Saturday, February 25, 2012

Casey DeSmith & UNH Clinch Playoff Berth

AMHERST, MA - On the strength of a mind-numbing, 48-save performance by freshman goalie Casey DeSmith, UNH held off UMass-Amherst 4-3 at the Mullins Center. With the victory, UNH has earned 24 points in 25 Hockey East games. Mathematically, there is no way for UMass-Amherst to beat out UNH for the 8th and final playoff spot.

UMass has 18 points with 3 games remaining in their regular season. Even if they beat UNH Saturday night and sweep Merrimack in a home-and-home series next weekend and UNH loses their remaining 2 games, the two teams would be tied with 24 points. UNH would advance to the Hockey East playoffs by virtue of winning the season series against UMass.

The last time UNH did not qualify for the Hockey East playoffs was in the 1987-88 season - 24 years ago. With so much at stake, UNH finally saw the puck bounce their way against a speedy and tenacious UMass effort.

In the first period, the teams played each other evenly with both teams registering 13 shots on goal. UNH scored the first goal of the game with about 6 and 1/2 minutes left in the period. A hustling Matt Willows controlled the puck low in the faceoff circle to the right of UMass goalie Kevin Boyle. Willows saw Trevor van Riemsdyk open at the top of the left faceoff circle and fed a perfect pass to him. TvR beat Boyle to the high stick-side on a slap shot. Given how tenaciously Willows has been playing since midseason, it's hard to believe it was his first point as an NCAA player.

Earlier in the period, Willows had made another nice pass from behind the goal line to set up another one of UNH's shots on goal. On another play, Willows unloaded what has become a trademark hit to a much larger UMass defenseman behind the UMass net. If Willows is battling for the puck along the boards and he has an opportunity to take an opponent out with a body check, he goes for it.

The second period began much the same as the first with each team registering a couple SOG. Approximately 4 minutes into the period, Kevin Goumas skated behind the UMass goal and was set to feed a wide-open Stevie Moses in front of the net. However, the puck slid just beyond Goumas' reach. Shortly after, Trevor van Riemsdyk gathered the puck between the top of the right circle and the blueline and launched another slapper. This time, the shot was low to the ice and appeared to deflect off a UMass defenseman's skate into the goal.

TvR's second goal of the evening seemed to ignite the UMass offense. They rattled off 7 shots on goal in the ensuing four minutes forcing Casey DeSmith to make several saves in traffic. With UMass buzzing around in the UNH zone, Greg Burke was called for hooking at the 9:16 mark. Following a strong effort by Kevin McCarey to clear the puck and another couple saves by DeSmith, UNH was close to killing off the penalty. In an effort to control the puck, Kevin Goumas and Stevie Moses went deep into the corner to the left of DeSmith but UMass managed to move the puck away from them. With only 2 seconds left in the penalty, Conor Sheary was wide-open in the slot and beat DeSmith with a high wrist shot.

Trailing 2-1, UMass poured it on for the remainder of the second period. By my unofficial count, UMass outshot UNH 11 to 2 over the final 10 minutes of the period. Among DeSmith's many saves were two of the amazing variety. With about 3 minutes left in the second period, DeSmith went to his knees in a butterfly position and made a flashing glove save. With less than a minute to go, he speared the puck out of the air with his glove on a point blank shot. The Casey DeSmith show was well underway. Shots on goal through two periods - UMass 38, UNH 18.

A prime factor in the UMass resurgence was the speed of their forwards. A little over 3 minutes into the final period, the teams were called for matching penalties. The 4-on-4 play gave UMass even more room to create separation. UNH was unable to control a loose puck behind DeSmith and Joel Hanley beat him high on the blocker side at the 4:47 mark. Score tied 2-2.

Over the next 5 minutes of play, UMass was pressing hard for the go-ahead goal. The UMass defensemen were taking chances by pinching up from the blue line in an effort to keep the puck active in the UNH end. This strategy may have cost them. With 13 minutes left in the period, Stevie Moses started a 2-on-1 breakaway by feeding Kevin Goumas on the right wing. Goumas and Sorkin rushed into the UMass zone and Goumas made a nifty bang-bang pass to Sorkin who beat Boyle to his right.

Just seconds after Sorkin had put UNH ahead 3-2, defenseman Connor Hardowa made a long-range pass to Kevin Goumas who had snuck into the neutral zone behind the UMass defense. Goumas went in on a breakaway, skated diagonally in front of Boyle, and beat him on a back-hand shot. However, given the stakes and the way UMass had been buzzing around in the UNH zone, this 4-2 lead was anything but comfortable.

With just under 8 minutes left in regulation, UMass pressured UNH in their own end for an extended shift. Brett Kostolansky and Justin Agosta had pretty much run out of gas when a UMass forward gathered a stray puck behind DeSmith and fed Danny Hobbs who was wide-open in front. UNH 4, UMass 3.

From my vantage point directly behind Casey DeSmith, I was the only fan squirming in my seat for the ensuing 7 minutes as the UMass fans all around me were jumping out of theirs. At one point, there was a scrum around DeSmith and he ended up on his back with his head and upper body in the net and his legs sticking out the front. Somehow, the puck didn't go in. With 3 and 1/2 minutes left, the puck eluded TvR and landed in the slot in front of DeSmith. He made a gut save on a shot from point-blank range.

At the 2:51 mark, UMass was called for tripping and the action settled down as UNH protected the puck. But, with a minute and 1/2 left in regulation, Connor Hardowa was called for holding along the boards in the UNH end - a borderline call.

So a minute and 24 seconds is left on the game clock. There's still 34 seconds left in the UMass penalty. With Connor Hardowa headed to the penalty box, the teams would normally play 4-on-4 for 34 seconds. However, UMass Head Coach Toots Cahoon pulls his goalie giving UMass a 5-on-4 advantage. 51 seconds on the clock and DeSmith makes a huge glove save.

The UMass penalty ends so they now have a 6-on-4 advantage. UMass pressures in the UNH zone and Jeff Silengo and a UMass player fall down on the ice while going for the puck. The UMass player is called for a hand pass so with 34 seconds left, a faceoff is called down in the UMass end. 27 seconds left and another faceoff is called in the neutral zone. UMass controls the puck for one more rush and DeSmith makes a huge cover up save. On the ensuing faceoff, UMass star Mike Pereira gathers the puck behind the UNH net and inexplicably passes the puck around the boards. The puck flutters into center ice and the buzzer sounds.

During a midweek press conference, Coach Umile said that Saturday would be a very long day if UNH did not win on Friday night. Following perhaps the biggest win of the season so far, the UNH Wildcats will finally get to relax a little - at least until game time Saturday night at the Mullins Center.


Blogger Ogillthorpe said...

Thanks for the commentary! I read each one and find its the best source for game recaps and unh player news and updates

Feb 25, 2012, 8:44:00 AM  
Blogger C-H-C said...

Thank you very much Ogillthorpe!

Feb 25, 2012, 11:12:00 PM  

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