PROVIDENCE, R.I. — In a tough, physical contest that lasted nearly three hours, Providence found itself the last team standing in a come-from-behind 3-1 victory over New Hampshire at Schneider Arena.
In the kind of game that fans who love hard checks and low scoring would appreciate, the Friars and Wildcats mixed it up in a game filled with icings, offsides, and often little offensive flow. However, to say the contest wasn’t intense would be inaccurate.
In fact, it was the latest exciting battle between the two teams, who fought last at Schneider Arena in a thrilling, 4-3 Providence comeback win last season.
This time, the Friars needed another big third period to prevail, and necessitated marvelous play from sophomore goaltender Nolan Schaefer in securing the victory.
The Friar offense — which entered the game scoreless since the first period at Brown last Saturday — looked equally discombobulated for two periods on Friday. The Wildcats, however, could only take partial advantage, and led just 1-0 heading into the third period.
UNH scored the only goal of the first 40 minutes when an uncovered Darren Haydar tallied on a nifty feed from Matt Swain and Lanny Gare at 18:35 of the first. With PC unable to clear the puck out of its own zone, the Wildcats took advantage and cycled the puck in the Friar end.
Swain and Gare battled in the corner before Swain swung the puck out to Haydar, all alone to Schaefer’s left. Haydar wasted no time in putting the puck home, getting his sixth goal of the season and giving UNH a 1-0 lead.
PC was outshot 8-7 in the first period but had a handful of chances, twice with Friar Jon DiSalvatore camped out alone near UNH goaltender Ty Conklin. The Friars, however, never connected and often shot well wide when the opening was there.
UNH tried to seize the opportunity in the second stanza (and outshot PC 14-6), but Schaefer and an improved PC defense would have none of it. Despite dressing 12 freshmen and sophomores, the Friars hung in there with a UNH squad desperate for a win following two losses, but were unable to get the game tied by period’s end.
Schaefer, however, stood tall, and stonewalled UNH throughout the period on several skirmishes. Jeff Haydar, Eric Lind, and Johnny Rogers were just a few of the Wildcats who had solid opportunities down low, but Schaefer — coming into the game with a microscopic 1.33 GAA and a .962 save percentage — was outstanding throughout.
The Friars opened the third period continuing their scoreless streak of over 80 minutes. However, buoyed by Schaefer’s goaltending and a UNH team that seemed worn down by PC’s physical play, the Friars came out like a different team in the final 20 minutes.
It took a fluky goal to get PC on the board. Matt Libby’s shot was tipped by Devin Rask past Conklin and tied the score 1-1 at 7:11 of the third.
The goal, Rask’s seventh of the season, appeared to change the tenor of the game. The Friars’ passing and skating was crisper and cleaner from that point on, and it took just a few minutes for PC to gain its first lead of the night.
Adam Lee and J.J. Picinic broke through a worn-out UNH defense, with Lee making a shot that Conklin made a pad save on. Picinic, however, was all alone and deposited the rebound home to the UNH netminder’s right, enabling the Friars to take the lead, 2-1, at 11:00.
The goal seemed to take the wind out of UNH, and PC capitalize just a short time later for an insurance goal. After being snake-bit by Conklin and poor shooting all night, one of the Friars’ top offensive duo — Jon DiSalvatore and Peter Fregoe — got their act together on a two-on-one rush.
With the UNH defense caught up ice, the Friars took advantage. Skating over the UNH blue line, DiSalvatore slipped the puck to Fregoe, who sent a shot past a sprawling Conklin for a decisive 3-1 PC lead at 16:45.
The Wildcats, who had had few offensive opportunities on Schaefer to that point in the period, peppered the goalie with shots on a late power play (adding to a final 37-22 UNH shot advantage), but were unable to light the lamp again.
PC is now 2-0-1 in Hockey East (5-1-1 overall) while the loss — the Wildcats’ third in a row — drops UNH to 1-2 in league play (5-3-1 overall).
The two teams will attempt to mix in a similar hard-hitting contest at the Whittemore Center on Saturday, though they will be hard-pressed to match the gritty, physical play in this one.