With his team down 1-0 to Connecticut less than a minute into the second period, New Hampshire freshman goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak still believed that sooner or later his teammates would come to the rescue.
That they did, as the No. 2 ranked Wildcats scored three unanswered goals in the second period to defeat a gritty Huskies squad, 3-1, at the Whittemore Center.
Freshman Andrew Leach scored his first collegiate goal, while Josh Prudden and Preston Callander each added two assists for New Hampshire (9-2-2). Freshman Michael Hoffman scored for Connecticut (3-8-1), and Jason Carey made 37 saves for the Huskies.
“I was a little nervous, but I had faith they’d come back,” said Pietrasiak of his Wildcat brethren. “I felt really confident out there. After the first couple of shots, I felt very comfortable.”
Pietrasiak, making his first collegiate start, ended up with 22 saves on the night, including 11 in the third period. His point-blank save off a shot from three feet out by Connecticut captain D.J. Miller at the 14-minute mark of the third was nothing short of a gem.
“Jeff did a good job out there tonight. He got his feet wet,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “He obviously made the best of his opportunity. He’ll get another chance later on.”
Connecticut, which came into the contest with an 0-10 all-time record against UNH, didn’t seem at all fazed by their surroundings. The Huskies utilized an effective trap, which stymied New Hampshire’s attack, while carrying the puck well out of their own zone.
“We grew up a lot tonight. We were very much in that hockey game. It wasn’t pretty, but we were in it,” said Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall.
Although New Hampshire outshot the visitors, 12-5, in the first period, it went the first five minutes of the game without a shot on Carey, and few of the remaining shots in the opening period were of the quality variety. In fact, the best chance for either side to score in the first period was New Hampshire’s first shot on goal.
Lanny Gare, in the midst of an eight-game point-scoring streak, fed a cross-ice pass to Colin Hemingway, whose wrist shot was stopped by Carey.
The period ended right where it began, deadlocked at 0-0.
“I don’t think we played great. I don’t know, I don’t think we played badly, either. I thought Bruce’s team played hard. Give them credit,” said Umile.
Just 37 seconds into the middle period, the Huskies capitalized on an odd-man rush into the UNH end. Connecticut’s leading scorer, Kurt Kamienski, raced in over the New Hampshire blue line on a two on one break. Pietrasiak made the initial save with the blocker, but Hoffman pounced on the rebound and backhanded it in to give the Huskies the lead, 1-0.
The longer the period wore on, the more it looked like the potential for an upset of monumental proportions. Connecticut, which lost its previous game at Union, 8-0, wasn’t giving the Wildcats much room to move, and the natives were getting restless at the Whittemore Center.
Perhaps sensing that things weren’t going in the right direction for his team, UNH defenseman Mick Mounsey decided to take matters into his own hands.
Taking the puck from the New Hampshire blue line, the junior carried it into the Huskies’ zone, blew past a defender, then wheeled around the Connecticut goal and fed a pass out to Leach, who sent it through Carey’s pads to tie the game.
“It felt good to get the monkey off my back,” said Leach of his first collegiate goal. “I had some chances against Providence a couple weeks back, but couldn’t put them home.
“We didn’t know what to expect from Connecticut. They played a lot better than I expected.”
Some hard work along the boards by senior Josh Prudden led to the eventual game-winning goal for the Wildcats. Prudden eventually outworked a Huskies defender for the puck to the right of Carey, and his pass in the slot was sent home by Kevin Truelson to put the Wildcats up for good, 2-1.
“Josh made a great play out of the corner to get me the puck. I just tapped it in; right place at the right time. I’ll take those any time,” said Truelson.
UNH got an insurance goal late in the second period, when captain Patrick Foley took a pretty pass from Callander, and sent a shot into the far corner to make it 3-1 New Hampshire.
“They scored on some great chances. Their guys buried the puck when they had to,” said Marshall.
The third period saw few good scoring opportunities, save for the one that Pietrasiak made on Miller to keep it a one goal game.
Despite falling to 0-4-1 against Hockey East teams since moving up to the Division 1 level in 1998-99, Marshall was not disappointed.
“We saw some positives tonight,” Marshall said. “Five years ago, we were playing outdoors. Now here we are, playing a Frozen Four team in the Whittemore Center. We played a solid 60 minutes against a Frozen Four team. This was a tremendous opportunity to make a statement about our program.”
Connecticut resumes its MAAC schedule when the Huskies host Army on Friday, Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. New Hampshire hosts ECAC foe Clarkson, also on Dec. 6, at 7 p.m.