in the opening round.

3. Boston University (21-12-1, 17-9-1 HEA) – Seems like the Terriers are a one-step-forward, one-step-back kind of team right now, which doesn’t bode well for a tough playoff matchup with UNH upcoming.

4. Maine (20-11-3, 15-10-2 HEA) – The Black Bears held serve in their only game last weekend, edging UNH 1-0 to hang on to the crucial fourth and final Hockey East home-ice playoff spot.

5. Merrimack (17-10-7, 13-9-5 HEA) – Merrimack needed to do better than a split with UMass last weekend to have a hope of getting a home-ice spot, but like several teams before them, the Warriors couldn’t find a way around the tricky Minutemen. They enter the playoffs winners of just two of their last eight.

6. New Hampshire (14-17-3, 11-14-2 HEA) – The Wildcats’ late-season surge slowed a bit, but they got some help in the standings to hang on to the No. 6 spot, which puts them in a somewhat favorable matchup against unsteady BU.

7. Providence (12-18-4, 10-14-3 HEA) – It’s hard not to see the Friars as a team hanging on by the skin of its teeth right now, having gone winless in their last six games to end the regular season, and they’ve got a mountain to climb against a red-hot UMass-Lowell team in the quarterfinals.

8. UMass (13-16-5, 9-14-4 HEA) – UMass is playing some of its best hockey at the right time, and took the drama out of the last weekend of the season with a 5-1 win over Merrimack that clinched the Minutemen’s ticket to the Hockey East playoffs. There, though, they’ll meet the BC juggernaut.

9. Northeastern (13-16-5, 9-14-4 HEA) – A frustrating season comes to an end for the Huskies, but they made sure to make the most of their last gasp, wrinkling the standings with their split weekend against BU.

10. Vermont (6-27-1, 3-23-1 HEA) – The disastrous 2011-12 campaign finally concludes for UVM, which saw the merciful end to its worst season since joining Hockey East in 2005-06.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com.