Weekend Wrap: UNH Falters Against #19 Providence
After a tough road trip in South Bend where the University of New Hampshire Wildcats obtained one point against #14 Notre Dame, the team returned home looking for a big weekend against the up-and-coming #19 Providence Friars (14-8-4, 6-6-2 HEA). Recent history has shown how close these two teams play when facing off against each other. The Wildcats (11-11-4, 6-5-3 HEA), who are tied for fifth in Hockey East, had a golden opportunity to gain some ground in the conference moving towards the likes of Boston College and Boston University, but ultimately fell short both nights.
On Friday, the Wildcats could not get pucks past the Friars defense and fell 3-0. This was the first time in the last 16 meetings between UNH and PC that the game did not end in a one-goal or two-goal decision.
Both teams had looked to skate to a first period draw on Friday night, but with 0.9 seconds remaining, captain Josh Monk ripped his second goal of the season past UNH netminder Danny Tirone. Off the faceoff draw with four seconds remaining Scott Conway sent one to the right point where Jake Walman slid a one-timer to Monk who lifted one past Tirone. A gasp filled the Whittemore Center as both sides seemed destined for a first period scoreless draw.
The game progressed in the second with both teams rushing back and forth down the ice and creating chances, but both Hayden Hawkey and Tirone kept this game close.
It remained a close affair with only three minutes left in the third period when, after Hawkey made a ginormous save on the Wildcats, Brandon Tait went the other way with a 2-on-1 rush down the far side wing. Instead of passing, he decided to wrist one stick side on Tirone and put a nail in the coffin. Fans were on their way out of the Whittemore Center.
It was a disappointing end of the game as the Wildcats outplayed the Friars in the final 20 minutes of the game, but Hawkey proved why he is one of the better goaltenders in the entire nation. In my opinion, the loss was simply based on the defensive presence of the Friars. From constant puck-side attack to blocking shots from the point, Nate Leaman's squad found a way to keep the ‘Cats at a stalemate all night long.
Aside of Tirone’s 27 saves, the Wildcats knew they had to capitalize and score goals on Saturday night.
The buzz was in the air the following night with former Wildcats’ Trevor and James van Riemsdyk signing autographs for the public. Yet, the Wildcats did not have a pleasant surprise with some of the calls that followed.
The Friars took a 1-0 lead at the 9:27 mark of the second period as Brian Pinho, who leads the team in points, found the back of the net for his seventh goal of the season. Jake Walman played a pass to Josh Monk who then dished the puck to Pinho. He fired a shot that made its way past Tirone.
Yet, the cardiac ‘Cats continued to fight back the way they have all-season long. Tyler Kelleher, who went into the weekend tied fourth in the nation in points, finally scored a goal. He had been held off since December 30th of 2016 when he scored two against Maine.
At 18:16 of the second period, while the Wildcats were on a power play, Kelleher found the net past Hawkey who had not allowed a goal in over 80 minutes of play. The score made it 1-1. Senior captain Matias Cleland played a pass over to junior Michael McNicholas at the right point and he then found Kelleher low on the left side for the goal. It was a tic-tac toe play that Providence had used similarly the night before and finally UNH had life based on a play that has been successful most of the season.
4:50 into the third period, the Friars reclaimed the lead 2-1 after Brandon Duhaime found the back of the net. It would take a big Wildcat finish to extend this game and it happened late.
At 13:44, Brandon Lemos, who played strong the night before creating many chances for the offense, finally snuck one past Tirone to make it 3-1. Providence had the clear stranglehold. Josh Monk, who had been on the stat sheet throughout the weekend, initiated the scoring sequence when his pass from the right point deflected off Josh Wilkins' stick in the slot to Lemos, who scored from close range on the left side. It was a tough bounce that Tirone and head coach Dick Umile had to swallow.
Yet, when adversity stares the Wildcats right in the face, they find a way to answer. Matt Dawson would not let this game end without some late drama. Except this time, the officials became a roadblock for the UNH comeback attempt. With just almost 2 minutes remaining in regulation, Dawson took the puck from the slot and fired an absolute rocket of a slap shot that rose above Hawkey and into the back of the net. The comeback was on! Yet, after the review the goal was disallowed because of interference in the goalie crease.
I had never heard the Whittemore Center so edgy in my life. At home, that is a tough call to make late in a close hockey game, but sometimes that is just the way it is.
Still, with the extra attacker out there, the Wildcats inched closer to the comeback attempt. With 40 seconds remaining, Jason Salvaggio moved the puck around the far side of the Friar end and found Kelleher waiting near the end boards. Kelleher took the puck and glided a pass to Patrick Grasso who scored on the one-timer. For Grasso, it was his 16th goal of the season.
Overall, it was a challenging weekend of hockey for the Wildcats. The fight was there and the execution at times was apparent. Providence is a always a tough team to face and they showed that they are on the rise scooping up four big points in Hockey East.
The road-ahead is exactly what UNH anticipated late in the season and with Boston College coming to town next Friday, the Wildcats will look to avenge a tough 3-2 loss back earlier in the season. For now, they still sit in a tie for 5th in Hockey East with 15 points, but the time is now to finish hard.
Check out the highlights of Friday night's loss, as well as the post-game press conference, courtesy of UNH Wildcat Productions:
Next Game Friday, 7:00 PM, Febuary 3rd at the Whittemore Center vs. #11 Boston College.