Sunday, March 17, 2013

UNH Evens Series with Providence

Casey DeSmith Steadies the Ship (Photo: Mike Lowry)

PROVIDENCE, RI - Facing elimination from the quarterfinals of the Hockey East Tournament, UNH needed to achieve something that had eluded them all season - a victory over Providence College. On the strength of sharp goaltending from Casey DeSmith and a hat trick from most improved player Matt Willows, UNH downed PC 4-1 at Schneider Arena on Saturday afternoon. The win sets up a winner-take-all game on Sunday at 4:30 (Broadcast by NESN).

In the first game on Friday, UNH outshot PC 37-24 and held a large edge in territorial play. As Providence Coach Nate Leaman said after the game: "I thought we were fortunate to get a win...We were on our heels a lot of the night." On Saturday, PC played a more complete game outshooting UNH 39-24. However, UNH scored the first two goals of the game, withstood heavy pressure in their own end after PC got to within one goal, and finished them off with a Jeff Silengo goal late in the final period.

UNH Stars of the Game

#1 Star - Matt Willows
~ Sophomore forward Matt Willows got limited icetime in the first half of the season playing in only 6 out of the first 17 games and posting 1 assist. That all began to change when the "Energy Line" of Willows, Jay Camper (center) and Dan Correale ( left wing) was formed in late December. Since then, Willows has played in 20 consecutive games, scored 8 goals, and added 4 assists. Two of his goals have been game-winners (including tonight's) and another was the tying goal against Boston College.

~ In late February, Willows began playing on a line with Kevin Goumas (along with Casey Thrush) in an effort to get Goumas the puck more often. Beginning March 2nd against UMass, Dan Correale joined Willows and Goumas, and they gelled right away.

~ Matt Willows' first two goals against PC demonstrated two prime ways to beat Jon Gillies - one of the best goalies in Hockey East and the backbone of PC.

~ With a little less than 5 minutes left in the first period, Willows bulled his way across the Providence blueline with the puck. When confronted by a PC defender, Willows poked the puck up the side wall to Goumas. Goumas carried the puck along the halfwall to Gillies' left and fed Willows coming down the slot. Willows froze Gillies with a deke, shifted the puck to Gillies' left, and stuffed it behind him along the ice. UNH 1, PC 0.

~ On their first shift of the second period, the Willows-Goumas-Correale line found another way to beat Jon Gillies - this time with a backdoor feed. Their line carried the puck into the PC zone, Correale sent a bank-pass off the backboard behind Gillies to Goumas, who was on the goal line to Gillies' left.

Goumas threaded a cross-ice pass between Gillies and a PC defender to Willows who was wide open just below the faceoff dot to Gillies' right. Willows one-timed a wrister to the half open net. UNH 2, PC 0.

~ Willows third goal of the game was a wrist shot into an empty net with 1:37 left in the game.

~ As Willows' confidence and playing time have increased, he has shown himself to be a tenacious checker, deft passer, fast skater, and solid body checker. And he can put the puck in the net.

#2 Star - Casey DeSmith
~ At the end of the game on Friday night, Casey DeSmith's disappointment in his own performance was evident. He lead the handshake line, hurried through it, and skated to the runway before anyone else left the ice. On Saturday, he bounced back, making the routine saves and adding a few big ones.

~ From the beginning of the game, DeSmith was tracking the puck well and anticipating the angle of shots coming at him. For example, with about 3 minutes left in the first period, DeSmith moved quickly to his right to deflect a shot which was headed wide of the net.

~ With PC turning up the pressure in the UNH end in the third period, DeSmith made at least 4 Grade A saves.

~ In all, DeSmith made 38 saves which is his second highest total in the second half of the season.

#3 Star - Jeff Silengo
~ Junior center/right winger Jeff Silengo has been out of the UNH lineup since Feb. 22nd with concussion symptoms. On Saturday, UNH fans were reminded of Silengo's unique skill set.

~ Silengo is tall and has long arms. He is particularly adept at extending his stick to block passes and poke check the puck away from opposing skaters.

~ Silengo appears to win more faceoffs than he loses. His style is similar to former UNH All-American Trevor Smith. As Silengo swipes at the puck with his stick, he turns his hip into the faceoff opponent. This gives Silengo more room to gain control of the puck.

~ In the PC game on Saturday, Silengo was particularly effective at helping the UNH defensemen backcheck when the puck was below the dots in the UNH end. Immediately before Silengo scored the goal that put the game away for UNH with less than 3 minutes to play, PC was applying pressure in the UNH end.

Both Eric Knodel and Connor Hardowa skated into the corner to Casey DeSmith's left to cover the PC puck carrier and another PC forward. That might have left the front of the net unprotected but Silengo was in the low slot battling with a PC skater.

Silengo then went out to the mid-slot to block a shot coming from the blueline. Silengo blocked the shot, hustled to gather the loose puck at the UNH blueline, and carried it into the PC zone.

Just over the PC blueline, Silengo pulled up and fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle to the right of Gillies. The shot went through Gillies' five-hole and many PC fans headed to the exits.

Points of Interest

~ With its victory on Saturday night, UNH moves up from #10 in the PairWise Rankings to #7. UNH's prospects for earning an invitation to the NCAA Northeast Regional Tournament at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH remain very good but are not yet guaranteed. According to Jason Moy of USCHO, "New Hampshire is hanging on right now, but might be safe if it loses (on Sunday)".

~ If UNH defeats PC on Sunday, they would advance to the Hockey East Semifinals for the first time since the 2010-11 season. That year, UNH lost to Merrimack 4-1 in the Semis.

Here are video highlights of UNH's 4-1 win over PC from hockeyeastonline.


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