Wildcats' Late Surge Helps Tie Sacred Heart Pioneers 2-2
[Durham, NH] -- The University of New Hampshire Wildcats hockey team dug deep in the third period to draw to a 2-2 tie against the Sacred Heart Pioneers on Friday night. This was the first meeting all-time between these programs. Led by Tyler Kelleher and Liam Blackburn, the Wildcats clawed their way back late in this one.
"They fought their way at the end to not lose the game. We ended up scoring with the goalie pulled and got a power play goal. It was not pretty, but give the guys credit in the third period for finding a way to pull out a tie," head coach Dick Umile said.
The crutch to the Wildcats tonight was not finishing, especially on the power-play (1-10 tonight). Yet, they found a way to tie the game and that is the big takeaway. After a scoreless first period, Sacred Heart found the net first midway through the second.
At 11:03, Austin Mcllmurray connected on his first goal of the season. Kory Kennedy won the faceoff in the Wildcat zone and passed to Jeff Caroll. His shot was deflected towards Mcllmurray who fired a shot into the upper corner past Danny Tirone. Tirone ended the night with 27 saves.
36 seconds later, the Pioneers made it 2-0 after converting on their first power play of the night. Liam Clare had the puck at the point in the Wildcat zone and glided it over to Alec Butcher in the slot. Butcher whiffed on his shot then passed to Minello and he buried it on the one-timer.
"They scored off a face-off play and power-play with good chances," Umile said.
Just to note, Ara Nazarian got injured in the second period after a collision close to the Sacred Heart blue line. His left leg was hurt and after several minutes lying on the ice, he hobbled off. Fortunately, Nazarian was able to come back out to play later in the second period but was limited in the final period. Coach Umile said Nazarian most likely won't play tonight against Mercyhurst.
The Wildcats were able to climb back in the third period. After struggling on their first nine power play opportunites, UNH converted on their tenth attempt. Patrick Grasso carried the puck into the Sacred Heart zone on the odd-man rush near the side boards. Grasso passed one tape-to-tape to Kelleher who fired a shot past Sacred Heart goalie Nathan Perry to make it 2-1. It was Tyler Kelleher's fifth goal of the season.
"It was a good play. It was a good pass. We could see it right from the bench, Kelleher scored far side," Umile said.
The Wildcats had got back the momentum they needed and Kelleher, who had been battling all night, finally was able to get one past Perry who made 35 saves on the night.
"It was good ending up getting the tie, but I don't think we should have been in that position. We need to start taking advantage of our opportunities from the start and not let us fall into that position, but nice to end up with a tie," Kelleher said.
After Chris Miller was called for hooking at 14:20 in the third period, it seemed the Wildcats fight was slowly ending. But late in the game with Tirone pulled, the 'Cats came back.
With 28 seconds remaining in regulation, the third line came up clutch. Blackburn started the play with a pass to Brendan van Riemsdyk along the goal line who then found Marcus Vela. Once Blackburn was able to skate to the near side post, Vela passed one through traffic and Blackburn buried the equalizer. It was 2-2 and the Whittemore Center was loud.
"Definitely a scramble play just trying to get anything on the net. Vela and Reimer were doing a good job on that and the puck just squirted back door to me and I think anyone could have put that in. It was uplifting and brought energy to the guys," Blackburn said.
Although the power play struggled, the Wildcats have to keep their heads held high and look to improve quickly tonight against Mercyhurst University - another AHA (Atlantic Hockey Association) opponent. This will be the second meeting all-time against the Lakers. Coach Umile and Mercyhurst's head coach Rick Gotkin have a total of 54 years of college hockey coaching experience. Puck drop at the Whittemore Center is 7:00 pm.
Check out the highlights of the Wildcats' tie with Sacred Heart courtesy of UNH Wildcat Productions: