Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Climactic Finale to UNH Season

BOSTON, MA - Those who witnessed the marathon quarterfinal series between the University of New Hampshire and Boston University will remember it as a classic. It represented the very best of what college hockey offers. The veteran goalie Kieran Millan, a former NCAA Rookie of the Year, matched up against Casey DeSmith, a freshman goalie with the best save percentage in Hockey East competition. The highest scoring offense in Hockey East against a UNH team shaped to play stingy defense. Two Spenser Penrose Award coaches - Jack Parker celebrating his 67th birthday and Dick Umile seeking his 500th career victory.

By dramatically winning Game 1 in double overtime on Friday night, the UNH Wildcats established themselves as a legitimate contender for the Hockey East Championship. BU's rebound on Saturday reminded everyone that they still could score goals in bunches when they absolutely needed to. Then came the epic battle on Sunday afternoon in the longest hockey game ever played at the Agganis Arena.

BU's 5-4 victory over UNH in double overtime was an extravaganza in three acts. In Act I, UNH stole the role of potent offensive machine by building a 4-1 lead. Act II began very late in the second period when BU regained its scoring touch against a determined UNH defense. The second act ended less than a minute into the third period when BU tied the game at 4-4. Act III stretched for nearly 46 minutes of regulation and overtime. In the final act, BU and UNH were two damn good hockey teams.

Highlights - Period 1

UNH came flying out of the gate and only stopped when the buzzer sounded to end the first period. Against the #1 offensive team in Hockey East, UNH generated 16 shots on goal and only allowed BU a stunning 4 SOG.

In the first 30 seconds, junior John Henrion and freshman Trevor van Riemsdyk fired two testing shots against Millan. A minute later, sophomore Nick Sorkin legitimately crushed a BU player who was trying to break the puck out of the BU end.

Three minutes into the period, freshman Grayson Downing appeared to score the first goal of the game. Downing scrambled just to the left of Millan and batted the puck out of midair and into the net. The referee, positioned just behind the net in a perfect location to see the play, immediately signalled a goal. After an extended review of the video, the referee disallowed the goal. He then brought the puck down into the UNH zone while making the gesture for high-sticking. A faceoff ensued.

The video replay of the disallowed goal shows Downing making an upward motion with his stick in an apparent effort to bat the puck away from Millan. During the follow through, the blade of his stick appears to rise above his shoulder. Subsequently, the puck descends to just below Downing's knees and he backhands it into the goal. Presumably the upward swat with his stick lead to the eventual, high-stick ruling.

About one minute later, BU would execute a play they used often in the three-game series. They positioned a forward way up near the UNH blueline when the puck was still just inside the BU end and tried a long-distance, homerun pass. This time it worked as BU gained a partial 3-on-2 break. Evan Rodrigues maneuvered past a UNH defenseman, swooped across the top of the crease, and beat DeSmith along the ice to the glove side. BU 1 - UNH 0.

By happenstance, UNH had a fresh pair of legs in the lineup for Game 3 in the person of freshman Casey Thrush. During the regular season, Thrush played in 31 games, scored 4 goals and 8 assists, and had a +/- rating of +7. Thrush had become a regular on UNH's third forward line. However, Grayson Downing was nursing a hip injury which caused him to miss the final game of the season against Maine. In the first two playoff games, Downing was moved down to the third line in place of Thrush and sophomore Jeff Silengo was moved up to UNH's second line. Late in the third period of Game 2, Silengo was involved in a collision in the neutral zone and got up in obvious pain with his right arm held down limply. He reportedly broke his hand. For Game 3, Downing returned to the line with Burke and Henrion, and Casey Thrush was reunited with Austin Block and Matt Willows.

From the outset of the rubber game, Thrush was running on all cylinders. At the 8:00 mark, Block and Thrush surrounded the front of the BU net, Block made the initial shot on goal and Thrush slapped the rebound forcing a second save by Millan. However, Millan left another rebound and Thrush batted it home. UNH 1 - BU 1.

