DURHAM, N.H. — In the early goings this season, the two Western leagues seemed to hold the upper hand over their Eastern counterparts. For at least one weekend, however, New Hampshire punctured that perception with outstanding play against first the CCHA’s Ohio State and then previously undefeated Denver of the WCHA.
As a result, the Wildcats swept to a Conference Classic championship in convincing fashion, completing the feat with a 5-2 win over Denver.
UNH now stands at 7-2-2 while Denver suffered the first blemish to its record, falling to 9-1-0.
“I was very impressed with New Hampshire tonight,” said DU coach George Gwozdecky. “They completely outplayed us in the first period. We had some small spurts in the second and third, but they controlled the game, they controlled the territory.
“If it hadn’t been for [goaltender] Adam Berkhoel, things would have been well out of hand early in the game. … Adam gave us a chance to get back into the game, gave us a chance to make it a game.”
Berkhoel was indeed outstanding, especially for the first two periods in which UNH outattempted the Pioneers, 47-18, and outshot them 24-8. With the score still 2-1 at that point, it was still anyone’s game heading into the third. However, despite Denver’s best offensive forays of the night, the Wildcats scored three goals to seal the win.
“Their transition game was very good,” said Gwozdecky. “They use the width of the ice extremely well. They moved the puck and caught us flat-footed an awful lot.
“When we were able to wrestle the puck away from them, their coverages were outstanding, especially early in the game. We just did not have a lot of room to move. They cut off a lot of the passing lanes until we made a little bit of an adjustment. … UNH is the best team we have played so far.”
New Hampshire’s Darren Haydar and coach Dick Umile both made a point of not getting carried away with the impressive wins on the weekend and their likely impact on the Wildcat’s perception across the country.
“Nationally, you don’t really like to look at it,” said Haydar, who was named tournament MVP. “It is a measuring stick to see where you’re at, but it isn’t the end all.
“You’ve got to win your league. You’ve got to win league games. So we don’t want to get too caught up in it.”
Added Umile, “It’s still November here so we’ve got a way to go, but the guys are improving…. I’m pleased where we’re at right now.”
New Hampshire freshmen Tyson Teplitsky and Eddie Caron both scored their first collegiate goals in the win.
Teplitsky joined Haydar on the all-tournament team. Also named were forwards R.J. Umberger (Ohio State) and Greg Barber (Denver); defenseman James Armstrong (Denver); and goaltender Mike Betz (Ohio State).
Throughout this season, the Wildcats have come out on all cylinders, outshooting every opponent in the first period and most often by lopsided numbers. As noted by UNH broadcaster Dick Osborne, they entered the contest having amassed a collective 158-68 shot dominance in 10 games.
This game proved no different as UNH outattempted the Pioneers, 24-5, and outshot them 13-3. Even more incredibly, only one of Denver’s three shots came from inside the blue line. Arguably, the sixth-ranked Wildcats were looking more like the undefeated No. 2 team in the country than their visitors.
However, for the second straight evening they were unable to convert their total domination into more than a 1-0 lead. Their lone goal came at 12:05, when Josh Prudden ripped Tyler Scott’s drop pass into the top of the net.
Seconds later, UNH almost made it 2-0 when Prudden one-handed a pass from down low to Lanny Gare in front. However, Berkhoel stopped the junior on both a first shot and a rebound attempt.
The DU netminder again had to come up big a couple minutes later when Jim Abbott had him dead to rights at the right post, but Berkhoel stoned him to keep the Pioneers in the game.
Such was UNH’s total domination that Denver coach George Gwozdecky finally called a timeout at just the 14:27 mark to try to stem the tide.
Although the Pioneers’ territorial fortunes did not improve, Berkhoel kept them in striking range, which proved temporarily fortuitous in the second period. At 7:02, David Neale backhanded the rebound of a Jeff Drummond shot into the net to make it 1-1 despite the lopsided play.
“Guys stayed calm,” said Haydar. “We were composed. We didn’t panic. We didn’t start throwing the puck around. We stayed within the system.
“They’re a great hockey team. They’re going to come in here and score a goal or two against us at least. It’s a matter of us being able to contain them and get back out ahead.”
Which is exactly what the Wildcats did. They kept swarming and at 15:09 regained the lead. Nathan Martz fed from the back boards to Teplitsky, who had dropped down into the slot and proceeded to blast a shot past Berkhoel.
“They were scrambling around in their end for a little while,” said Teplitsky. “They had some trouble getting the puck out of their zone. The puck ended up going down back in the corner and Martz was coming out. I saw an opening there because most of their players were stuck in the corner. He made a great pass for me and I just put the shot on net.”
The second period ended with only slightly more balanced results from the first. UNH had outattempted the Pioneers, 23-13, and outshot them, 11-5, for respective totals of 47-18 and 24-8, but still held only a 2-1 lead.
At 5:59 of the third, however, Haydar scored a huge goal to establish the first two-goal lead. Mick Mounsey passed from the right boards to Sean Collins on the far left wing. With a single Denver defenseman outnumbered, Collins dished to Haydar on the right and the senior put it into the upper right corner of the net.
Denver then stunned the boisterous crowd with a goal a mere 21 seconds later on a Lukas Dora shot from 10 feet out, but Caron answered just another 26 seconds later. The Granite State native son swung in on net and as he was being tripped, put a shot over Berkhoel, who was going down.
The 4-2 margin held until a Colin Hemingway empty net goal with 1:53 remaining.