Disappointing tie sends UNH hockey team on the road
Maine's Adam Shemansky celebrates a second-period goal with teammate Bill Norman during a college hockey game against New Hampshire on Saturday, March 9, 2013, in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
New Hampshire's Dalton Speelman (10) battles with Maine's Steven Swavely, (11) in front of New Hampshire's goalie Casey DeSmith during the first period of an NCAA college hockey game at the Whittemore Center Saturday, March 9, 2013 in Durham, N.H. (AP Photo/Jim Cole)
DURHAM – It wasn’t hard for Dick Umile to find the word to sum up the final weekend of the Hockey East regular season. The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team had two games against rival Maine, at home, and while a regular-season championship was within reach, the more tangible goal of home ice in the conference quarterfinals was already in its hands.
The Wildcats needed two points in two games. They got one. A second half of frustration and missed opportunities parlayed itself into a pair of games, and the coach wasn’t about to take solace in a tie after No. 4 UNH skated to a 4-4 draw with the Black Bears at the Whittemore Center yesterday.
“We wanted to win,” Umile said. “We’re disappointed that we did not win the game.”
Umile used the word “disappointed” often after the game, and for good reason. UNH (18-9-7, 13-8-6) lost and tied its nemesis over the weekend when one win would have wrapped up the valued home ice advantage for the playoffs, and the Wildcats instead had to settle for scoreboard watching as the remaining Hockey East contenders battled in night games to settle the unstable conference standings.
The nightmare scenario that UNH put itself in position for came true hours later, as Boston College, Boston University and UMass Lowell won to pass the Wildcats in the standings and send them on the road for the first round of the playoffs, a stunning development considering how well-positioned UNH was just days before.
The Wildcats will travel to Providence to take on the No. 4 Friars in a best-of-three series beginning Friday.
Games like yesterday’s have been a trend of late for the Wildcats, who put themselves in their position by winning only twice over their final 10 games. Even with the lukewarm past few months, Umile said his disappointment was limited to the weekend – not the team’s chances going forward.
“We’ll be fine for the playoffs,” he said. “That’s the disappointing part with this weekend, we had an opportunity to secure home ice and we didn’t do that.”
The result was a letdown, as was the way in which the Wildcats arrived at it. UNH finally started strong, taking a 1-0 lead on a Scott Pavelski goal, the team’s first opening-period score at home since Jan. 5, and the Wildcats upped the advantage to 3-1 on second-period tallies by Maxim Gaudreault and Grayson Downing.
Set up with a chance for a statement victory, UNH let it slip away. Adam Shemansky made it 3-2 when he tipped in a shot from the point 1:57 before the intermission, and Maine (11-17-8, 7-12-8) took the lead in a quick series in the third when Joey Diamond scored off his own rebound on a breakaway with 14:02 to go and Will Merchant tipped in a Brice O’Connor backhand 1:14 later.
“(Diamond) came down and he scored on us, and the next one was a faceoff in our own end,” Umile said. “(O’Connor) hit one off our own guy, that happened over the weekend too many times.”
The Wildcats got life when Diamond went to the penalty box for hitting from behind with 4:18 left, and they cashed in on the chance when Eric Knodel’s slapshot from the point beat goalie Martin Ouellette, who was screened by Austin Block, with 3:38 to play.
“(Kevin Goumas) dished it out to me and I looked at the net, saw it wide open, and Block was perfectly positioned, right in front of the goalie,” Knodel said. “He didn’t see a thing, I don’t think.”
In the biggest game of the season, the Wildcats got an early boost from their least heralded line. Fourth-liners Pavelski and Gaudreault teamed up for a score with 4:01 left in the first when Gaudreault raced down the left boards and found Pavelski with a perfect pass in front of the net, and UNH went up 2-0 when Gaudreault fired a shot from the left circle that was kicked back to him, and his backhanded follow-up beat Ouellette with 5:54 left in the second.
“It always feels good, contributing,” Pavelski said. “The fourth line … when the power play and penalty kill’s going, you’re kind of sitting around, waiting for your chance. It’s always good to chip in and help out; I wish we could do it a little more.”
Maine cut the gap in half on a Diamond goal with 4:32 to go, but UNH struck again 32 seconds later when Downing scored off of a feed from Block.
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or email@example.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)