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UNH hockey team gets back to form with 5-2 win over RPI

DURHAM – The offensive doldrums hadn’t been shaken, and the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team was ambling through another game, its first since a disappointing holiday tournament in Dartmouth.

Then, in what felt like a blink, everything changed. A perfectly executed 3-on-2 rush and fortuitous bounce gave UNH two goals in just more than two minutes and sent the Wildcats on their way to a 5-2 victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute last night at the Whittemore Center.

“I told the team, what I liked best about them tonight was we got stronger as the game went on,” Coach Dick Umile said. “The first period was pretty even, but I thought the second period we really put a lot of pressure on them.”

The fourth-ranked Wildcats (13-3-2) were on the ice for the first time since losing to Dartmouth and needing overtime to beat Bemidji State at the beginning of the week, and they had a tough time getting started again. Defenseman Eric Knodel’s wrist shot from the right circle gave UNH the first goal of the game, but RPI’s Curtis Leonard tied the game with just more than three minutes left in the period and the Engineers (6-9-4) went into the intermission with an 11-6 lead in shots.

It was a different story after the break. UNH rediscovered its high-pressure offense, outshooting RPI 21-11 the rest of the way, and the improved play quickly made its mark on the scoreboard. Kevin Goumas brought the puck down the right side into the RPI zone, with John Henrion joining him down the left side. Greg Burke joined the rush down the middle and drew the defenseman, and Goumas fired an on-target cross-ice pass to Henrion, whose one-timer found the net and gave UNH a 2-1 lead 5:01 into the period.

“That was a pretty picture-perfect 3-on-2 rush,” Henrion said. “That’s how Coach Umile draws them up in practice.”

Only 2:17 later, UNH struck again. Dan Correale fed defenseman Justin Agosta, who tried to send the puck back into the slot. The puck deflected off an Engineer’s skate and into the net, making it 3-1 UNH. It was a lucky bounce, but it was made possible by the Wildcats’ pressure, which Umile had to praise afterward.

“That’s what you’re hoping for,” he said. “I had said to (assistant coach) Scott (Borek) on the bench, ‘We need to get more offense’ after the first period. … I really think it came from good defense, good transition, taking the puck back and going right back at them.”

The third-line forwards were the ones behind UNH’s third goal, and they teamed up for the fourth, as well. Correale brought the puck up and sent it to Jay Camper, who skated toward the left side of the net before sending the puck across the ice to Connor Hardowa. The senior defenseman and captain had open net to work with and he converted, scoring his first goal of the season 2:45 into the third period. Jeff Silengo scored an empty-netter with 4:28 left and Leonard scored on the power play with 1:48 remaining to round out the scoring.

Hardowa was the third defenseman to score for UNH, which got contributions on the rush from everyone on the ice. At one point in the third, the Wildcats had a 2-on-1 with a pair of blueliners – Hardowa and Trevor van Riemsdyk – leading the charge.

“I don’t know if I’ll get too many more 2-on-1 opportunities with my ‘D’ partner,” Hardowa said. “It was huge. We know we’ve got (defensemen) who can contribute offensively. … It’s huge for us when we know everybody, no matter who’s on the ice, can put the puck in the net.”

The return to form could not have been better timed. UNH has a significant series with Hockey East power Boston College coming up next weekend, and the Wildcats stand a better chance with all lines – and positions – chipping in.

“That’s what we’re trying to accomplish. It’s all about playing well at the right time,” Umile said. “I think the guys feel good tonight, they feel good about confidence and the way we played, and we’re going to need it against a very, very good Boston College team.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or abonifant@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)

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