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Tortora’s late goal salvages draw for Eagles against Quinnipiac

Joe Woll John Corneau/SB Nation

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- This college hockey season is in its infancy, so teams naturally have question marks as the first few games play out.

While Boston College and Quinnipiac likely did not need a game to confirm that goaltending would be a strength, respective sophomores Joseph Woll and Andrew Shortridge did just that en route to a 1-1 tie in the season opener for both teams Friday night at Conte Forum.

“A good battle of goaltenders,” said BC head coach Jerry York, whose program had not tied a season-opening game since Oct. 25, 1922. “We kept it 1-1, and required a late power-play goal from us. It was good to see a freshman bury a puck there.”

Woll made 28 saves, while Shortridge totaled 25. Both goaltenders saved all three shots that came their way in overtime, which came as a result of freshman Jacob Tortora’s first goal as an Eagle with 4:01 left in regulation.

“Their kid played well in goal,” York continued. “He was hot late last year, I know, and continued that, but Joe made some spectacular saves for us here.”

With their top five scorers gone to graduation, or the pros in the case of Colin White, the Eagles will need Woll to live up to his name and their defense to hold strong, but the goaltender’s success comes as no surprise after he stepped up to the plate right off bat as a freshman, delivering the Eagles to the doorstep of an NCAA tournament berth before just falling short in the Hockey East championship game.

Woll and Shortridge pitched shutouts in an even first period. The teams totaled nine shots on goal apiece and did not score on five combined power-play opportunities.

The Eagle was the first goaltender beat in the contest though, as Quinnipiac sophomore Alex Whelan broke a long deadlock 15:10 into the second period, burying a one-time shot from the slot after junior defenseman John Furgele, a New Hampshire transfer, caused a turnover and began transition.

“I think they’re a pretty hard-working team and really took it to us in parts of it,” Woll said of Quinnipiac, which held the better of the play after holding an 11-5 second-period shot advantage. “They’re good with systems, they know when to forecheck and when to back off a little bit, so it was a great start to our season and a great team for the freshmen to jump into.”

David Cotton — one of two double-digit goal scorers returning to York’s club from a season ago, along with junior J.D. Dudek — helped the Eagle offense jump into the play at third period’s start. The sophomore from Texas narrowly missed on a shot through the crease and then a give-and-go with top linemates Christopher Brown and Tortora in quick succession.

It took a tick under 56 minutes of regulation time, but the Eagles’ resilience paid off in a man-up breakthrough from the impressive Tortora to level the score. Junior defenseman Casey Fitzgerald ripped a point shot on net after Dudek made a pass, but the puck bounced off a defender in the slot and right onto the stick of Tortora, who scored over Shortridge’s glove.

“I think he’s got qualities that’ll really show as the season goes along — his skating, his good hockey sense, and he’s a goal scorer,” York said of Tortora, who came to The Heights from the U.S. National Team Development Program via Victor, N.Y. “He wants to score goals. He’s one of the good additions to our team.”

Like the first period, overtime was even, but Woll had to save another strong bid from Whelan from the right circle to preserve the stalemate. When all was said and done, with a strong goaltender at both ends of the ice, it seemed like an apropos result.

“It was a good college hockey game for October 6,” Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold said. “I thought both teams battled hard. I thought both goalies were excellent, probably the two best players on the ice, but I liked the way we played tonight.

“Did we make some mistakes? Yeah. We had some bad changes and (a too many men on the ice penalty) cost us a win at the end there. It happens, it’s early in the season, but there were a lot of good things that happened tonight.”

Scoring did not come easy for the Eagles in this contest and likely will not with many players stepping into new roles, at least in the interim, but the team is coming together. York, too, liked what he saw.

“I really appreciated the grit of our team and just the spirit on the bench,” said York. “It’s early in the season, so we haven’t done a lot of systems work, but you have to start with a good solid culture and we’re developing that.”