DURHAM, N.H. — When it was all said and done, round one went to no one.
In a game that completely lived up to its highly-anticipated billing, No. 1 Minnesota and No. 3 New Hampshire skated to a 5-5 standoff in front of a sellout crowd at the Whittemore Center in the first of a two-game, non-league doubleheader. The two teams square off for the rematch Saturday night at 7 p.m.
Troy Riddle scored two goals for the defending national champion Golden Gophers, while All-American Colin Hemingway recorded two goals for the Wildcats.
“The game turned out exactly as we thought it would. Two good teams going at it,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile.
Minnesota coach Don Lucia concurred.
“It had that ‘big game’ atmosphere. The crowd really got into it,” Lucia said. “Sometimes that raises the level of play of the guys out on the ice, and I think you saw that tonight.”
Both teams came into the contest with resounding victories under their belts. Minnesota piled on 51 shots in a 7-2 victory over Ohio State, while New Hampshire was coming off a 10-0 drubbing of Vermont. Each team came in loaded with offense, and neither club disappointed on this night.
In the early going, it looked as though the game would be decided by whichever team could hold the fort on the penalty kill. Five of the 10 goals in the game came with the man advantage.
New Hampshire got things started on the power play off a beautiful feed from junior Steve Saviano to his former high school teammate, Sean Collins, for a 1-0 UNH lead.
Minnesota answered right back on the power play less than three minutes later, with Riddle netting his first of the night. New Hampshire then went back on the power play, and the Wildcats connected again, with Hemingway recording his first of the evening (and first of the season).
UNH carried the play against the top-ranked Gophers in the first period, and when Hemingway potted his second goal of the night at 14:47 to make it 3-1 for the home team, it looked as though the Wildcats might just run away with this one.
“They’re so quick around the net. We have to do a better job of getting the puck out of our own zone,” said Lucia.
Minnesota, however, was just getting going.
Junior Paul Martin got the Gophers right back into the game when he sent one through the wickets of UNH junior goaltender Michael Ayers. Freshman Gino Guyer then delivered one of the best individual efforts you’ll ever see, taking the puck from his own end through a chorus of Wildcat skaters, then finishing things off with a wrister that flew past Ayers for his first goal of the season, and suddenly it was 3-3.
“It was very frustrating. We had them down, 3-1, then we had a couple of lapses. You give a team like that chances, and they’ll beat you,” said UNH senior Lanny Gare.
Nevertheless, UNH headed into the locker room with the lead back in hand at the 18:34 mark, thanks to Minnesota native Tim Horst. The junior out of South St. Paul, Minn. sent one past Minnesota netminder Justin Johnson to give UNH the lead, 4-3, after one period.
If UNH held the edge in play for the first period, Minnesota outright dominated the game in the second period.
The Gophers tied it up at four at 9:55, again with the extra skater, when junior Dan Welch scored his second of the year. Minnesota stifled the Wildcat offense by delivering constant pressure of their own, and at the 17:54 mark, Riddle scored his second of the night with a slap shot from the blue line that beat Ayers to the short side, giving Minnesota its first lead of the night, 5-4. While UNH held a 13-9 shot advantage in the first period, The Gophers registered a commanding 13-2 shot count in the middle period.
“We turned the puck over a lot,” said Umile. “They outplayed us [in the second period]. You have to give credit to them, but we didn’t play well.”
All of which set the table for a scintillating third period.
Minnesota defenseman Keith Ballard took a costly penalty at 5:26, when he was whistled for two-minute unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a 10-minute misconduct for shooting the puck after the whistle had blown. On the ensuing power play, Gare made Ballard and the Gophers pay by scoring his fourth goal of the season to knot the seesaw affair at five apiece.
New Hampshire had far better good scoring chances as the period wore on.
“I told my players that they were flipping a lot of pucks high in the air down the ice, and to watch out for that, and not to let their guys get in ahead of the puck,” said Lucia
The speedy Collins almost broke the deadlock off a redirect, but Johnson was up to the task. Johnson was none better a few minutes later when he again robbed Collins, this time on a breakaway.
“At first, I didn’t know who it was,” said Lucia of Collins’ breakaway. “That’s not the guy that you want with the puck at that point.”
And with less than two minutes left in regulation, Gare looked to have the best chance of all from three feet out, but the puck hopped off his stick.
The overtime session was a bit anti-climactic, with the two teams having had the sellout crowd on the edge of their seats the entire game. UNH had the best chance, when sophomore Justin Aikens was in all alone, but Johnson made a game-saving stop to preserve the tie.
“All in all, with all of the young guys that we have, we played pretty well,” said Lucia. “I don’t think that we played great at times, though. Our penalty killing has to be better.”
Said Hemingway, “It’s bittersweet. We had a chance to win it. But we’ll go back at it tomorrow.”
Minnesota and New Hampshire conclude their two-game set at 7 p.m. on Saturday night at the Whittemore Center. The game is also marked as “Rod Langway Night,” in honor of the former UNH star defenseman who will be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on Nov. 4.