Sunday, March 31, 2013

Without Offensive Core, UNH Bows to Lowell

NCAA Northeast Regional MVP Connor Hellebuyck
(Photo: Mike Lowry)

MANCHESTER, NH - To defeat the stingy defensive style of the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks, a team needs all of its top offensive weapons. With top-line center Grayson Downing and second-line center Kevin Goumas out with concussions, the UNH Wildcats made a valiant effort to compete with the hottest team in NCAA hockey. But in the end, UNH was unable to get the puck past UML's freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck and dropped a 2-0 decision.

Right up until the last minute of the second period, UNH and Lowell were locked in a laborious, defensive battle with neither team scoring. The Riverhawks have become the masters of the neutral zone trap which clogs the center of the ice with all 5 players. It effectively limited UNH's opportunities to move the puck quickly across the red line or attack the UML zone with 2 or 3-man rushes. The UNH forwards were forced to dump the puck deep into the UML end and chase after it.

For its part, UNH was effectively limiting UML to isolated shots on goal. The UNH defensemen and backchecking forwards were not allowing UML to transition into the zone with odd-man rushes. When UML generated a shot, it was either blocked by a UNH defender or, when the puck got through to sophomore goalie Casey DeSmith, the defense cleared UML players and the puck away from the front of the net. With a minute left in Period 2, UNH had only managed to post 15 shots on goal while UML had only 17 SOG.

The Turning Point
With 50 seconds remaining in the second period, UML dumped the puck around the dasher to Casey DeSmith's left. UML forward Adam Chapie stopped the puck on the backboard and senior defensive stalwart Brett Kostolansky pinned him to the boards. Chapie kicked the puck to Scott Wilson who had joined him behind the UNH net.

Chapie and Wilson exchanged passes, trying to elude Kostolansky, and Chapie slid to the bottom of the faceoff circle to DeSmith's left. At that point, UNH was in a solid defensive position with 4 players - Kostolansky, senior captain Connor Hardowa, Dalton Speelman and Nick Sorkin - surrounding the net. Chapie shot a quick wrister which DeSmith saved and Hardowa backhanded out to the point. Defenseman Zack Kamrass fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle to DeSmith's right but the puck went wide of the net, around the dasher and back out to top of the faceoff circle to DeSmith's left.

Right defenseman Chad Ruhwedel flicked a shot toward the net and UNH sophomore Casey Thrush blocked it with his skate. The puck caromed behind the UNH net and Wilson stretched as far as he could to touch the puck. At that point, Hardowa was protecting the right crease. Both Hardowa and Wilson reached for the loose puck and Wilson just barely tapped the puck off Hardowa's stick.

To win, a team needs to get the bounces and this was UML's turn. The puck trickled to the front of the net. Kostolansky smothered forward Michael Fallon as he attempted to get to the loose puck. Wilson swatted at it with his backhand and DeSmith made the initial save. Fallon, who had been knocked over by Kostolansky, fell into Wilson knocking him over. But as Wilson was falling down, he reached for the loose puck and swept a forehand shot just past DeSmith's flashing, right skate. It was Wilson's outstanding individual effort which put UML right where it wanted to be.

Entering the third period, the cards were stacked in UML's favor. They had a one goal lead and the hottest goalie in NCAA hockey on its side of the ledger. Add to that a clingy, smothering defensive scheme and UNH was facing an uphill battle.

When it comes to moving the puck through the neutral zone and creating scoring opportunities in the opposition's end, Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas are UNH's two most creative forwards. Downing succeeds with deft passes and quick movements around opponents. Goumas jumps on loose pucks and streaks to the nearest open swath of ice. Goumas lead UNH with 32 assists and Downing added 16 more (the second highest among UNH forwards). Until they were knocked out by Denver, Goumas had scored 10 goals and Downing had 15.

A Determined UNH Effort
Senior leaders John Henrion and Austin Block stepped up with 4 and 3 shots on goal, respectively, and sophomore Casey Thrush fired 3 SOG. Junior Jeff Silengo, filling in for Downing on the first line, played well generating 2 SOG and winning several faceoffs. Fellow junior Nick Sorkin also did well filling in for Goumas on the second line. He helped his linemates Dalton Speelman (2 SOG) and Henrion get into positions to generate shots. Silengo and Sorkin had only returned to the lineup recently after recovering from injuries of their own. Silengo missed 7 games with a concussion and was playing in his 4th game since his return. Sorkin was out a total of 9 games with a broken bone in his hand and had not played in the final two games against Providence in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.

UNH's strategy to compensate for Downing and Goumas' absence also included having their defensemen jump into the offense. The pairing of the offensively-gifted Trevor van Riemsdyk and Brett Pesce lead to crisp passes and the occasional rush up ice. TvR also had 2 shots on goal and second-year defenseman Eric Knodel excelled with 4 SOG.

Credit UMass-Lowell's disciplined play for allowing only one UNH power play. Without Goumas and Downing on the first power play unit, UNH managed one shot on goal and UML cleared the puck a few times.

The Final Push
In the third period, UNH outshot UML 7-2. With 6:15 left in the game, the reunited "Energy Line" of Dan Correale-Jay Camper-Matt Willows flew through the neutral zone. Correale raced up the left wing with the puck and crossed the UML blueline. Correale fed a pass between the legs of a UML defender to Willows at the faceoff dot to the right of Hellebuyck. Willows attempted to pass back to freshman defenseman Brett Pesce who had jumped into the rush. The puck was just barely deflected by Scott Wilson back out toward the blueline.

With all of the energy line plus Pesce caught deep in the zone, Adam Chapie broke out on a 1-on-1 rush against Kostolansky. Chapie tried to break around the right side of Kostolansky when they reached the faceoff circle to DeSmith's right. Kostolansky, who had been back-skating all the way from the redline, pivoted to stay with Chapie. Kostolansky stretched to poke-check the puck wide of the UNH net but Chapie extended a couple inches further and backhanded the puck at the goal. DeSmith was effectively hugging the post and tried to poke the puck away with his stick but it went under his right armpit for the insurance goal.

With just under 3 minutes left in their season, UNH pulled Casey DeSmith for an extra attacker. UNH effectively kept the puck in the UML zone for much of the final 2 and 1/2 minutes and fired over 15 shots at the UML goal. Hellebuyck made a handful of solid saves and that was it. Final Score: UML 2, UNH 1.

UML advances to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh for the first time in the school's history. UNH returned to the Elite Eight for the 4th time in the last 5 seasons. With a seasoned-group of freshmen, sophomores, and juniors returning next season and a talented group of incoming recruits, UNH will aim to return to the NCAA Tournament for the 19th time in the last 23 years.

Video highlights of the game and post-game news conferences are available at

THANK YOU SENIORS Austin Block, Greg Burke, Connor Hardowa, John Henrion, Brett Kostolansky, and Scott Pavelski for a Tremendous 4 Seasons


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