Saturday, March 10, 2012

UNH Defeats BU in Double Overtime: Hard Work Finally Pays Off

BOSTON, MA - Moments before the puck was dropped for the second overtime, the scoreboard at the Agganis Arena provided a clue to just how determined UNH was to win Game 1 of the Hockey East Quarterfinals. The score was tied at 2 and UNH had outshot Boston University 49 to 35. Up until that juncture, UNH had played its best road game of the season - building on another outstanding effort in the final regular season game against the University of Maine.

UNH's balanced and persistent attack is best summed up by a comment from a BU fan sitting a couple rows behind this writer: "They were hungrier."

The two teams played evenly through the opening 15 minutes of the game. Seven minutes in, junior Austin Block stole the puck behind the BU net, snuck to the left of senior goalie Kieran Millan, and got off a nice backhand shot on goal. Moments later, freshman UNH goalie Casey DeSmith made an initial blocker save, a BU forward pounced on the rebound and snapped off a shot requiring a nice glove save by DeSmith.

With 5 minutes left in the first period, the shots on goal were tied at 6. That's when Matt Nieto skated past Connor Hardowa along the half-boards creating a 2-on-1 with Alex Chiasson skating to the slot and Trevor van Riemsdyk defending. Nieto connected with Chiasson who deked around TvR and beat DeSmith with a backhand shot.

A few minutes later, UNH would answer with a 2-on-1 of its own. Sophomore Nick Sorkin skated to the top of the circle to the right of Millan and fed a beautiful pass between the BU defender's legs to senior Kevin McCarey. McCarey drew the puck to his backhand, shot and appeared to hit the post. Sorkin, who was storming toward the net, flicked the rebound past Millan, tying the game at 1-1.

By then, UNH had picked up some momentum outshooting BU 11-6. Less than a minute later, Sorkin made a touch pass at the UNH blueline to fellow sophomore Kevin Goumas who flew through center ice. As Goumas entered the BU end, he fired a wrister between the two BU defenders and beat Millan on a shot reminiscent of the short-handed goal he scored against Maine at Frozen Fenway.

Casey DeSmith would end the first period with a sequence of 3 nice saves: a save with his gut at the 18:53 mark followed by a chest save on a rising slap shot from the top of the circle at 19:39. In the waning seconds, a BU defenseman ricocheted a shot off the backboards which DeSmith tracked, covered and cleared. SOG: UNH 12, BU 10.

In the second period, UNH tempted fate on two separate occasions by giving the most potent power play in Hockey East the man-advantage. At the 14:15 mark, TvR was called for cross-checking. On the penalty kill, McCarey first cleared the puck out of the zone and moments later, Hardowa would do the same. BU had a hard time bringing the puck back into the UNH zone and did not register a single shot throughout the power play.

A couple minutes later, Alexx Privitera made a pass from the BU end across the red line to Kevin Gilroy just before he crossed the UNH blue line. Gilroy went in alone, faked a forehand shot, drew the puck to his backhand, and shot it past the flashing pad of DeSmith. Game tied 2-2.

With less than 3 minutes left in the second period, a frustrating sequence would lead to BU's second power play. In the BU end, Kevin Goumas set up Stevie Moses with a shot at a nearly open net. Moses missed. Then, as the puck moved out of the UNH zone, Moses was called for slashing. Fortunately, the UNH penalty kill would come up big again only allowing 1 SOG.

In the third period, UNH would gradually build a lead in shots on goal. At 8:42, UNH began a power play in which they moved the puck extremely well and managed 3 shots on goal. Regulation ended with the score tied at 2-2 and UNH outshooting BU 36-28.

The first shift of the first overtime period lasted over a minute and Connor Hardowa finally iced the puck. Coach Umile used a strategic timeout to rest his players and to get a fresh group of five out for the faceoff. Ten minutes into OT, sophomore Jeff Silengo made a nice fake at midice and sent Greg Burke into the zone with a nice backhand pass. Burke fired on Millan who went to his knees and looked behind himself, not knowing if the puck had slipped through the five hole. It hadn't.

With a little more than 3 minutes left in OT, Eric Knodel was called for hitting from behind. BU would have the unique opportunity to go on the powerplay in an overtime period. UNH's penalty kill, which has been solid in the last half of the season, rose to the task. Greg Burke broke out of the UNH zone with the puck and drew a holding penalty. The two sides played 4-on-4 briefly followed by less than a minute for a UNH power play. The first overtime period ended just after Stevie Moses whistled a shot just wide of the net.

Less than 2 minutes into the second overtime, freshman Matt Willows - who had played a pesky, aggressive game - stopped BU's attempt to clear the puck around the boards behind the BU net. Freshman Grayson Downing swooped in, gathered the puck and fired a wraparound shot which beat Millan to his glove side. A 3-2 double overtime victory for UNH.

Player of the Game - Grayson Downing

Perhaps the biggest unknown entering tonight's game at the Agganis Arena was the status of Grayson Downing. As the regular season progressed, the freshman from Abbortsford, British Columbia had emerged as the team's second leading goal scorer with 6 goals in Hockey East competition and 10 goals overall. Yet, up until gametime, it was not clear if a reported groin/hip injury would keep him out of the lineup. Downing had missed the final game of the regular season against Maine.

As Downing went through the pregame warmups (see photo above), it was clear to this writer that his mobility was limited to some degree. As his teammates revved up their skating to full speed, Downing appeared to be throttling back. Perhaps in deference to his reduced agility, Downing was moved down to the third line with fellow freshman Matt Willows on right wing and junior Austin Block at center.

What's remarkable is that Downing found ways to compensate for his reduced mobility. He anticipated the puck movement and got himself into the correct spots on the ice. He made some outstanding passes while in an almost stationary position. Then there was the game-winning goal.

UNH will face off against BU in the second game of the best-of-three series Saturday at 4:00 PM. The game will be broadcast by NESN.


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