Durham, N.H. — At the beginning of the season, a lot of people circled January 31, 2004 on the calendar. When the date finally arrived, the battle of last season’s Hockey East titans, New Hampshire and Providence, wasn’t quite the matchup everyone expected in October.
But you couldn’t tell that by the intensity on the ice, as this season’s first meeting between last year’s top two conference finishers became a seesaw battle that saw New Hampshire rally from a deficit twice to win, 4-3. Carolyn Gordon paced the Wildcats with a hat trick, while Kelli Halcisak scored a goal and assist in the losing effort for PC.
Providence, picked to finish first in the Hockey East preseason poll, was having an off year in terms of results. At just 7-10-2 coming into the game, the Friars were a disppointing 0-8-1 against ranked opponents and an alarming fourth place in conference standings. They needed conference points to get back into hailing distance of first place.
“I still think it’s a big matchup,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “They have struggled a bit in conference, which has created a situation where they have to win some league games.”
The Wildcats, on the other hand, were undefeated in league play, but hadn’t yet faced the only team, PC, to down them in last year’s conference action. All season UNH has hovered around the fringes of the top 10 poll, and struggled to gain respectability on the national picture. A loss to an underperforming Providence squad wouldn’t help matters.
This set the scene for an emotional showdown in a game that oscillated in score as well as tone on the ice.
In the first period, Providence had the better of play, beating New Hampshire players to pucks and controlling the tempo of play. The scoreboard mirrored that fact, as the Friars held a 1-0 lead for the majority of the frame on an early Kelly Halcisak strike that resulted from a 2 on 1 rush with teammate Darlene Stephenson.
“They made a real nice play on a defensive breakdown,” said McCloskey.
The tide turned on some PC penalties in the second period, and an edge in play turned into dominance, as UNH held a 11-3 advantage in shots in the stanza, and managed to tie the game when Gordon got the first of her trio while on the power play.
“Our special teams have been a real strength for us this year,” McCloskey pointed out. “When we had a power play, I felt very confident, and they didn’t have too many opportunities on the advantage.”
“We got into penalty trouble in the second,” said Deraney, “and that really gave them some momentum. It was only a matter of time before they tied the score, with the number of shots they got.”
After a relatively quiet first 40 minutes of the game, the teams exploded for five goals in the third.
Providence got a power play tally of its own early in the third to regain the lead when Rush Zimmerman completed a give and go by scoring into the empty half of a net. But less than a minute later, Gordon scored a beauty of a goal with a redirection of a Kristin Thomas slapshot from the point.
Thomas wasn’t done, however, and essentially scored again minutes later when a shot bounced of the leg of teammate Nicole Hekle and passed PC goalie Jana Bugden (30 saves). Hekle was credited with the goal.
Gordon completed the hat trick on a breakaway goal that seemed to seal the win for New Hampshire, but Providence pulled within one when Ashley Payton grabbed a rebound and slipped it by an out-of-position Melissa Bourdon (12 saves).
“If we get a lucky bounce like the goal off of [Hekle's] leg, it’s a tie game, 4-4,” said Deraney.
He quickly dismissed the idea of playing to the conference standings.
“That’s how you get yourself in trouble. That’ll really hurt you,” he said. “We’ve got a bunch of tremendous competitors, which is why we still have some things to accomplish.”
The two teams meet up again tomorrow in Providence. The Friars (7-11-2, 3-3-1 in Hockey East) hope to continue last year’s streak of the home team winning each game between these two teams. New Hampshire (13-7-3, 8-0-1 HE) will make a bid to stay undefeated in conference play.