Throughout the first period, UNH had the distinct advantage in territorial play. One effective strategy was to dump the puck into the corner of the BU end and have the forwards race the BU defensemen to the puck. Another was to shoot at Millan and storm the net. BU on the other hand was out of synch. Their passing was off, they were called for icing and off-sides a few times, and they were forced to just flip the puck into center ice.

At the 9:09 mark, BU was called for hooking. In the ensuing powerplay, both the Downing-Burke-Henrion and Sorkin-Goumas-Moses lines moved the puck smartly. Though UNH didn't score, they got two effective shots on Millan. Their offensive pressure continued after the power play. 15 minutes into the period, UNH had 14 SOG to BU's 4.

Next, freshman Matt Willows intercepted a BU pass at the blueline and made a perfect pass to Casey Thrush on the left wing. Thrush whistled a wrister from beyond the top of the left circle and beat Millan high on the glove side. It was Thrush's second goal of the night and Willows' second assist. Time of the goal, 14:30. By the end of the first period, UNH lead 2-1 and had outshot BU 16-4.

Period 2

An element of UNH's success was effectively containing BU's leading scorer Alex Chiasson, a second round draft pick of the Dallas Stars. In the first period, junior Greg Burke, a sixth round pick of the Washington Capitals, had battled one-on-one with Chiasson behind the UNH net and come away with the puck. In the first minute of the second period, junior defenseman Connor Hardowa won a similar battle with Chiasson.

At 1:40, sophomore Nick Sorkin was tripped by Adam Clendening as he advanced from the right faceoff circle toward the BU net. On the UNH power play, Burke drew the faceoff back to TvR who blasted a slap shot that was tipped just wide of Millan. As the puck bounced off the back boards, Downing poked a backhand pass to Burke, who was positioned at the top of the crease. Burke beat Millan high on the blocker side. UNH 3 - BU 1.

Three and a half minutes into the second period, sophomore Kevin Goumas was called for tripping Chiasson in the corner to the right of Casey DeSmith. It wasn't a blatant violation but it probably wasn't necessary for Goumas to put his stick near Chiasson's legs. Chiasson was moving away from the net and another UNH defender was nearby. BU was presented with an opportunity to impose the #1 power play in Hockey East when they needed it most.

Over the first minute of the power play, BU was unable to generate a shot on goal. Connor Hardowa effectively rubbed Chiasson out behind the UNH net and Kevin McCarey broke out of the UNH end. Just after he crossed his own blueline, McCarey laid a perfect pass onto Mike Borisenok's stick at center ice. Borisenok was several strides ahead of the nearest BU defender and broke in on Millan. He beat him over the blocker. Time of the goal 4:34. UNH 4 - BU 1.

Jack Parker called timeout and gave his team an earnest talking to. Backup goalie Grant Rollheiser was standing with his helmet on and looked poised to enter the game. When fans reflect on this game over the coming years, some may remember this lecture as the turning point in the game. It wasn't. At the time, BU had only 5 SOG. In the remaining minute of the power play, they generated only one more shot on goal. Parker tried adjusting the line matchups by putting the Chiasson out against the Thrush-Block-Willows line. In the subsequent 6 minutes of 5-on-5 play, BU produced only 4 more shots on goal.

At 10:25 of the second period, BU had another golden opportunity to get on track. First-year defenseman Eric Knodel was penalized for slashing. One minute into the power play, Casey DeSmith made a terrific glove save on a point blank shot from the slot. UNH successfully killed off the penalty and only allowed 2 SOG. SOG: UNH 25, BU 10.

Over the next 5 minutes of play, UNH tested Millan a few more times. Henrion's wrist shot between a BU defender's legs resulted in a partial screen of Millan but the save was made. Kevin Goumas and Stevie Moses worked a couple of give-and-go plays for 2 more shots. At the 14:50 mark of the second period, UNH was outshooting BU 30-13 and lead 4-1. That's when Act I of the show ended and the BU offense got on track for Act II.

