DURHAM, N.H. — They might as well have dubbed it “Waiting to Exhale at the Whitt.”
In a game that was far more exciting than a 2-1 affair should ever be, Nathan Martz scored 48 seconds into overtime to give fifth-ranked New Hampshire a come-from-behind victory over No. 15 Massachusetts at the sold-out Whittemore Center.
The game-winning goal was the result of some hard work along the boards by junior Steve Saviano, who outfought a Massachusetts defender for the puck behind the Minuteman net.
After wheeling around the left faceoff circle, he found Martz alone at the top of the crease, and after getting freshman goaltender Michael Waidlich to go down, Martz lifted a backhander into the net to cap a thrilling, evenly-played contest.
And that wasn’t even the most exciting play of the game.
All in attendance were witness to arguably the most exciting moment in sports: the penalty shot.
As a Massachusetts power play ended in the first period, senior Colin Hemingway sent home a pass deep from within the New Hampshire end to Preston Callander at center ice. Callander shook free of the lone Minuteman defender, and raced in alone on Waidlich. However, just as he was about to shoot, he was hauled down, and referee Tim Benedetto immediately made the call for the penalty shot.
With that announcement, the deafening din of the crowd reverberated throughout the building. Not a soul was sitting down any more.
Unworried at what was before him, Callander took a few strides from behind the blue line, took the puck at center ice, and skated in. Callander deked right, then left, then right again in flipping the puck up and over Waidlich to tie the game at 1-1.
It was only the second penalty shot ever taken at the Whittemore Center, the first coming in 1996, when the Wildcats’ John Sadowski scored against Maine in a 6-3 New Hampshire win.
The two teams played a scoreless second and third period to set up Martz’s heroics.
“I guess it (the game) was about what I expected. I can see why they’ve won some important games. This is a big win for us,” said New Hampshire coach Dick Umile.
“Well, it’s a great place to play,” said a less enthusiastic UMass head coach Don Cahoon, referring to the raucous venue. “I wasn’t happy with the outcome, but credit UNH with a great third period. Their experience and depth got to us late in the game.”
New Hampshire improved to 15-4-3 (9-2-1 Hockey East). Massachusetts fell to 13-9-1 (7-7-0).
In the first period, it looked as though the Wildcats were going to take it to the Minutemen, as Hemingway sent a wrist shot through from 15 feet out that tested Waidlich only 15 seconds into the contest. Waidlich was making his first start in net for the Minutemen.
However, Massachusetts settled into a rhythm. At 7:21 of the first, freshman Chris Capraro of Medford, Mass., made a nifty pass out of the corner behind the UNH net to senior co-captain Tim Turner., who turned on the jets and beat New Hampshire goaltender Michael Ayers for a 1-0 Massachusetts lead, much to the delight of the UMass faithful who made the trek to Durham.
New Hampshire’s Garrett Stafford had a chance to tie the game at 11:24, taking the puck from behind the net and out in front, but his shot was stopped by Waidlich.
It looked like Waidlich and the Minutemen just might avenge their 4-0 loss to these same Wildcats in this same building back on November 24.
Just like that, however, New Hampshire fans were holding their collective breath as Callander scooted in on the penalty shot which tied the score.
“He’s got unbelievable hands,” said Umile of Callander’s goal. “We’ve seen him do that all the time in practice. He didn’t have much room to put that in.”
The second period was dominated by Massachusetts, as the Minutemen outshot the Wildcats 11-5. Capraro had the best chance from in close, but Ayers was able to get his stick out just enough to deflect the shot.
Though UMass has owned the third period this year (winning five games after trailing entering the third period, no less), on this night it was the Wildcats who dominated the final period of regulation.
Gare had a wide-open shot early on that just sailed wide of the net. Minutes later, Callander made a point-blank bid for his second of the night, but was robbed by Waidlich. Defenseman Tyson Teplitsky picked up a loose puck and walked in alone, only to be thwarted. Stafford clanged one off the post with just under four minutes left.
“We weren’t strong enough with the puck late in the game, and that got to us eventually. I thought at the end of the game we were hanging on. I think that has to do with the youth of our team, and the experience of New Hampshire,” said Cahoon.
Massachusetts and New Hampshire complete their home-and-home series on Sunday at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass. Game time is 5 p.m..