DURHAM, N.H. — Meeting for the first time since New Hampshire was in the ECAC back in 1983, the Wildcats downed the Princeton Tigers 6-3 in front of a sellout crowd at the Whittemore Center.
“I was very pleased with the weekend,” New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. “I thought we beat two pretty good teams, and I was pleased with the overall outcome, and we can enjoy, and have a happy Christmas.”
The Wildcats struck before many of the fans had a chance to find their seats.
After cycling the puck inside the zone for nearly the first minute of the game, Darren Haydar wristed a shot from the top of the faceoff circle that hit the right post. Nathan Martz collected the rebound and slid it past goalie Nate Nomeland (12 saves) for the early lead at the one-minute mark.
Less than 15 seconds later, Tiger forward George Parros broke down the right wing and fired a shot on net, but Matt Carney (24 saves) made a nice pad save to keep Princeton (5-4-3) off the board.
The teams each exchanged scoring chances until Haydar hooked up with Martz again at 8:03. With Dave Bennett in the box for interference and the Wildcats (12-3-3) on the power play, Haydar took a pass down low from Colin Hemingway and fed a pass through the crease to Martz, who was camped out in almost the same spot as the first goal. Martz again just needed to flip the puck into the open net.
“Martz is playing very well,” Umile said. “That line of Martz, [Corey-Joe] Ficek and Haydar had a very good weekend.”
“[Skating with Haydar] makes the game a lot easier,” Martz said. “You just have to find open ice, and he’ll find you. It make’s the game a lot simpler also playing with Corey-Joe.”
Princeton showed some life and generated some good scoring chances on two power plays, but Carney was equal to the task.
The Wildcats struck a third time at 19:14. Lanny Gare collected a pass from David Busch, skated to the left faceoff circle and fed a pass to Matt Swain, who roofed it past a sprawling Nomeland.
The second period saw three goals, all within two minutes of each other.
“I don’t think we skated at all [in the first period],” Princeton coach Len Quesnelle said. “In the second period we tried to jump start [the play] and get the feet moving.”
Princeton got on the board at 12:12 of the period. With Steve Saviano in the box for playing without a helmet and Princeton with the man advantage, Kirk Lamb dropped a pass back to Shane Campbell to Carney’s left. Campbell flipped a shot that ricocheted off of Carney’s glove arm and found its way just under the crossbar.
The Tigers pulled to within one just 58 seconds later. Off a faceoff win by Tommy Colclough, Neil McCann carried the puck along the left side boards and flipped a shot through a screen in front that found the back of the net. The score was 3-2 at 13:10, and the Tigers had found life.
The wind was quickly taken out of the Tigers’ sails just 47 seconds later when Johnny Rogers beat Dave Stathos (11 saves), who relieved Nomeland halfway through the period. Garret Stafford made a nifty play to keep the puck in the zone, and Hemingway fed Rogers, who collected the pass on the doorstep. Stathos made the initial save, but Rogers grabbed the puck and found paydirt, and the Wildcats regained the two-goal lead, 4-2.
Stathos made several great saves, keeping the Tigers in the game, and the second period came to a close with the Wildcats holding a two-goal advantage.
Princeton again pulled to within one at 5:31 into the third period. Josh Roberts collected the puck behind the net, skated out to Carney’s right and held the puck on his backhand. When Carney committed, Roberts skated past him and flipped the backhand into the net. Ethan Doyle assisted on the play with some gritty play behind the net and in the corner to hold the puck down low.
The score was 4-3, but Princeton would get no closer.
Hemingway put the game out of reach at 17 minutes of the period. Rushing up the wing, and with McCann playing tight defense on the forward, Hemingway fired a shot from the faceoff dot that found its way just inside the far post, upping the score to 5-3.
Ficek added an empty-net goal at 19:36, and the Wildcats completed their Ivy League sweep.
Carney got the victory, upping his record to 4-0 in backup duty. Starting goalie Nate Nomeland suffered his first loss on the year, falling to 2-1-1.
“I thought [both of our goalies] did a very good job, all things considered,” Quesnelle said. “We went in knowing we were going to split the two of them. We’re out in Milwaukee [at the Bank One Badger Hockey Showdown] the 29th and 30th and it’s going to be a long time without game time, so we knew we were going to be splitting them.
“UNH is a very quick team up front, and we knew going into the game that they were quick in transition, so if you ever turn the puck over to them, they were quick in transition. We went with five defensemen we thought could log the ice time [because] we’re short on defense, and that was exposed at certain times, especially in the first period”
The Wildcats return to action on Dec. 29 against Dartmouth in the Ledyard National Bank Auld Lang Syne Classic. The Tigers will play Wisconsin in the first round of the Badger Showdown on Dec. 29.