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College Hockey:
Surprise Starter Pietrasiak Backstops UNH Past Northeastern

— Mike who?

Sophomore goaltender Jeff Pietrasiak — a surprise starter in place of Hockey East Co-Player of the Year Mike Ayers — stopped 30 shots as No. 4 New Hampshire defeated Northeastern, 5-2, in front of a sellout crowd at the Whittemore Center.

UNH garnered six points from its freshman class, including a goal and an assist each from first-year players Daniel Winnik, Dan Travis of Wilton, N.H., and Brett Hemingway.

New Hampshire improved to 8-2-1 overall (5-1-1 Hockey East). With the victory, the Wildcats kept the Huskies winless at 0-8-2 (0-6-1). Northeastern hasn’t won in Durham since February 1998.

“It’s hard not getting chances to play,” said Pietrasiak, making just his second start of the season and third collegiately. “But I work hard in practice, and coach said I’d get a chance. Tonight was that chance.”

“The line of Winnik, [Eddie] Caron and Travis played really well,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “Anytime that you can win two games in a row in Hockey East is great. I’m really pleased.” UNH defeated Northeastern the night before, 3-2, overcoming a 2-0 deficit.

A scoreless first period saw each team record good scoring bids.

With five minutes gone in the opening frame, Wildcat sniper Sean Collins took a pass up the chute over the blue line. The speedy junior let go of a wrister from 10 feet out that Northeastern junior goalie Keni Gibson had to be ready for.

Northeastern’s best chance to get on the board, ironically, came on a UNH power play. Freshman Bryan Esner stole the puck from a UNH defender off a misfire from the point, and went the length of the ice, flipping a backhander that Pietrasiak barely came up with.

The period ended with UNH outshooting NU, 7-6, with the Huskies having missed the extra point.

“You’re not going to win many games scoring two goals,” said Northeastern coach and UNH alum Bruce Crowder. “I thought we played a real good first period on the road. We have to learn from this.”

New Hampshire came into the weekend with the top-ranked power play in the country. And with the man advantage, UNH struck first blood as Collins picked up a loose puck and shoveled it past Gibson for a 1-0 lead early in the second.

On what looked to be a sure odd-man rush for the Huskies, junior defenseman Robbie Barker broke up the play in the Northeastern end by intercepting a pass. Seconds later, Hemingway banked the puck off Gibson to give the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.

New Hampshire then scored two goals that were so nearly identical that one would have to view the tape a few times to make sure they weren’t one and the same.

With Gibson out of position, Travis fired the puck into a wide-open net to make it 3-0. NU’s Jason Guerriero ruined Pietrasiak’s bid for a shutout at 17:18, recording his fourth goal of the year.

UNH literally came right back, however.

On the ensuing faceoff, Travis initiated some nifty stickhandling and sent the puck out to Winnik. And in a carbon copy of Travis’ goal, Winnik found himself with the puck and with the whole net to shoot at. The freshman buried it for the second goal of his college career.

“I was getting mad at myself earlier in the year, because I had no points,” said Winnik, who scored his first collegiate goal the night before at Matthews Arena. “Our line works real well. We seem to know where each other is going to be. We go out every game looking to beat teams down low.”

At the start of the third period, Pietrasiak foiled a bid by star right wing Mike Morris. The St. Sebastian’s product and San Jose draft pick went in on a partial breakaway, only to have Pietrasiak come up with one of his biggest saves of the game.

UNH got its fifth goal on a pretty display of passing on a 3-on-2 rush, with Justin Aikins feeding Preston Callander, who roofed the puck past a beleaguered Gibson to make it 5-1.

Gibson would, however, get some measure of redemption.

During a scrum in front of the NU goal late in the third period, the puck was gloved in the crease by a Husky defenseman. The result was a whistle and a penalty shot awarded for the Wildcats.

UNH captain Steve Saviano — to chants of “Sah-vee, Sah-vee” from the raucous crowd — skated in, went right to left, and was denied by Gibson, who stood his ground.

Jonathan Koop, the pride of Dallas, Texas, rounded out the scoring by potting his first career goal for the Huskies.

After the game, Crowder reflected on his team.

“As strange as this sounds, I like this team. It’s not showing up in the win column, but I like our youth and our skating ability. We just have to score more goals, and continue to get good play out of Keni.”

Countered Umile, “They’re a good team. I feel for Bruce. They’re well-coached. I said earlier tonight that I hope they win a lot of games — after tonight.”

Northeastern takes on Hockey East power Boston College at 8 p.m. next Saturday at BC, while New Hampshire hosts Massachusetts-Lowell on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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