BUFFALO, N.Y. — Steve Saviano’s first two-goal game of the season put New Hampshire in the national championship game for the first time since 1999.
Saviano, a junior right wing, scored twice in the second period, giving the Wildcats a 3-0 lead and sending them to Saturday’s title game with a 3-2 victory over Cornell in the first Frozen Four semifinal game Thursday at HSBC Arena.
The Big Red clawed back into the game with goals from Ryan Vesce in the second period and Chris Abbott midway through the third, but the team with the nation’s best defense fell to 1-3-1 this season when allowing three or more goals.
New Hampshire (27-7-6) will play the winner of Thursday night’s Minnesota-Michigan game at 6 p.m. EDT Saturday for the national championship. The Wildcats, in their seventh appearance at the Frozen Four, are looking for their first title.
Hobey Baker Award finalist David LeNeveu made 18 saves for Cornell (30-5-1), which suffered from the game’s controversial decision.
The disallowal of Shane Palahicky’s goal 12 minutes, 6 seconds into the first period appeared to turn the momentum away from the Big Red. Palahicky redirected a Jeremy Downs shot from the right point past UNH goalie Mike Ayers, but review official Greg Shepherd ruled he did so while his stick was above the crossbar.
Referee Don Adam’s call on the ice was to allow the goal, but all goals are automatically reviewed in the NCAA tournament, and the ruling kept the game scoreless.
After the game, the NCAA issued a statement that read, in part: “The play was ruled a goal on the ice. However, replays showed conclusively that the puck was directed into the net by a high stick.”
UNH outshot Cornell 10-1 the rest of the first period, and fourth-line center Tim Horst scored to give the Wildcats the lead just 2 minutes, 15 seconds after the reversal.
Saviano stretched the lead in the first 7:10 of the second period. His first goal, 83 seconds into the period, was off a great feed from center Nathan Martz; his second was a power-play shot from just above the goal line that hit LeNeveu’s arm and went in.
Vesce responded on a power play, tipping Stephen Baby’s shot from the right point past New Hampshire goalie Mike Ayers at 9:38 of the second.
The Big Red’s Sam Paolini hit the post from close range on another power play late in the second period, and Ayers appeared to be injured while reaching for the shot but remained in the game.
Chris Abbott cut the lead to one with 10:08 left in the third period off a pass from twin brother Cam, but the Big Red wasn’t able to get the tying goal in the dying moments.
Cornell’s top-ranked defense played well early — UNH’s only shot on goal in the first 13 minutes was from its defensive zone. Everything appeared to change when Palahicky’s goal was disallowed.
Ayers made 19 saves for the Wildcats.