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UNH bounces back from bad bounce to beat Notre Dame, 4-2

DURHAM – All night long, Casey DeSmith was keeping the University of New Hampshire hockey team alive in one of its biggest tests of the season.

So when the Wildcats goalie had an uncharacteristic error that threatened to erase all of that success, it was fitting that Kevin Goumas had the solution to get his teammate off the hook.

Goumas scored with 4:03 to play to put the Wildcats ahead for good in a 4-2 win over Notre Dame last night, just 29 seconds after the Fighting Irish had seemingly grabbed momentum after tying the game at two goals apiece.

“That was pretty big,” Goumas said of the win, which lifted UNH to 15-13-1, with a 7-6-0 mark in Hockey East. “Any time you play a Hockey East game late in the season and come out with a win, it’s pretty big.”

The Wildcats were in position to win thanks largely to DeSmith, who made 38 saves in one of his most impressive games of the season and consistently kept Notre Dame’s follow-up chances at a minimum as UNH took a 2-1 lead into the late stages of the third period.

While the junior stood strong against the Fighting Irish attack, he wasn’t immune to a fluke break, which came with 4:32 to play when Bryan Rust tried a weak shorthanded wrister from the left circle that hit DeSmith’s body, somehow slipped through his pads and trickled across the goal line to knot the score at 2.

The Wildcats were disheartened, but they knew they weren’t without their advantages – namely, the 1:47 of power play time that still remained.

“We had plenty of time on the power play, it was pretty early,” Goumas said. “We were able to capitalize on that and regain the lead.”

They needed less than half a minute. Dalton Speelman took a pass from Brett Pesce (who was terrific with a goal and two assists) and got the puck down to the goal line to Goumas, who tried to sling it back to defenseman Eric Knodel in the slot but couldn’t get a clean handle on the pass. He then saw Matt Willows across the crease but his pass never got there, instead hitting a Notre Dame defender’s skate and sliding past goalie Steven Summerhays.

It was the latest odd-angle goal for Goumas, who has shown a penchant all year for using strange bounces to his benefit.

“I do that a lot,” he said. “The guys joke on the team that the only way I can score is empty nets or from the goal line.”

Coach Dick Umile took a more serious approach to discussing his team’s ability to bounce back from what had all the makings of a punch to the gut.

“That was huge, the way the guys came back and stay composed on the power play,” said Umile, whose team got an empty-net goal with 1:21 from Jeff Silengo to cap the scoring. “It’s demoralizing, but the guys stayed with it and found a way.”

UNH fell behind when Notre Dame’s Mario Lucia tipped in a shot from Eric Johnson 2:21 into the second, but didn’t trail for long. The Wildcats’ second power play of the game led to the tying goal, as Goumas fed Pesce in the center point and the sophomore ripped a slap shot that got by Summerhays 5:18 into the period.

It was the second goal in as many games for Pesce, who has five points in the last three games and has been a vital asset to a defensive corps looking for players to step up in the wake of Trevor van Riemsdyk’s broken ankle.

“I thought Brett Pesce was an absolute warrior out there,” said Umile, who added that the sophomore received the game puck from his teammates for his performance. “He’s around the puck a lot more. He looks like van Riemsdyk out there, right now.”

High praise, though Pesce said he hasn’t actively sought out a more involved role in the offense.

“I guess it’s just kind of happening,” he said. “I’m getting a little more playing time with Trev hurt. I’m just trying to focus on defense first, but I guess the points are coming right now.”

UNH took a 2-1 lead 12:03 into the period, when Knodel flung the puck toward the net from the left point and Silengo was able to redirect it into the net. That was all the scoring for the rest of the second period, though Notre Dame came out charging in the third with 18 shots on goal, with DeSmith stopping them at every turn.

For a while, at least.

“Casey played big for us,” Umile said, “and we’re going to need him to play big for us.”

Eventually, the Fighting Irish got one to go in. But UNH had its response ready.

“I like the way the guys competed. We had our backs against the wall,” Umile said. “Guys are stepping up and playing hard. We’ll try to do that again (tonight).”

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

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