DURHAM, N.H. — (By Jim Lothrop, USCHO Arena Reporter)
On Friday night, two freshmen provided the difference in leading the visiting team to victory. One night later, one freshman carried the home team to a win in front of a sellout crowd.
Freshman goaltender Kevin Regan outdueled his better-known counterpart at the other end of the ice, Jimmy Howard, by stopping 29 of 30 shots, as No. 7 New Hampshire defeated No. 15 Maine, 2-1, at the Whittemore Center.
When asked if playing against Maine’s Howard provided any additional incentive to play at the top of his game, Regan said: “Yeah, definitely, because you know you’re not going to score much on him. You just don’t want to give up a bad goal.”
Regan, out of South Boston, Mass., would give up no bad goals on this night. The only blemish on what was otherwise a perfect night for Regan was a goal scored by one of Friday night’s heroes for the Black Bears, freshman Bret Tyler, who scored his fifth of the season in the second period to cut into a 2-0 UNH lead. Friday night it was Tyler (one goal) and fellow Maine freshman Billy Ryan (two goals) who provided all the offense Maine needed in a 3-1 victory.
With the win, New Hampshire gained a much-needed split with the Black Bears and improved to 18-7-3 (11-3-2 Hockey East). Maine saw its eight-game unbeaten streak come to an end, and fell to 15-9-6 (10-4-4).
“No, we’re not,” sighed Maine coach Tim Whitehead when asked if he was satisfied with the split with the Wildcats. “I’m sure UNH isn’t, either. I thought our freshmen class had a really good weekend, and that’s a positive.
“I feel better about our chances of making the NCAA tournament now.”
New Hampshire coach Dick Umile was pleased that his team played with more intensity than the previous night.
“I told the team before the game tonight that we needed a great team effort, and I congratulated them after the game because I think it was a great team effort,” said Umile.
“We brought it to the net a lot better tonight. We got shots tonight, and last night we didn’t.”
For the second straight Saturday, Regan came in and led UNH to a win after the team had lost the previous night. On Jan. 29, Regan backstopped New Hampshire to an 8-3 decision over No. 12 UMass-Lowell, one night after the River Hawks shellacked the Wildcats 7-0 at the Tsongas Arena.
Regan had to be ready when he faced an early tester from sophomore Keith Johnson on a Maine 3-on-2 rush in the first period. Later in the period, he again had to be quick on a shot from the left faceoff circle by Black Bear captain John Ronan.
But UNH scored first, on a play that was set up by the hard work of senior defenseman Robbie Barker.
Barker carried the puck from the Maine blue line to the left of Howard, went around the net, and fed the puck nicely out in front to freshman Mike Radja. The ensuing shot by Radja was redirected by sophomore Josh Ciocco past a stunned Howard for Ciocco’s eighth goal of the year, to a raucous reception from the “White Out at the Whit” crowd.
While Regan continued to open eyes with his impressive play, Howard was as solid as he always seems to be.
He thwarted a Sean Collins attempt to make it 2-0, and just seconds later, he got just enough of a shot by UNH’s Matt Fornataro to keep it a one-goal game.
The Wildcats could thank some good penalty killing on their part for going to the locker room after one period up 1-0. Maine had back-to-back power plays late in the period but couldn’t dent Regan.
“I thought UNH played really well,” said Whitehead. “They outworked us in a lot of situations. They got that power-play goal, and that was the difference. We couldn’t convert on [our power plays].”
The man-advantage goal Whitehead was referring to came off the stick of sophomore Brett Hemingway. After Howard somehow stopped two point-blank shots from near the crease, Hemingway finally put the third rebound home for his 16th goal of the season.
New Hampshire came into the weekend series with the No. 1 ranked power play in the nation. The Wildcats went 1-4 with the man advantage, while holding the Black Bears to 0-4.
Maine didn’t go away lightly, however, and got just what the Wildcats didn’t want, which was a goal with 47 seconds left in the second period.
As New Hampshire killed off the last few seconds of a power play, Maine junior forward Jon Jankus found Tyler streaking over the blue line. The speedy Tyler sent a wrist shot which eluded a partially screened Regan to get Maine back in the game.
Maine’s best chance to tie the game came at 11:00 of the third period. Jankus was planted at the doorstep, but his stuff-in attempt was just able to be stopped by Regan, despite what several Maine players thought was the tying goal. Maine also had a power play of its own at 14:05 of the third, but UNH held serve and didn’t allow a shot on goal.
An ill-advised hitting-from-behind penalty by Maine’s Michel Leveille with just over two minutes to play helped to stymie any further Black Bear attacks, and in fact Howard had to be at his best on the ensuing UNH power play to keep it a 2-1 final score. Howard also had 29 saves on the night.
“It’s been huge,” said Regan when asked about how the increased playing time has helped his confidence. “Sometimes it’s tough when you’re not playing as much. It’s tough to get into a rhythm. But I’ve been playing the past three weekends which has really helped my confidence.”
Added senior captain Preston Callander: “This was a big night for us. We played physically, and that was the difference for us. We did a better job of getting to the net.
“We couldn’t lose four points to Maine this weekend.”
Maine doesn’t see action again until Feb. 18 and 19, when the Black Bears play a pair at Providence. New Hampshire returns to action Friday, Feb. 11, when the Wildcats host Massachusetts.