DURHAM, N.H. — It should come as no surprise that New Hampshire executed better than No. 9 Brown on special teams Sunday afternoon at the Whittemore Center. After all, the No. 7 Wildcats had already faced 99 special teams situations in its first five games, while the Bears just started their season on Friday. In a close game, that made all the difference.
On the strength of power play goals by sophomore Nicole Hekle and freshman Taylor Palazaeti, New Hampshire (6-0) rebounded from an early 1-0 deficit to defeat Brown (1-1) by a 2-1 margin. UNH finished 2-for-11 on the power play while Brown was 0-for-7.
The Bears took a 1-0 lead just 1:10 into the game, when captain Katie Guay received a Hayley Moore pass in front from behind the net and buried the puck five-hole. That was the only shot the entire afternoon that got through sophomore goaltender Melissa Bourdon, who made 33 saves in the come-from-behind win.
“We talked a lot in the dressing room, about how we just needed to calm down,” Hekle said of the turnaround. “They’re a fast team, but so are we. Get it off the boards, get it into the zone, and get on them hard, because that’s what we can do, and that’s what we did.”
Brown lost control of the game by drawing the first four penalties. The Wildcats finally cashed in on the fourth at 2:26 of the second period, when Hekle one-timed the puck inside the opposite post, thanks to a quick set up in the crease from Rebecca Peters at the point.
“That was an amazing pass,” Hekle said. “I’ve been waiting two years for a pass like that. It was perfect and so exciting.”
The game remained tied until Brown fell victim to a five-on-three in the third period. With the advantage in numbers, good things happened as freshman Jenni Hitchock fired the puck off Guay in front. It bounced right to Taylor Palazatti at the crease for the finish.
“As my coach described [my shot], it went one mile per hour,” Palazetti. “Of all the players on the ice, I got the lucky bounce. The power play unit was putting it around nicely, and it happened to come to me.”
Brown, after Guay’s goal, had no such luck. Coach Digit Murphy thought the Bears could easily have been up 3-0 by the end of the first period. Missed opportunities like a shorthanded breakaway from Jessica Link in which she failed to pull the trigger came back to haunt Brown.
Shortly after the Wildcats tied the game, they did their best to fall behind again by committing three penalties in a 2:17 span, but Brown could not take advantage. The only scoring chance of note came near the end of the stretch, when Link set up Keaton Zucker at the crease, but Zucker couldn’t put the puck on frame.
The Brown veterans could not match the execution of the younger UNH players, who happened to be deeper into their season. Brown coach Digit Murphy also credited UNH for outworking her team.
“Even though on the scoresheet we’re old, we’re mentally young this early in the season, and that beat us,” Murphy said.
Because Brown is a deep, experienced team that likes to use its speed at even strength, the NCAA’s increased emphasis on rule enforcement worked against Brown on this day.
“On this ice surface, we can move the puck like the best of them, but when you’re playing special teams all day long this early in the season it’s a little frustrating,” Murphy said. “You start to rely on a core of 10 players, and it neutralizes a team’s depth.”
The Bears did manage to stage a dramatic last-gasp rally in the final minute with the extra attacker. Brown unleashed a flurry shots to the net, but few of them ever got there. When Bourdon secured the puck with 10 seconds left, Brown’s best chance of tying the game was finished.
“The defense and forwards did a good job of clearing the bodies in front,” Bourdon said. “My job was easier when I had to make the first save and not have to worry about making the second and third.”
The result avenged last year’s 5-2 UNH loss to Brown, one that Hekle painfully remembered and looked to improve on. One difference this time around was Bourdon starting in net. In the few opportunities she has had against top 10 teams from the ECAC, she has come up big nearly every time.
“[Melissa] did a great job controlling the puck around her and not giving up anything easy,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “Certainly the way the chances were going back and forth, something easy could have made a difference in the game. We’ll be in games like that a lot this year, and we haven’t had her tested as much as tonight.”
In net Brown started Stacy Silverman, who was making her first collegiate start. She did not disappoint in making 26 of 28 saves. She was the last of the three Brown goalies to see ice time. Murphy split time between freshman O’Hara Shipe and sophomore Marie-Pier Desbien against a softer Maine opponent last Friday.
The two teams move on to league play in the coming week. UNH hosts Northeastern on Wednesday. Brown hosts its ECAC opening games against Cornell and Colgate on Friday and Saturday.