UNH Sweeps Merrimack, Earns Home Ice: Goal-by-Goal
DURHAM, NH - When UNH's newest Century Club member Grayson Downing fell to the ice with a severe ankle injury during the second Vermont game in early February, the prospects of staying out of the basement of the Hockey East standings dimmed. If you had told me that UNH would go on to beat UVM, win 6 of their final 7 games, finish in 8th place, and earn home-ice advantage in the opening round of the Hockey East Playoffs, I might have questioned your grasp of reality. By shutting out Merrimack College 3-0 on Saturday night and completing the weekend sweep, the Wildcats have met all those goals.
Fortunately, Grayson Downing's recovery from the left ankle injury was relatively speedy and he only missed the two games against Boston University the week after the trip to Burlington, VT. In the post-game press conference on Saturday (available on UNHWildcats.TV), Merrimack Head Coach Mark Dennehy said:
“We’re not a team that necessarily has a nuclear weapon. Grayson Downing can change the momentum of a game by himself when he gets the puck.”With just under 5 minutes left in the opening period, Downing deflected a Brett Pesce shot past Merrimack goalie Rasmus Tirronen for the first goal of the game. It turned out to be the game winner and marked the 50th goal of Downing's UNH career. He became the first UNH player to reach the 50-goal mark since Paul Thompson (57) and Mike Sislo (51) in the 2010-11 season.
As I pointed in the game report of UNH's 4-1 victory over Merrimack on Friday night, the late-season surge has been sparked by the four senior forwards. During the 5-game win streak to end the regular season, Matt Willows scored 4 goals (GWG vs Merrimack) and 2 assists, Jay Camper scored 3 goals (GWG vs BU) and an assist, and Casey Thrush had a goal and 2 assists. Over the final four games, Grayson Downing posted Saturday's game-winning goal and added 4 assists. Quoting Coach Dennehy again:
"Right now UNH is playing some good hockey. I think their best players are their seniors, although that freshman (Poturalski) is good too.”Which leads to the story of Andrew Poturalski.
During the weekend sweep of Merrimack, Poturalski scored UNH's first goal on Friday and the second and third goals on Saturday. The freshman center now has 14 goals and 13 assists in his first 34 games. Poturalski is currently tied for second in goal scoring among all Hockey East freshmen. Fellow freshmen Alex Tuch (BC) and C.J. Smith (Lowell) also have 14 goals while Jack Eichel (BU) leads with 18.
With 27 points in 34 games as a freshman, Andrew Poturalski is over a quarter of the way to the century mark. So far, Poturalski stacks up well when compared to the UNH players who have joined the Century Club since the Whittemore Center opened in the 1995-96 season. This table shows the 20 UNH players who became members of the Century Club while playing their entire college career in the era of the Whittemore Center. It also includes 3 other notables from recent years who left UNH early - James van Riemsdyk, Daniel Winnik, and Trevor Smith. In addition to the total career points, the table shows how many goals and assists each player scored in their freshman season at UNH. As you can see, there are only 3 members of the Century Club (marked with an *) who scored more points than Poturalski in their freshman year. Darren Haydar scored an amazing 66 points in 41 games as a freshman, Sean Collins had 45 points in 40 games, and Derek Bekar had 33 points in 34 freshman games. Current Toronto Maple Leafs' star James van Riemsdyk scored 34 points in his freshman season at UNH. While current performance does not guarantee future accomplishments, Andrew Poturalski compares favorably, so far, with some the best UNH scorers over the last 20 years.
UNH Century Club in Whittemore Era Freshman Year Scoring
|James van Riemsdyk||2007-09||74||31||11||23||34*|
Goal-by-Goal BreakdownPERIOD 1
Grayson Downing-15 PP (Assisted by Brett Pesce-8)
16:32 of 1st Period - UNH 1, Merrimack 0 ~ Less than a half minute into UNH's first power play of the game, Pesce and Downing rushed the puck through the neutral zone and into the Merrimack end. Downing dropped a pass to Pesce at the top of the slot and he sent a wrister toward the goal. ~ The puck caromed off Downing's skate past Merrimack goalie Rasmus Tirronen. The referees reviewed the play and determined that Downing did not kick the puck into the net.
Andrew Poturalski-13 (Assisted by Tyler Kelleher-22 & Brett Pesce-9)
18:39 of 1st Period - UNH 2, Merrimack 0 ~ On a pretty passing play, Brett Pesce gently dumped the puck off the backboards right onto Tyler Kelleher's stick. Kelleher proceeded past the side of the net to Tirronen's left and sent a behind the back, backhand pass to Poturalski in the low slot. ~ Poturalski deked the goalie, drew the puck to his backhand, and lifted it into the net.
Andrew Poturalski-14 (Assisted by Tyler Kelleher-23 & Brett Pesce-10)
15:15 of 2nd Period - UNH 3, Merrimack 0 ~ The threesome of Pesce, Kelleher and Poturalski combined again for UNH's third goal. After Pesce sent a wrister toward the goal, Kelleher gathered the puck, wheeled at the half-boards and charged the net. ~ Tirronen turned aside Kelleher's shot but Poturalski was there to clean up the rebound. ~ Kelleher's assist was his 37th point of the season. He is now the 6th leading scorer in Hockey East.
Danny Tirone's Key Save ~ Merrimack only managed 11 shots on goal. Freshman goalie Danny Tirone only needed to make one outstanding save in the entire game and that came 4 minutes into the final stanza. ~ Tirone earned his first shutout as a collegian.
Matias Cleland Hits Post Twice ~ With 5:56 left in the game and again with 3:35 left, defenseman Matias Cleland nearly scored UNH's 4th and 5th goals. Each time, he rang the post over Tirronen's blocker.
With the victory, UNH ends the Hockey East regular season with a record 10-11-1. They finished in sole possession of 8th place. Overall, UNH is 15-17-2. UNH will play a best-of-three playoff series against UConn at the Whittemore Center this Friday, Saturday, and, if necessary Sunday. Merrimack's record in Hockey East fell to 5-14-3 and they finished the regular season in next to last place. Their overall record is 14-16-4. Merrimack will travel to Vermont for the opening-round series of the Hockey East Playoffs.