Saturday, March 16, 2013

UNH on Verge of Elimination

UNH Drops Game 1 to PC (Photo: Mike Lowry)

PROVIDENCE, RI - The 2012-13 UNH Wildcats continued their "Tale of Two Seasons" by dropping a 3-2 decision to Providence in the first game of the Hockey East Quarterfinals. Season 1 began with four consecutive wins, followed by an 8-game stretch with 7 wins and 1 tie. UNH was scoring plenty of goals and playing effective team defense. Sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith became the first UNH goalie in 84 years to post three consecutive shutouts and was the best goaltender in Hockey East, if not the nation. UNH rose to the #1 rank in the nation on December 3, 2012.

Those heady times are a distant memory. In Season 2, UNH has been a below .500 hockey team. Since a 3-2 loss to Boston University on December 6th, UNH has won 7 games, lost 9, and tied 5. With a few exceptions (e.g., convincing victories over RPI, Merrimack, and UMass plus a key win over Boston College), UNH has been unable to put it all together in the second season.

Friday's loss to PC at the Schneider Arena may be the most frustrating of all. Aside from the opening minutes of play, UNH dictated the style of play and had PC back on it's heals for large portions of the game. For the most part, UNH easily moved the puck through center ice and into the PC zone. Once there, UNH often cycled effectively, moved the puck smartly, and generated plenty of shots on goal. UNH outshot PC 15-4 in the first period, 11-4 in the third, and 37-25 overall.

On this night, it would be a few turnovers in the defensive end which cost UNH the game. Two minutes into the second period, freshman defenseman Harry Quast - playing in place of regular defenseman Justin Agosta - failed to clear the puck up the halfwall. Shane Luke stole the puck and tapped it to UNH nemesis Nick Saracino. He skated the puck from the circle to DeSmith's left, DeSmith went down, and Saracino lifted it over DeSmith's left shoulder. DeSmith was not screened on the play. It was only the 6th shot on goal that DeSmith had faced.

With just over 7 minutes left in the second period, Luke carried the puck around Quast to the side of the net and tried a wraparound shot. The puck was blocked but Luke swatted it out to John Gilmour at the top of the faceoff circle to DeSmith's right. Gilmour blasted a slap shot through a partial screen and over DeSmith's blocker. PC 2, UNH 0.

On the ensuing faceoff after PC's second goal, Grayson Downing was cross-checked leading to UNH's second power play of the game. The number 1 power play unit of Goumas-Downing-Block plus Trevor van Riemsdyk and Eric Knodel quickly established the umbrella with TvR at the midpoint of the blueline and Goumas and Knodel on either side. Goumas made a pretty cross-ice pass to Knodel who one-timed a pass to Grayson Downing in the mid-slot. Downing buried it. PC 2, UNH 1.

UNH would tie the game two minutes into the final period thanks to a nifty move by senior Brett Kostolansky to keep the puck in the PC end. Kostolansky gathered a loose puck, deked around a PC defender and laid a back-hand pass to Austin Block in the low slot. Block beat PC goalie Jon Gillies over his right leg pad.

And then came the stretch of play which should have put UNH ahead but ended with PC scoring the game-winning goal. First, the Dan Correale-Kevin Goumas-Matt Willows line maintained the puck in the PC zone for their entire shift. Willows got off two Grade A bids and TvR added another. Next, the Maxim Gaudreault-Scott Pavelski-Jay Camper line - who played very well all night - took their turn keeping the pressure on Gillies. Gaudreault nearly beat Gillies and Camper's followup shot was blocked.

PC finally cleared the puck up ice into the UNH end. Captain Connor Hardowa chased it down along the halfwall but Saracino poked the puck loose and Ross Maurerman fed it to Shane Luke at the top of the faceoff circle to DeSmith's right. Luke passed to Saracino at the top of the slot and he fired past 2 UNH players and a PC linemate screening DeSmith. PC 3, UNH 2.

Beginning Saturday afternoon at 4 PM, it's do-or-die for UNH. Win and they force a Game 3. Lose and the Hockey East season is over. The loss on Friday dropped UNH to 10th in the PairWise Rankings. The PWR predicts which 16 teams will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. If UNH qualifies for the NCAA's, they will play at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH on the last weekend of March. Earlier in the week at the Hockey East new conference, Coach Umile said "At this point, we've got to win hockey games. Otherwise we won't get there (NCAA Eastern Regionals at Manchester)." According to some who crunch the numbers, UNH is likely to get to Manchester even if they lose to PC. However, this team needs a win to prove they have what it takes to succeed in the playoffs.

Here are video highlights from hockeyeastonline.


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