DURHAM, N.H. — Michael Ayers stopped a career-high 44 shots, including all 31 over the last two periods, to anchor New Hampshire’s 3-1 win over top-ranked Minnesota. Ironically, the winning margin for UNH came in the second period, during which it managed only three shots but still scored on two. Lanny Gare’s shorthanded strike stood up as the game-winner while Kevin Truelson’s on the power play provided the extra cushion.
The win gave the third-ranked Wildcats (2-0-1) three of the four points available in the weekend meeting between the East and West powerhouses.
“Obviously, I was thrilled with the outcome tonight and getting three points,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “It was a great weekend of hockey. We were thrilled to have Minnesota come out here. It was great college hockey early in the season, the East [versus] West.
“I was really proud of how the guys played. We played a 60-minute game and Michael Ayers was terrific when we needed him, especially in the third period.”
A look at the box score would be cause for headscratching. After a statistically even first period which ended 1-1, the Golden Gophers outattempted the Wildcats, 43-18, and outshot them, 31-11, but still surrendered two goals and scored none of their own. Much of that advantage came on the power play, especially in the third period when Minnesota generated 13 shots with the extra man.
Ayers, however, stood up to all challenges one night after surrendering an uncharacteristic five goals.
“The first night I thought I let my teammates down,” Ayers said. “They scored a lot of goals, [but still didn't win]. I really didn’t play my game so I thought tonight a really good way to get it back on straight was to help my teammates win this game.”
Minnesota coach Don Lucia looked to balance some positives with the negative of coming away with only a single point on the weekend, falling to a 1-1-1 record.
“We did a lot of good things,” he said. “We were a little jumpy because of the experience factor, but you only get better by playing games like this.
“I can’t fault our effort. Their goalie made some big saves. We just couldn’t get it by him. … New Hampshire is one of the best teams in college hockey.”
An additional highlight came during the first intermission when UNH and NHL legend Rod Langway was honored for his upcoming induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame. The Friends of UNH Hockey also announced that its annual Best Defenseman Award was being renamed the Rod Langway Award.
New Hampshire got on the scoreboard just 2:59 into the contest as Nathan Martz stickhandled through the Gopher defense at the left faceoff circle and put one over goaltender Travis Weber’s shoulder.
Minnesota evened the score a little more than nine minutes later when Tom Vanek and Troy Riddle broke up ice on a two-on-one. Defenseman Mick Mounsey broke up the initial setup attempt, but in the resulting scramble in front of the net Vanek slid the puck through the goalmouth to Riddle, who put it in the open net.
It then became the goaltenders’ turn to shine. Weber made a great save on Jim Abbott, his second of the period, and Ayers answered against Paul Martin and Dan Welch.
UNH took a 3-1 lead in the second period despite being outshot, 10-3. The two goals came on just three shots with one on the penalty kill and the other on the man advantage.
The tide-turner was Gare’s shorthanded goal at 11:07. Gare skated through the neutral zone toward the right wing, looking to kill as much time as possible. Moving into the offensive zone, but alone against two defenders, he wristed a hard shot from above the right faceoff circle that appeared to be intended as little more than an opportunity to change up. Instead the puck nestled into the top of the net for a 2-1 lead.
“I was going to try to go wide and to the net but my legs weren’t all there so I just [shot],” Gare said. “I don’t think the goalie was ready for it and I think the D-man kind of [screened] him. I wasn’t expecting it to go in.”
The Wildcats then widened their advantage on the power play thanks to nice playmaking by Steve Saviano. The junior skated out of the right corner and slid a perfect pass to Kevin Truelson, who had dropped down from the left point into the slot.
“It was a great play by Steve Saviano down low,” said Truelson. “He beat the first guy and he beat the guy out front and I was wide open. If I’d missed it, I might have hit myself over the head and knocked myself out. The play was made by him, not by me. He did all the work. I just tapped it in.”
The third period was all Ayers. No stop was more designed for the highlight reel than a glittering glove save at the seven-minute mark on Riddle, who already had scored four goals this season. Ayers would soon need to deliver many more saves since immediately after his highway robbery, UNH picked up a double minor penalty and virtually as soon as that one ended sustained yet another. Throughout, Ayers was tremendous, keeping the Gophers at bay even when they seemed destined to draw even.