BOSTON — There’s a new kid in town.
In a game that featured a little bit of everything — the favorite being down by two goals at the halfway point, teams trading third-period leads, tied scores of 2-2, 3-3, and 4-4, and a lengthy overtime session complete with a power play — No. 10 Connecticut (16-11-8) ended No. 8 New Hampshire’s stranglehood on the Hockey East tournament final when team captain Tiffany Owen sent a slapshot past UNH backup netminder Brittany Busa at the 10:27 mark of overtime for a 5-4 final score. UConn goaltender Kaitlyn Shain finished with 32 saves for the overtime win. The season is likely over for UNH (21-8-6).
With UConn having the best season in the short history of its women’s hockey program, which included taking three of four points in the most recent regular season series between these two teams, it seemed that the time might be ripe for the first Hockey East championship game that wouldn’t feature UNH and Providence. Owen’s overtime gamewinner advanced the Huskies for the first time in three seasons.
“The nice thing is that they have the history,” said UConn coach Heather Linstad. “When you are starting a program, you want to make your own history.”
The win sets up a meeting between UConn and Providence in tomorrow’s title bout, which Providence has won each of the previous two seasons. For the first time, the winner of this postseason tournament will earn the Hockey East autobid to the NCAA Tournament.
“That’s what I was brought here for,” joked Linstad. She was hired five years ago, and her team hit the ice for the first time the next year, with this year’s senior class then freshmen. Nine of those players remain on the team.
“We’re not ready to finish playing,” said Owen, who has been with the program from the beginning.
The chances for UConn to advance were not particularly bright at the midpoint of the third period. UNH had rallied from a deficit in the early goings of the frame to score two goals — a wrister from Lindsey Caleo and a fluttering puck that was batted in by Jennifer Hitchcock — just 44 seconds apart.
But Jaclyn Hawkins, the top scoring freshman on UConn’s team, made the most of a faceoff in the offensive zone when she banged a puck through traffic and past a sprawling Busa (eight saves) and sent the game careening toward the first overtime in Hockey East Tournament play.
“We’ve given away some games this year where we had a lead late in the game,” said Linstad. “As long as we played our game they knew we could be successful.”
UConn, after being outshot by a 12-2 margin in the first period, scored the first goal of the game early in the second period off a third rebound. When the first two saves carried UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon (nine saves) out of position, UConn forward Leslie Hurlburt was able to slide the third chance into the right side of the net.
UConn took a 2-0 lead on the power play with a tic-tac-toe play that originated with Jacylyn Hawkins, was redirected by Alicia Ramolla, and ended on the stick of team captain Tiffany Owens, who launched a shot into the back of the net.
UNH cut the lead in half with a 4-on-4 goal just 1:16 later, as Leah Craig put a shot on Shain that was initially stopped, but trickled over the line for the goal.
Before the end of the period, UNH knotted the score at two apiece when UNH defenseman Becky Peters scored a sniper’s goal over Shain’s far shoulder and into the corner of the net.
As the third period opened, UConn regained the lead with another power play goal that had carried over from the waning moments of the second period, which set the stage for UNH’s two goal comeback just a few minutes later.
“I thought we gave them some easy goals, while we had to work hard for everything we got,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “You can’t win playoff games doing that. UConn’s a good team, and they did some good things tonight. I think they’ll give Providence a real tough time.”