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UNH hockey team’s late goal salvages important point

  • UNH's Casey DeSmith keeps a puck away from the goal during the game against University of Massachusetts on March 1, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    UNH's Casey DeSmith keeps a puck away from the goal during the game against University of Massachusetts on March 1, 2013 at UNH.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • UNH's Kevin Goumas and Casey Thrush break away and lead the puck to the goal in the game against University of Massachussets on March 1, 2013 at UNH. Thrush took a shot on the Minutemen goal but missed. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    UNH's Kevin Goumas and Casey Thrush break away and lead the puck to the goal in the game against University of Massachussets on March 1, 2013 at UNH. Thrush took a shot on the Minutemen goal but missed.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • UNH's Casey DeSmith keeps a puck away from the goal during the game against University of Massachusetts on March 1, 2013 at UNH. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • UNH's Kevin Goumas and Casey Thrush break away and lead the puck to the goal in the game against University of Massachussets on March 1, 2013 at UNH. Thrush took a shot on the Minutemen goal but missed. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

DURHAM – Moments after a breathtaking escape by his University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team, Coach Dick Umile turned his focus to the game that hadn’t happened yet, the rematch tonight against the University of Massachusetts.

“There’ll be a big two points out there tomorrow,” he said. “That’s for sure.”

The playoffs are near, and the focus always has to be forward. But what the Wildcats did last night to make their task as easy as possible tonight and beyond was nothing short of stunning.

With the Wildcats in full desperation mode, John Henrion scored on a rebound with 3.7 seconds left to help No. 5 UNH salvage a 2-2 tie with Massachusetts at the Whittemore Center.

The tie kept UNH from missing out on a crucial point in the airtight Hockey East race, as a loss would have put the Wildcats two points behind Boston College and UMass-Lowell, both of whom won last night. The Wildcats were already set to fall behind with anything short of a win, but as defenseman Eric Knodel, who assisted on both goals, pointed out, a game of catch-up over two points instead of one is far tougher.

“The point we got tonight was huge for us,” he said. “We couldn’t take a loss there.”

It seemed the Wildcats (17-8-6, 12-7-5) would have to, as Massachusetts went on the attack late in regulation and an unmarked Eddie Olczyk skated to the front of the net to knock home a rebound and give the Minutemen (11-17-3, 8-14-2) a 2-1 lead with only 1:05 to go.

“It would have been real disappointing losing that game,” Umile said. “Especially when they scored and how they scored, it was not a great coverage play on our part. … The guy was left alone.”

UNH pulled goalie Casey DeSmith and quickly brought the puck into the UMass zone, but had trouble setting anything up even with the extra attacker. Finally, Kevin Goumas got the puck along the end boards and passed out to Knodel in the high slot, and the junior defenseman’s shot rebounded left of the crease, where Henrion was standing and ready to knock in the puck and send the remaining crowd into a delirium.

“The goalie actually made a nice save on (Knodel’s shot) but the rebound came right out to me,” Henrion said. “I kind of dove at it, took a swing. It just barely made it in, but I’ll take it.”

It was the second deficit UNH had to erase in the game, as UMass went up 1-0 on a Michael Pereira goal with 7:41 left in the first. The Wildcats had the answer on the first power play of the game, as Knodel ripped a shot from the point (again, off a pass from Goumas) that Matt Willows was able to deflect by Minutemen goalie Steve Mastalerz with 9:16 left in the second.

It was a breakthrough for the offense, but there weren’t many for UNH in regulation and overtime. The Wildcats got chances, most notably when Henrion had a great look on a one-timer in the slot in the third and Goumas was stuffed on a breakaway in overtime, but nothing went in – until their backs were against the wall.

“We’re struggling scoring 5-on-5, that’s for sure,” said Umile, whose team also couldn’t convert on back-to-back 5-on-3 and 5-on-4 power plays in the third. “We had plenty of looks. … It’s playoff hockey, we had our chances, they had their chances, the goalies played well.”

The Wildcats, who got by on 35 saves by Casey DeSmith, did get the goal they badly needed, however, which snatched a victory from UMass that the Minutemen needed to stay in the race for Hockey East’s eighth and final spot.

“For 59 minutes and 56 seconds, it was a lot of fun,” Coach John Micheletto said.

The final seconds changed everything, however, and now UNH, with one point to make up over the final three games instead of two, gets its next crack at it against those same Minutemen in the same arena tonight.

As Umile said, two big points are on the table. And they’re bigger now than they were yesterday.

“You need points. You can’t give any away,” Henrion said. “(Tonight’s) game, especially with the results (last night), we’re going to need two points.”

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

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