BOSTON — The New Hampshire Wildcats will get a chance to pull off college hockey’s equivalent of the daily double this weekend after UNH advanced to the inaugural Hockey East championship game on Saturday with a 2-0 victory over Maine.
The women followed the suit of their male counterparts, who beat Boston University 1-0 Saturday to take the HEA men’s title.
The victory came despite at magnificent 43-save effort by Maine senior netminder Dawn Froats, who kept her team within a goal for most of the game until UNH’s Carolyn Gordon sealed the victory with her 20th goal of the season with 3:59 remaining.
“Froats just kept coming up with save after save,” said UNH head coach Brian McCloskey of the opposing tender’s effort. “I didn’t feel like any time that when we had the puck down low we were just going to score.”
Conversely, UNH goaltender and All-American hopeful Jen Huggon (15 saves) played a game that if described as solid wouldn’t do her justice. Despite seeing only 15 shots and furthering her nation-best total of 14 shutouts this season, the senior netminder came up with a handful of key saves on grade ‘A’ attempts early in the game to keep it scoreless.
“Jen Huggon is good — there’s no better way to describe her,” said Maine sixth-year head coach Rick Filighera. “There was a play early in the game where we got the puck in front of the net, low, glove side and she kicks her leg out. Those are the saves that with this game 0-0 for a long time make the difference.”
Though the Black Bears did their best to weather the storm throughout the game, they did more than that in the opening period, keeping up with the speedy Wildcat forwards and plastering Huggon with shots.
The Black Bears, in fact, saw the game’s first quality bid when leading scorer Meagan Arts walked in alone just 90 seconds into the contest. She fired her first bid wide but then took a feed seconds later in the slot that forced Huggon to make a spectacular left-pad save.
“I usually like to get a shot early, right off the bat,” said Huggon of the save, though admitting she prefers those early bids to be more “routine.”
Though the opening 20 minutes remained scoreless, UNH made it known early that the second wouldn’t be a repeat. New Hampshire showed a jump in its step missing in the opening frame and, in doing so, outshot the Black Bears, 14-4, in the period. Of the 14 Wildcats shots, only three came from outside the grade ‘A’ area, keeping Froats plenty busy.
“I thought in the second and third we really started to take control of the game,” said McCloskey. “I thought we were a little overcharged up early on. We were overskating positional play. We were anxious.”
Still with numerous quality chances in the second, only one made it past the senior netminder — a rebound shot by Wildcats scoring leader Stephanie Jones that squeaked five-hole on Froats for a power-play marker at 5:25.
“[Froats] was going for the butterfly and she just left a little room,” said Jones of her team-leading eighth game-winning goal. The tally extended her goalscoring streak to eight games.
“My defenseman was about to clear the puck and my forward knocked the puck right off her stick to the front of the net,” said Filighera. “If we clear that puck and it’s a tie game in the third period, things get a little tighter. That [goal] was a defining moment.”
In the third period, UNH had ample chance to extend the lead but failed to do so thanks to Froats and a little help from the posts. At one point, UNH hit three posts in 90 seconds, making a Maine comeback seem almost fate-driven.
That fate, though, lasted only until UNH broke through with Gordon’s goal in the closing minutes on a 2-on-1 rush. Gordon broke on the left wing with Randi MacMaster. Instead of passing, Gordon chose to shoot, firing a hard wrister labeled for the right corner.
Froats made a remarkable glove save on the initial shot but couldn’t hold the rebound, allowing it to trickle past her and in for the 2-0 lead.
The win for the Wildcats keeps alive their hopes for a bid to the NCAA tournament. It is likely that the Wildcats would have to win the championship game to have any hopes of advancing further.
For Maine, the season ends with a 12-15-4 record but a solid showing in its first Hockey East season. According to Filighera, in four years his program has made major strides
“We lost a 13-0 game to UNH four years ago so we’ve come a long way,” said Filighera. “I was just hoping our players could get a taste of that championship game.”