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Stingy defense not enough as UNH loses to Providence, 1-0

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team had found defense hard to come by in its first two matchups with Providence College, games that had seen a combined nine goals allowed and only one point earned toward the standings.

Last night, in the third and final game of the season series, the Wildcats had all the defense they needed. And still, it wasn’t enough.

Stefan Demopoulos scored with 2:48 left in the game, lifting Providence to a 1-0 victory over No. 5 UNH.

“It’s frustrating. We didn’t score tonight, and you need to score to win games and we gave it up,” said Coach Dick Umile, whose team fell to 16-8-3 (11-7-2 Hockey East) and remained tied for second in the conference. “Both goalies I thought played well, and they got the bounce at the end.”

The bounce Umile referred to came after the Friars (11-10-6, 9-6-5) crashed in on the net and Wildcats goalie Casey DeSmith. DeSmith turned aside the first attack, but the bouncing puck slid into the left circle, and Demopoulos was alone and able to swoop in and fire the shot into the net before DeSmith could regain his position.

“They got the goal at the end when they needed it,” Umile said. “We didn’t get a clear, and it came back in our face and they scored.”

UNH pulled DeSmith and went with the extra attacker for the final 90 seconds, but was unable to get a good attempt on Friars goalie Jon Gillies, who stopped all 37 shots he faced. It was the final disappointment on a night of them for the UNH offense, as the Wildcats had several chances, including six power plays, but were unable to break through.

“That’s not good. That hurts. You’ve got to score on the power play,” Umile said. “Especially at the end of the season, when you start playing playoff hockey, and this is playoff hockey.”

Demopoulos’s goal was the only lapse for a defense that stayed tight throughout the game even as the Friars brought pressure throughout. The Wildcats killed off all four power plays they faced (including three in the first period as Providence tried to take control early), with DeSmith (33 saves) providing several big stops to keep the Friars off the board.

No save was bigger than the one he made with 54.9 seconds to go in the second period. Ross Mauermann took the puck in the UNH zone and was brought down by defenseman Justin Agosta, prompting the official to award a penalty shot.

Mauermann’s move on the shot was a good one, as he faked left before trying right, but DeSmith was able to snatch the puck with the glove to deny the chance.

“At the time, it was a big thing for DeSmith,” senior defenseman and captain Connor Hardowa said. “It was big for our team, it gave us a little boost, but obviously it wasn’t enough.”

Instead, the Wildcats came away with another frustrating result in what has been a month of missed opportunity. The chance was there again to move closer to idle Boston College at the top of the conference, but instead the Wildcats – who have gained only one point in their last three games – gave the rest of Hockey East a chance to inch closer to them.

As Hardowa said, it’s not an easy notion to accept, but it’s one that the team has to take in stride.

“That’s kind of the way things are going for everybody,” he said. “You can sit and cry about it for a little bit, but you don’t have the time anymore. It’s crunch time now, it’s playoff hockey these days. There’s no time to sit and think about it, you’ve got to move on to the next game.”

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

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