DURHAM, N.H. — It was supposed to go into the top corner on the blocker side. Instead it went five-hole. None of which mattered since it went into the back of the net.
Preston Callander’s goal at 12:27 of the third period capped a furious New Hampshire rally from a 2-0 deficit, giving the Wildcats a 3-2 win over Providence. Set up by an excellent pass from the left boards by Sean Collins, the goal was Callander’s second of the game and fifth of the year.
“Sean drew [the defensive attention] to him,” Callander said. “I was wide open and he just found me. [The shot] didn’t go where I wanted, but hey, it goes in.”
With a grin he said, “I was going for high blocker and I put it five-hole along the ice. It was lucky, but I’ll take it.”
New Hampshire (5-2-1, 2-1-0 HEA) dug a hole for itself in the first period as Providence capitalized on two bad defensive mistakes to seize a 2-0 lead.
The Wildcats rebounded with a 30-14 shot advantage over the final two frames including a 13-3 margin in the third when they got the game-tying goal from Jacob Micflikier leading to Callander’s game-winner.
Reigning Hockey East Rookie of the Week Tyler Sims stopped 37-of-40 shots for the Friars in the loss.
“I really liked the way the team responded after the first period,” UNH coach Richard Umile said. “Guys got going in the second period and really battled back. [Sims] was making some great saves so you never know what’s going to happen, but they stayed focused on it and Callander and Collins made a great play for the winner.
Of arguably as much significance was the UNH defense holding the Friars to only 22 shots, including just three in the third period.
“That’s three games in a row that we’ve done a good job with the shots,” Umile said. “We’ve really worked on it and the guys have responded. [Providence] had three shots in the third period. I’ll take that any day.
“We’re shutting the shots down defensively and we’re still generating offense so I’m pleased with the way the guys are playing now.”
Providence (4-4-0, 2-3-0 HEA) started a freshman goalie and skated 11 freshmen or sophomores, but a close loss to the number seven team in the country provided no solace of a moral victory.
“UNH is an outstanding club, but we have to give ourselves a chance to win games, especially on the road, [ahead] 2-1 going into the third period,” PC coach Paul Pooley said. “I told [the team] we’re inches away from being a very good club and we’re also inches away from being frustrated like we are right now.
“It’s a growing process, but from our perspective it’s not acceptable and we need to do better. It would have been a nice win tonight but we didn’t get it.”
A first period territorial edge for UNH became a 2-0 deficit because of two defensive blunders. The Wildcats held the upper hand in shots, 10-8, attempts, 16-14, and an even wider margin in terms of quality shots from the slot, but trailed on the scoreboard.
At 4:40, PC sophomore Bill McCreary scored a shorthanded goal just seven seconds after the Wildcats had gotten a man out of the penalty box to give them five-on-four advantage. Tony Zancanaro’s home run pass caught McCreary splitting the UNH defensive tandem of Brian Yandle and Craig Switzer and the sophomore was in all alone. He then showed why he is the Friars’ top goalscorer, burying it for his fifth goal.
A turnover inside the UNH zone led to a 2-0 PC lead at 6:37. Jamie Carroll roofed it into the far corner and referee John Gravallese immediately signaled a goal, but the light remained off. After consultation first with the linesmen and then the goal judge, the tally stood.
UNH would generate better chances as the period progressed. This ranged from Sean Collins almost capitalizing when he caught Sims behind the net to a closing-minute power play that created several high-octane opportunities. None of them hit paydirt, however, and the period ended with PC holding a 2-0 lead.
UNH rallied to dominate the second period, especially over the last dozen minutes and came within a man-in-the-crease call of tying it. The Wildcats got within one on a Callander power-play goal at 6:08. The man-advantage unit moved the puck around counter-clockwise to Brett Hemingway below the goal line on the left side where he fed Callander in front. Sims saved Callander’s first shot, but the senior put in the rebound.
Within a minute, Matt Fornataro had appeared to score a highlight-reeler. Taking a Micflikier drop pass as the trailer, Fornataro executed a perfect toe tuck to elude his defender and square himself to the net and then roofed the puck into the right corner. The potential game-tying tally, however, was waved off because of a man in the crease.
Rather than get deflated, UNH used the tough break to crank up the pressure and would finish the period with a 29-15 margin in attempts which translated into 17-11 in official shots.
“They were getting the shots so they knew if they kept their legs moving and their energy going they could generate those types of shots,” Umile said.
Despite the pressure, however, the period ended 2-1 and could have even been 3-1 when the Friars counterattacked with a Zancanaro and Jon Rheault two-on-one. UNH netminder Jeff Pietrasiak, however, made the big glove save to keep his team within easy striking distance.
That distance was closed within four minutes of the third period when Micflikier found the top of the net from the slot. The win was then secured when Collins threaded his pass from left boards to Callander and the senior put away the game-winner.
New Hampshire returns to action on Tuesday at Merrimack while Providence hosts Northeastern on Sunday afternoon.