Tuesday, February 18, 2014

UNH Completes Sweep of Boston University

Matt Willows' Second Hat Trick
Of Season Leads UNH

BOSTON, MA - Despite Boston University's unusually dismal record (8-18-4), it's never easy playing them at Agganis Arena. Yes, UNH defeated the Terriers 4-3 at the Whittemore Center on Friday night, but BU came on strong over the final two periods outshooting them 27-16.

UNH may have caught a break when Saturday's game was postponed due to a snow storm. Originally, a celebration of legendary BU coach Jack Parker's career was to take place at the UNH game but was rescheduled for next Friday. It would, no doubt, have been an emotional, high energy experience for the BU players who came to the Commonwealth Avenue campus to play for Coach Parker. Instead, a sparse crowd with many families and young children showed up for the holiday matinee.

After the 3-1 victory, UNH Head Coach Dick Umile said:
"(On Friday) we only played one period but tonight we played a 60-minute game and I thought we were solid from start to finish. We wanted to come out and we were talking about playing as a team. Well, tonight we did it and we hadn't done it for 4 or 5 games."
UNH played some of its best team defense of the season. Whenever BU attempted a transition into the UNH zone, two Wildcat defensemen and one or two forwards hustled back to keep the attackers in front of them. The net result was that goalie Casey DeSmith faced only 18 shots on goal and only one got past him.

One intriguing wrinkle to UNH's strategy was the flip-flopping of the first and second forward lines. The Dan Correale-Nick Sorkin-Jeff Silengo line was moved up to the starting lineup and the Dalton Speelman-Kevin Goumas-Matt Willows line was moved down to the second line. Sorkin, Silengo, and Correale rose to the occasion compiling a total of 10 shots of goal. On several occasions, Silengo set up Sorkin for prime scoring bids requiring extraordinary saves by BU goalie Sean Maguire.

Maguire was not as fortunate against UNH's leading goal scorer Matt Willows. Willows showed pure goal-scoring touch beating Maguire twice and finding the empty net for his second hat trick of the season. Senior Kevin Goumas set up two of Willows' goals and added to his team-leading total of 27 assists.

1st Period

12:20 - BU Takes Early Lead - UNH 0, BU 1
~ UNH goalie Casey DeSmith often plays his best when he's facing a consistent flow of shots on goal. During the first 7 minutes of the opening period, DeSmith faced only one shot and made a routine save.
~ Then, BU freshman Brendan Collier pounced on a loose puck at the half-wall to DeSmith's left and flipped an innocent-looking shot toward the goal. DeSmith seemed to be protecting the left side of the net but was down on his knees. The puck squirted under his glove-side armpit.

7:23 - Matt Willows Ties It Up - UNH 1, BU 1
~ Before coming to UNH, Matt Willows was a prolific goal scorer for his Clarkstown North (NY) high school team and then the Jersey Hitmen (EJHL). He didn't light the lamp in his freshman season at UNH. As a sophomore, Willows began to show his scoring potential at the NCAA level posting 5 regular season goals and adding 3 more in the Hockey East Quarterfinals against Providence.
~ This season, Matt Willows has arrived. He's tied for 3rd in goal-scoring in Hockey East both in league play (10 goals) and overall play (18 goals in 34 games).
~ 5 minutes after BU got on the board, Willows charged the net and received a nice backhand pass from Goumas. Willows froze BU goalie Maguire, drew the puck to his backhand, and snapped it into the open net.

4:04 - Seniors Jeff Silengo and Nick Sorkin Click - UNH 1, BU 1
~ When Silengo and Sorkin - both tall, rangy forwards - enter the opponent's zone with heads of steam, they can gain the advantage on defenders and generate quality bids on goal. This happened at least a half dozen times against BU on Monday.
~ On the two sequences shown here, Silengo is positioned to the goalie's right and sets up a charging Sorkin near the left post. Maguire kept the score from getting out of hand.

2nd Period

8:11 - Matt Willows' Shorthanded, Game-Winning Goal - UNH 2, BU 1
~ At the 10-minute mark of Period 2, freshman defenseman Dylan Maller may have saved a goal by holding a BU forward charging toward the UNH crease. DeSmith made the save but Maller was sent to the penalty box.
~ A minute into the penalty kill, Willows intercepted a pass headed back to the BU point, outraced two BU defenders, and sniped one over Maguire's glove.

3rd Period

7:34 - Matt Willows' Penalty Shot - UNH 2, BU 1
~ Midway through the final period, UNH maintained the offensive pressure and Kevin Goumas hit the pipe on a scoring bid. Shortly after, Matt Willows went in on a breakaway and was slashed by freshman defenseman Doyle Somerby, setting up a rare penalty shot.
~ Willows attacked Maguire straight on and attempted to snap a wrister into the five-hole. This time, Maguire was up to the challenge.

1:17 - Willows' Empty Net Goal - UNH 3, BU 1
~ With Maguire on the bench for an extra BU skater, Goumas stole the puck just inside the blueline and head-manned the puck to Willows. Willows chipped it in from just outside the BU blueline.

A Look Ahead

With the home-and-home sweep of BU, UNH improved its Hockey East record to 10-8-0 (Overall 18-15-1). UNH currently has 20 points and is tied for 3rd place with Maine. UNH has two games remaining in the regular season, both at Merrimack the weekend after next. To earn home-ice advantage in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, they must finish in 4th place or better.

Since BC has clinched 1st place, five teams are in the battle for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place - Lowell (22 pts, 4 games left), Maine (20 pts, 4 games left), UNH (20 pts, 2 games left), Northeastern (19 pts, 4 games left), Providence (16 pts, 4 games left) and Vermont (14 pts, 4 games left).

If UNH wins both games against Merrimack and gets to 24 points, only Vermont would be eliminated from the race for home-ice. If Providence wins out and also gets to 24 points, they would finish ahead of UNH. If Lowell and Maine win their remaining 4 games, they would finish 2nd and 3rd, respectively. The implications of any other permutation of wins and loses by the contenders for home-ice are beyond my current capacity to figure out.


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