Saturday, March 30, 2013

UNH Eliminates Denver 5-2

Tale of the Scoreboard, UNH Thumps DU (Photo: Mike Lowry)

Time to retire the "One and Done" label. Four times in the last 5 years, the UNH Wildcats have qualified for the NCAA Tournament and each time they have won the opening game. This time around, it was at the expense of the Denver University Pioneers. Before Friday night, UNH's first round victims were North Dakota in 2009, Cornell in 2010, and Miami in 2011.

UNH #1 Star - Casey Thrush (Photo: Mike Lowry)
The fortunes of UNH in the second half of the season have been poor when giving up the first goal of the game. Against Denver, it happened again just 2 minutes and 24 seconds into the game. But this time around, Casey Thrush answered with one of the most important goals of the 2012-13 season. In his first NCAA tournament, the sophomore left winger played an inspired game. He put it into a gear that I hadn't seen before. On the strength of 2 goals, 4 shots on goal, and a +/- rating of +2, Thrush gets my #1 UNH star.

Casey Thrush's outstanding performance was exemplified by a play on which he didn't score or even get a shot on goal. With the game tied at 2 and a little over two minutes left in the second period, Thrush zipped through the neutral zone and across the midpoint of the DU blueline. He blew by both DU defenders and was tripped from behind. On the ensuing power play, senior Brett Kostolansky fired a 3/4 slap shot from high slot and Dalton Speelman buried the rebound. It turned out to be the game-winning goal.

UNH #2 Star - John Henrion (Photo: Mike Lowry)
Much of UNH's success this season can be credited to career seasons by seniors John Henrion (15 goals) and Austin Block (15 goals). On this night, both Block and Henrion fired 9 shots on goal. One of Block's shots came on a breakaway set up by Trevor van Riemsdyk's long pass through the neutral zone with 8 minutes left in the game. Block's tried to beat DU goalie Juho Olkinuora on his blocker side by the save was made.

John Henrion earns the #2 UNH Star of the Game in part for scoring the third-period goal that put the game out of reach. The scoring play was set in motion by an outstanding rush into the DU zone by second-year defenseman Justin Agosta. He carried the puck to the faceoff circle to Olkinuora's right and fed a diagonal pass to Henrion in the opposite faceoff circle. Henrion buried it with one of his laser wrist shots. UNH 4, DU 2.

UNH #3 Star - Casey DeSmith (Photo: Mike Lowry)
Way back at Thanksgiving time, sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith had great difficulty getting on track in the Mile-High City. DeSmith relinquished 3 goals on only 5 shots in the first 9 minutes of the game against Denver. He was replaced by junior Jeff Wyer who went on to backstop a dramatic, come-from-behind, 6-4 victory for UNH. On Friday night, DeSmith got his revenge.

After giving up 2 goals in the first period on plays which began with odd bounces of the puck off the boards, DeSmith shut down the Pioneers. He ended up making 31 saves on 33 shots and was clearly energized in the final period as DU pressed to get back in the game. This was the Casey DeSmith who registered three consecutive shutouts in November and was the best goalie in Hockey East over the first half of the season. In first appearance on the big stage of the NCAA tournament, DeSmith came up big. He gets the #3 UNH Star of the game.

Will Kevin Goumas Play Against Lowell? (Photo: Mike Lowry)
When UNH embarrassed Denver in front of their home crowd at Thanksgiving time, both Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas scored hat tricks. On Friday night, DU set out to slow both of them down. Downing ended up getting a cut on his chin after a big hit in 2nd period. Goumas got it even worse.

Throughout the first two periods, DU was hitting Goumas hard almost every time he tried to carry the puck through center ice or around the DU zone. Less than a minute into the 3rd period. DU centerman Nick Shore creamed Goumas in neutral ice in front of the penalty box. Goumas dropped on all fours (see photo) and this time, there was no embellishment. He stayed down for several minutes and was evaluated on the ice to rule out a concussion. Eventually he slowly worked his way to the bench and was continually monitored by the UNH trainer.

Shore left the game with a well-earned, 5-minute major, contact to the head penalty. It was an undisciplined penalty which allowed UNH to maintain the momentum it had gained late in the second period. Although UNH did not score during the major penalty, they built up a 36-25 advantage in shots on goal by the time Henrion scored the Wildcats' fourth goal.

For the remainder of the third period, Kevin Goumas was alternately standing and sitting at the end of the UNH bench. He did skate across the ice to the penalty box to serve a penalty but he did not play for the remainder of the game. As of post time, his status for Saturday's game against UMass-Lowell had not been publicized. Lowell defeated Wisconsin 6-1 in the opening game of the evening. UNH defeated Lowell three times in the first half of the season. Lowell improved markedly after that, winning both the Hockey East regular season title and the HE Playoffs. Game time for Saturday is 6:30 at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

Video highlights from

Post-game, UNH news conference.


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