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Willows does the trick as UNH beats Omaha, 5-2

DURHAM – Kevin Goumas skated into the attacking zone with the puck on his stick and an empty net the only thing standing between him, the University of New Hampshire hockey team and a third straight win.

The senior center wanted no part of the clinching blow. He passed the puck on the rush to right wing Matt Willows, who in turn put a shot into the unattended goal to seal the victory.

It was a fitting gesture. The Goumas-to-Willows connection had put the Wildcats in position to win. It only made sense it’s how they wrapped it up, as well.

Willows had a hat trick, Goumas had three assists and their line, which also includes senior winger Nick Sorkin, scored the final four goals of a 5-2 victory over the University of Nebraska-Omaha that gave UNH (12-10-1) a sweep of the weekend series.

“We just like the way the team competed all weekend, and they competed hard all night,” Coach Dick Umile said. “The guys were determined. The want for them, and the will to win this weekend was tremendous, and I give them a lot of credit.”

Will isn’t normally a factor in three-goal victories, but last night’s tested the Wildcats for nearly the entire contest. For more than 2½ periods, it was shaping up to be a night of tough luck for the hosts. UNH trailed 2-1 with less than seven minutes to play, falling behind on a 4-on-3 goal that came after the Wildcats killed a 5-on-3 power play but couldn’t survive a pair of penalties that occurred after to keep them shorthanded.

But just as the offense came to life in the second period the night before, the Wildcats were saving their punch for the third period’s crunch time yesterday. They tied the game at 2 on the power play with 6:53 to go, set up by Omaha defenseman Brian O’Rourke losing his footing and position in front of the crease. Goumas had the puck on the right side and saw the fall, then rifled a pass through the open space to Willows, who blasted a one-timer past goalie Kirk Thompson.

The two were just getting started. Less than two minutes had passed when Goumas and Willows took charge again, with Willows taking the puck into the zone on a 2-on-1. The junior kept the puck himself, a decision that worked out when he wristed a shot past Thompson for a 3-2 lead with 4:32 left.

“We knew once they got that goal (to make it 2-1), we just had to come back that much harder,” said Willows, whose status before the game, according to Umile, was up in the air due to a hurt shoulder. “We never let down, never put our heads down. … We liked the way things were going. We just kept working hard.”

As was the case Friday, the Mavericks had no answer once the Wildcats found their rhythm. Another penalty put UNH on the power play again and it was Sorkin’s turn to be the beneficiary, scoring up close on assists from Goumas and Eric Knodel for a 5-2 lead with 2:54 to go.

“It can get frustrating, definitely, but you just have to stay with it and keep your composure,” Sorkin said. “Know that when you get that opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. I think we did a good job with that.”

The empty-netter was the final piece, with Goumas setting up Willows to finish the hat trick. It iced the game, but Umile said it also revealed the relationship between the playmaking center and the winger with the nose for the net.

“It was unselfish play, the play from Goumas to Matty at the end for the hat trick,” he said. “That just tells you. The guys care about each other, and they’re playing for each other.”

“They’re really good forwards,” Willows, who’s scored five goals over the last three games, said of his linemates. “They’re both really fast. We’re all fast. We know how to find each other, and we’re finding each other all over the place.”

Omaha took a 1-0 lead for the second straight night on Josh Archibald’s goal 13:51 into the game, but the Wildcats answered 1:52 into the second after Matias Cleland picked up a puck heading out of the offensive zone and sent it back toward the net. Collin Bourque had the first crack at a shot, but Casey Thrush was on hand to knock in the rebound to even the game at 1.

Casey DeSmith made 27 saves for the Wildcats, including several big ones on the penalty kill before Ryan Walters finally beat him on the 4-on-3 with 16:39 left in the game.

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

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

HOCKEY EAST W L T Pts Boston Coll. (13-4-2) 7 1 1 15 Providence (13-3-4) 6 2 2 14 Northeastern (11-6-3) 5 4 1 11 UNH (12-10-1) 5 5 0 10 Maine (10-7-2) 4 2 1 9 UMass-Lowell (14-5-1) 4 2 0 8 Vermont (10-6-3) 4 5 0 8 Notre Dame (10-8-1) 3 5 1 7 UMass (6-14-3) 2 8 2 6 Boston U. (7-9-2) 2 4 1 5 Merrimack (4-9-3) 1 5 3 5 …

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