The UNH players began to look winded, especially in their own zone. DeSmith was making the initial saves but UNH had trouble clearing or moving the puck out of their zone. With about 4 and 1/2 minutes left in the period, Casey DeSmith made an amazing pad save on a point blank shot but UNH iced the puck when they may have had room to skate it out of the zone instead.

With 4 minutes left, the puck took an unusual bounce off the half boards, a BU forward gathered the puck and fed a wide-open Garrett Noonan. Noonan beat DeSmith on the blocker side. UNH 4 - BU 2.

With a minute left in Period 2, UNH failed again to clear the puck. BU defenseman Garrett Noonan, who had pinched all the way down into the right corner, threw the puck toward the net. DeSmith was surrounded by UNH and BU players near the crease but managed to cover up the puck while on his knees. Justin Courtnall hacked at DeSmith's glove, which was covering the puck and it squirted into the goal. This was the second time in two games that DeSmith appeared to have frozen the puck on the ice with his glove only to have it poked into the net. Sometimes, a team doesn't get the quick whistle when it's needed. UNH 4 - BU 3. SOG: UNH 37, BU 20.

Period 3

The puck was dropped to begin the third period and BU carried it into the UNH zone. BU did not appear to be executing any particular play and the entry into the zone looked relatively harmless. UNH had the BU players closest to DeSmith covered. Wade Megan took a wrist shot from between the top of the faceoff circles and the two UNH defensemen appeared to be far enough apart to give DeSmith a clear look at the shot. On this one occasion, DeSmith's quick glove hand let him down as the puck sailed into the top corner of the net. BU's leading scorer Alex Chiasson assisted on the goal; his third of the game. In Act II, Chiasson had managed to reassert himself. Score tied. UNH 4 - BU 4.

Act II of the drama was over. A combination of adrenalin, determination, and other unknown factors re-energized the Wildcats. For the remaining 19 minutes of regulation and 26 minutes of double overtime, both UNH and BU battled to a virtual draw. The final act was characterized by outstanding defensive plays and quality shots on goal by both teams.

During the remainder of the third period, UNH produced 13 shots on goal. At the 7 minute mark of the period and again at the 9:40 mark, Casey Thrush effectively lead rushes into the BU zone. The first rush lead to a shot on Millan and on the second instance, BU defenseman Ben Rosen tried to stop Thrush with a hooking penalty. The UNH power play units generated a few shots on goal and one appeared to hit the inside of the post to the right of Millan. At the next stoppage of play, Coach Umile requested a review of the shot. The referees watched the video and ruled "no goal."

With 4 minutes left in regulation, a pass by McCarey sent Borisenok and junior Scott Pavelski in on a 2-on-1. Pavelski fired a testing wrist shot and Millan made his 45th save of the game. By the end of the third period, UNH had produced 50 shots on goal - an impressive accomplishment against one of the top teams in the country.

Goalie Casey DeSmith also appeared re-energized. During a BU power play with 15 minutes left in the period, DeSmith made a great glove save. In all, DeSmith made 15 saves in the third period. At the end of regulation, the score was tied 4-4 and UNH had outshot BU 50 to 36.

First Overtime

Both UNH and BU played somewhat more cautiously in the overtime period. Each had quality opportunities to end the game. Shortly after the puck was dropped, DeSmith made a nice save with his gut on a point blank shot. About 3 and 1/2 minutes into overtime, there was a scrum of players in front of DeSmith and a BU forward carried the puck from left to right across the top of the crease. The player shot and DeSmith flashed a pad save.

6 minutes in, Grayson Downing made a graceful spin move and centered a pass to Henrion who shot and missed the net by inches. With about 13 minutes remaining in overtime, Casey Thrush tapped a shot which almost went in over Millan's shoulder.

With less than 4 minutes left, UNH had perhaps its best chance to score the game winner. Nick Sorkin and Stevie Moses broke into the BU zone on a 2-on-1. The play was reminiscent of a Goumas-Moses rush in Game 2 in which Goumas made a beautiful behind the back pass to Moses who buried a wrister over Millan's shoulder. That goal made it onto the ESPN Top 10 replay.

