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UNH hockey team settles for another tie after letting third-period lead slip away

Last modified: 11/25/2015 12:59:40 AM
DURHAM – Two periods of controlling play wasn’t enough. As the University of New Hampshire hockey team found out, letting Massachusetts have the third remains a recipe for disappointment.

UNH took a pair of leads but couldn’t net the win, as UMass scored midway through the third period en route to a 2-2 tie on Friday night at the Whittemore Center – the second draw of the year between the teams, and second straight for the Wildcats.

“I thought we played hard tonight and we did what we could, but we’ve got to stop blowing leads like that,” said junior forward Tyler Kelleher, who had a pair of assists. “I think it’s starting to be a pattern and starting to be unacceptable.”

This wasn’t a letdown to the degree of the first meeting between these teams – when UNH (3-4-3, 1-0-3) took a 6-1 lead, only to see UMass storm back and salvage a 6-6 tie – but it was still the second time in as many head-to-head matchups that the Wildcats had the Minutemen (6-3-3, 2-2-3) right where they wanted, taking a lead into the third period after controlling play and getting a goal in the second from Matias Cleland, only to come away without the elusive second point.

“Points are hard to come by. We had our chances to score some goals, we didn’t get that done,” UNH Coach Dick Umile said. “I wasn’t disappointed with the way the team competed, I told them that. The third period, they had, I’d say it was probably 4-2 Grade-A (opportunities) they had against us, so that would be disappointing, that they had more than we did in the third period.”

UMass showcased its penchant for rallies this season, seizing control of the game in the third period and breaking through at 11:51. Mere seconds after having a shot and its follow-up saved by Danny Tirone (22 saves), UMass attacked again and this time converted when Ivan Chukarov passed through the slot to Ray Pigozzi, whose shot from the right circle was stopped, only for Shane Walsh to make his way through traffic in the crease and knock the loose puck home to square the score.

“We have not been plagued by looking at the scoreboard or thinking about what’s happened or what could be,” said UMass Coach John Micheletto, whose team has overcome a trio of three-goal deficits in the third period to win or tie this year. “I think that’s been our greatest attribute in third-period situations or when we’ve been in a hole. It’s certainly not by design, nor my preference.”

UMass outshot UNH 13-8 in the period after UNH held a 22-8 advantage in shots on goal through the first two, but Umile said the difference didn’t speak to either team playing up or down in the third.

“Hey, it was a hockey game. It wasn’t a major change,” he said. “They’ve got a good team going right now. We had our chances to score. I thought (Collin) MacDonald was going to score at the end of regulation.”

The chance Umile was alluding to occurred in the final second of the third period, when the UNH captain swooped in toward the net and tried to drag it around Nic Renyard (30 saves), only for the goalie to kick it away. UNH then had 1:14 of power-play time in overtime after killing a UMass penalty, but couldn’t get any good looks after setting up in the Minutemen zone.

“I thought we were going to score there,” Kelleher said. “But they had a good penalty kill. They didn’t really give us much from the top.”

There were other missed chances, even while UNH was grabbing the lead, that kept the door open for a Minutemen rally. UNH jumped in front at 7:31 of the second period when Andrew Poturalski fought to keep a puck in the Wildcats zone and got it over to Kelleher behind the net, and the Wildcats’ leading scorer slipped a pass into the left circle to Cleland, whose shot from the faceoff dot beat Renyard and made it 2-1.

The goal put UMass on its heels, and UNH just missed on its tries at a backbreaker. Kelleher tried to repeat his assist at 13:43 to Dan Correale, but the senior’s shot nicked off Renyard and went high into the netting.

Just under two minutes later, Jamie Hill freed the puck behind the net with a check and sent it to the doorstep to Shane Eiserman, whose hard shot was turned aside by Renyard. Hill himself was stopped on a try 17 seconds later, prompting applause from the UNH crowd for the offensive aggression.

On the bench, however, the UNH players started to feel the game beginning to shift, even before Walsh’s goal made it official.

“The turning point was actually the second period, when we went up 2-1 and we got some chances and didn’t bury them,” Cleland said. “We let them linger. We come in for a period break, they come out and they played really hard in the third period. I think we’ve got to bury one of those in the second period, or even two.”

UNH struck first in the game, going up 1-0 at 10:19 when Cameron Marks got the puck knocked back to him on a faceoff and his shot from the blue line skidded into the crease, where Poturalski was able to swoop by and knock it in. UMass answered at 2:04 of the second when UNH knocked the puck away from Patrick Lee over to Carmine Buono, whose shot was saved but deflected straight to Kurt Keats, who fired the rebound home.

The Wildcats took another lead but couldn’t keep that one, either, leaving them with another tie of a game they played well enough to win.

“Our captains really are sick of it, too. They told us tonight,” Kelleher said. “We shouldn’t be getting ties every game.”

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


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