Things didn’t go according to plan for Northeastern this season. A year after heading to the TD Garden for the Hockey East Semifinals, the Huskies found themselves already eliminated from playoff contention heading into the final game of the season. Coach Jim Madigan said that the Huskies had just pride to play for. Nowhere was that more true than in the case of Vinny Saponari.
Saponari, who was kicked out of BU 2 years ago, has been quiet in his first season on Huntington Ave. That’s not to say he hasn’t been an asset, though. His stats may not have reached the same level they did in his second year at BU, but having his veteran presence on the team has been good for a young group.
While the Northeastern fans have enjoyed watching such a talented skater, BU fans, for the most part, have not forgiven the former Terrier. In addition to harassing him on Twitter (including not just one, but 2 fake Vinny Saponari Twitter accounts), they have targeted him with chants and signs every time the teams have met. And up until last night, those meetings had not gone well for the Huskies. In the first meeting back in January, the Huskies blew an early 2 goal lead at home. That loss proved to be the sign of things for come as the Huskies season began a downward spiral that the team was unable to recover from. And then there was Friday. The Huskies returned to Agganis for the first time since knocking BU out of the playoffs there last spring. It was also Saponari’s first time playing there as a visitor. And, as if the game needed any more drama, the Huskies playoff lives were on the line. The Huskies jumped out to an early lead, while BU seemed determined to kill Saponari. BU’s Patrick MacGregor even broke a pane of glass when he missed laying a huge hit on Vinny. Saponari survived, but the Huskies went on to lose and be eliminated from the playoffs when out-of-town results went the wrong way, rendering Saturday’s season finale meaningless in terms of the standings.
But it was never going to be meaningless for Vinny Saponari. With the pressure off, the Huskies came out playing harder than they have all season. And Saponari was no exception. The game felt like a playoff game the whole way through: high intensity, tons of hits, up and down action, and plenty of Jack Parker shenanigans. So when the game went to overtime, it was hard to be surprised. About halfway through the OT period, Luke Eibler had a chance to win it for Northeastern, but BU’s senior goaltender, Grant Rollheiser, made the save. But the save produced a rebound. A rebound that fell right to a Northeastern stick. A Northeastern stick belonging to none other than Vinny Saponari, who sent the puck into the back of the net to give the Huskies the win. The goal happened to occur right in front of the section of BU fans. Saponari skated right over to them. jumped into the glass and then held up the Northeastern logo on his jersey for all to see. The entire team mobbed him right there. It may have been a meaningless goal, but don’t tell that to Saponari. It was the perfect ending for the imperfect season for both Saponari and the Huskies. It may not have meant anything, but it can serve as a building block for next season, one that needs to be better than this season was. One that is going to need contributions from Saponari.
And if Husky fans didn’t love Saponari after his game winning goal, then they will certainly love him after his refusal to shake Jack Parker’s hand after the game. You can call it immature or whatever you want, but to Husky fans, its just awesome. The BU fans may hate him, but after last night, Northeastern fans definitely love him.