DURHAM, N.H. — By the time the final buzzer sounded, the Whittemore Center fans had been on their feet cheering for some time. Minutes later, they were still standing and roaring their approval. “We Are The Champions” blared from the sound system while a succession of New Hampshire players held aloft the trophy emblematic of a Hockey East regular season title.
The trophy, which league Supervisor of Officials Brendan Sheehy presented to UNH coach Dick Umile and captain Darren Haydar, became Wildcat property by virtue of a convincing 5-2 win over Boston College.
“It was a goal from the beginning and we achieved it,” said Garrett Stafford. “[But] this is just the first step in our goals. We’re looking forward now.”
Even if it had lost this game, UNH would have still had an opportunity to win the title one day later on the road, but was able to savor the victory in front of 6,501 loyalists.
“It was great that we won the game here at the Whittemore Center where we’ve done so well and with the fan support that we get,” said Umile.
A model of consistency, the Wildcats never lost two games in a row all year and ranked among the league leaders in almost every significant statistical category.
“We gave the game puck to our captain, Darren Haydar, who has really led this team,” said Umile. “He deserves a lot of credit along with the [other] seniors. It’s been a good team with good chemistry.”
UNH (24-6-3, 16-4-3 HEA) jumped out to early leads of 2-0 little more than two minutes into the game and 3-0 a shade after the seven-minute mark. While the Eagles would counter with the occasional flurry, they were never able to get back within a goal of the lead, in part due to sharp goaltending by Matt Carney.
“That’s something that we’ve worked on for the past three months — almost the whole season — and that’s to get up early,” said Haydar. “We’ve done it pretty successfully all year.
“I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been successful because we’ve been able to get one or two goals [early] and then finish teams off whereas last year that wasn’t the case.”
While many visiting coaches have used UNH’s Olympic ice sheet as an explanation for their team’s slow start in the building, BC coach Jerry York dismissed that idea.
“New Hampshire just has a good club,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the rink, it’s who’s in the white uniforms.
“They deserve to be league champions. They’ve had an outstanding year. Our hat’s off to Dick’s club.”
Although the two teams will face each other again on Sunday at Kelley Rink to close out the regular season, the game holds no impact on the Hockey East playoff matchups. As the top seed, UNH will host No. 8 seed Merrimack. Boston College (18-15-2, 10-12-1 HEA), the sixth seed, will travel to Maine.
UNH wasted no time establishing its dominance. In the opening seconds the Wildcats threatened two-on-one. Although the lone BC defender broke up the opportunity, the trend had been set.
At 1:28, Josh Prudden found an open Kevin Truelson at the top of the left faceoff circle and the junior defenseman beat BC goaltender Tim Kelleher far side. It was Truelson’s first goal of the season.
Just 39 seconds later, the UNH lead became 2-0 off a nice feed from the right boards by David Busch to Ed Caron in the slot. Caron roofed his shot past Kelleher for his fifth goal.
The Wildcats would make it 3-0 five minutes later, but not before Carney robbed Tony Voce twice. Haydar got the third goal on the power play off a great pass by linemate Sean Collins. Tyson Teplitsky shot from 12 feet, the puck went to Collins on the right goalmouth where he slid a perfect setup to Haydar on the far post. Given a my-grandmother-could-score-from-there opportunity, the Hobey Baker hopeful put in his 27th goal of the season.
Carney was again up to the task the next minute when he denied Jeff Giuliano during a two-on-one off a bad change.
With the Eagles on the power play soon after and in desperate need of a quick strike, UNH’s strong penalty killing units showed their best form. BC was unable to generate a single shot or any serious pressure.
The Eagles would, however, get on the scoreboard at 15:13 on a rush up ice by Ryan Shannon and a Giuliano redirection of the resulting Shannon shot from the top of the right faceoff circle.
UNH scored the only goal of the second period, but BC tested Carney in a big way when Ben Eaves broke in alone off a feed by Voce. Eaves deked, but Carney made a nice pad save off the stuff attempt.
That opened the door for the Wildcats to take a 4-1 lead at 16:31 on the power play. Colin Hemingway set up Collins on the far post, where the freshman poked it into the open net.
BC’s last gasp came at the 7:20 mark of the third period, ironically at the expense of one of its players. UNH’s 6-3, 220-pound Ed Caron crushed John Adams into the corner boards and after initially being banished to the penalty box, was assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for charging. He will, however, be eligible to play in the rematch on Sunday.
Adams, who was knocked unconscious and lay on the ice for several minutes, eventually left for the locker room under his own power. The five-minute major was partially offset by a two-minute roughing penalty on Ryan Murphy for going after Caron. Unfortunately for the Eagles, however, they were unable to capitalize.
Not until 17:06 did they narrow the margin to 4-2 on a Dave Spina goal off a scramble in front. The too-little-too-late tally completed the scoring until a Hemingway empty-net goal with 34 seconds remaining.