MANCHESTER, N.H. — In the third annual “Battle for the Riverstone,” New Hampshire goalkeeper Mike Ayers was a stone wall, and that left Dartmouth up a river.
The senior from Hingham, Mass., stopped all 30 shots he faced, and captain Steve Saviano notched a hat trick to lead the Wildcats to a 5-0 victory over their in-state rivals at a sold out Verizon Wireless Arena.
“I’m starting to feel a little bit more comfortable out there,” said Ayers, who shut Dartmouth out for the first time since Union’s Kris Mayotte did it to the Big Green last Jan. 24. “I don’t know what it was for a while, but I do feel good out there. I think, as a team, we’re playing better defensively, which obviously helps me out a lot, and that’s due to the fact that we’re playing well as a team.”
“I thought Ayers played well,” said Big Green head coach Bob Gaudet, whose team was without captain Brian Van Abel. Van Abel injured his ankle in a captain’s practice on Sunday. “I thought that UNH took advantage of some good opportunities and timely bounces, but I thought that our kids generated pretty well [on offense].”
While Saviano notched the hat trick, it was Preston Callander who scored the game winner for the Wildcats in the 10th minute of the game. Callander picked up a loose rebound, skated away from the net, then sent the puck top shelf for his 10th goal of the season.
Callander allowed the Wildcats to take an early lead, after Dartmouth appeared to have the game’s first goal five minutes earlier. However, Max Guimond’s goal was disallowed when the net went off its moorings after Ayers stopped breakaway chances by Darcy Marr and Jarrett Sampson.
“I would have liked to have had the first one,” Gaudet said, “and hopefully, maybe it would have been different, but it just wasn’t in the cards.”
A Dartmouth power play shortly after Callander’s goal resulted in several Big Green shots, but Ayers was up to the task for the full two minutes. A UNH power play, however, lasted only nine seconds before Saviano lifted the puck into the back of the net. Sean Collins and Justin Aikins assisted on the goal, which gave the Wildcats a two-goal lead heading into the first intermission.
Saviano scored again 5:21 into the second period, beating Yacey five-hole from the right faceoff circle. Nathan Martz and Mick Mounsey assisted on the tally, helping deal a death blow to the Big Green, as the Wildcats took a 3-0 lead.
Dartmouth had its best chance to climb into the game when the team was awarded a 5-on-3 power play, but Ayers remained rock solid in net, and not long after Mounsey came out of the box, a Wildcat breakaway led to Saviano’s third goal of the game.
Down 4-0 at the beginning of the third, Gaudet took advantage of his last 20 minutes of non-conference play to give net time to freshman Sean Samuel. The rookie from Mississaauga, Ont., fared only slightly better than his teammate, as Callander potted his second of the night with 12 minutes to play.
Ayers, meanwhile, remained unbeatable in net, and the Wildcats took home the Riverstone. Ayers and Saviano shared Player of the Game honors.
“I thought our team played great tonight,” Saviano said. “I feel like our goaltending was great again, and our defense started to play well there. Our offense got the puck deep and created some offense, which is great for our team.”
The Wildcats will look to carry their strong play into another non-conference tilt this weekend, as they host Brown at the Whittemore Center on Saturday. Dartmouth, meanwhile, will head back into ECAC play, hosting Clarkson and St. Lawrence at Thompson Arena on Friday and Saturday, respectively. All three games start at 7 p.m.