This time around, Sorkin made a terrific cross-ice pass to Moses. Millan came out of his net slightly farther than he had the night before, perhaps trying to cut down Moses' angle. Moses tried to beat Millan high on the glove side but Millan won this battle.

In the first overtime, UNH generated 14 SOG while BU had 16. Total for the game to that point: UNH 64, BU 52.

Second Overtime

For the second time in three playoff games, UNH and BU headed to double overtime. On Friday, UNH won 3-2 in what was then the longest game ever played at Agganis Arena. This game would beat that record.

UNH had a few more chances than BU to win in the double overtime period. UNH had 8 SOG and BU had only 3. A few of the UNH chances were outstanding. 2 minutes and 48 seconds into the double overtime, Trevor van Riemsdyk got off a great wrist shot through a screen but Millan came up with a huge save. About 4 minutes in, Kevin Goumas made a great breakout through center ice, went to the top of the circle to the right of Millan, and whistled a wrister. Millan flashed his glove while practically sitting on the ice and caught the puck.

With about 14 minutes left in double overtime, Grayson Downing did an amazing job controlling the puck in traffic in the BU end. Downing passed to Connor Hardowa who sent a wrist shot at Millan. Another save.

After 85 minutes of do-or-die, playoff hockey, both teams must have been running a fumes. The game had to end somehow. With 13 minutes and 30 seconds left on the clock, Wade Megan took a wrist shot from the faceoff dot to the right of Casey DeSmith. DeSmith made the initial pad save but the rebound went to that guy Alex Chiasson. Chiasson knocked the puck home. Final Score: BU 5 - UNH 4. SOG: UNH 72, BU 55.

Three UNH Stars of the Game

#3 Star - The UNH Penalty Kill Units
In the final quarterfinal game, one of the most potent power plays in the country did not score during three opportunities. Across the entire series, UNH prevented BU from scoring on all 11 power plays.

#2 Star - Casey DeSmith
The freshman goalie was the backbone of a resurgent UNH team in the last half of the regular season. In his third game in three days, DeSmith played outstanding - particularly in the third period and two overtime periods. His performance in Game 3 was only exceeded by senior goalie Kieran Millan.

#1 Star - Casey Thrush
In his first college playoff game, freshman Casey Thrush scored 2 goals on 5 shots on goal. Thrush, who entered UNH a year earlier than originally planned, is representative of the young talent that will return for the 2012-13 season.



Great post, great first season blogging! So glad to have you on board, C-H-C, and making TUMHB come to life again!

I just checked NCAA hockey rules on high-sticking (I wish they just used NHL rules), here's what I found.

"High Sticks
SECTION 21. a. Carrying sticks above the height of 4 feet (the height of the goal cage) is prohibited.
c. When the puck is above the height of 4 feet [1.22m], it shall not be batted with the stick, and when it occurs, there shall be a whistle unless:
1. The puck is batted to an opponent, in which case the play shall continue. When a player bats the puck to an opponent, an on-ice
official shall give the washout signal immediately.
2. A player of the defending team bats the puck directly into his or her own goal, in which case the goal shall be allowed."

Under NHL rules, that is a goal. Interestingly, I sought out whether this was a reviewable offense, and found that it is actually a gray area in the rule:

"j. To determine if a goal was scored as the direct result of a hand pass or high stick by an attacking player to a teammate, initiated or completed within the goalkeeper’s privileged area;"

Since there was no whistle for the high-stick and Downing himself collected the puck and scored, it would seem that this does not fit the exact definition of goal that can be revoked.

Such is sports though.

As a goaltender myself I would love to see them enforce this one.

"Spraying the Goalkeeper
SECTION 51. A player shall not deliberately spray the goalkeeper.

Here's to many more seasons for you at TUMHB!

Mar 13, 2012, 1:19:00 PM  

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