DURHAM, N.H. — As is the case in most sports, if you don’t capitalize on early opportunities that come your way, chances are you’re going to have a long night as well as a loss on the ledger sheet.
And that’s just the way it looked for New Hampshire Saturday night. Despite falling behind 3-0, however, the Wildcats clawed their way back to earn a 3-3 tie at the Whittemore Center.
The Wildcats (1-2-1, 0-0-0 Hockey East) out shot North Dakota (4-1-1, 0-0-0 WCHA), 16-6, in the opening frame, and had a boatload of chances to light the lamp. In fact, just minutes into the game, left winger Jerry Pollastrone had as sure-fire a goal as you’ll ever see.
With Fighting Sioux star netminder Jordan Parise down and out and the left side of the wide-open net to shoot at, Pollastrone whiffed on the shot, and yet another scoring chance went by the boards for the Wildcats.
And for the third straight game, despite owning a huge territorial advantage, New Hampshire found itself on the short end of a 1-0 score at the end of one, courtesy of T.J. Oshie’s third goal of the season for the Fighting Sioux. Travis Zajac won the face off in the UNH end back to Brian Lee, whose shot from the point was stopped by Regan, but the rebound popped out to a wide-open Oshie.
Things were looking much the same way that they did the previous night, when New Hampshire again held a big edge in shots through two periods, only to be tied, 1-1, in a game they would eventually lose, 3-2.
It got worse for New Hampshire, as the North Dakota lead grew to 2-0 and then 3-0 in the second period, with another Sioux star, junior Drew Stafford, pocketing both goals for his 3rd and 4th of the year.
Skating over the New Hampshire blue line just 32 seconds into the middle frame, Stafford sent what appeared to be a routine wrist shot on goal. However, the shot seemed to handcuff Regan, and the puck bounced off him and into the net for a 2-0 UND advantage.
“I was thinking 100 percent that I had it,” said Regan. ” It’s a shot I have to save. We all knew that we couldn’t come away with no points this weekend. I just said to myself, “There’s always the next [shot].”
Stafford would get his second tally thanks to some great work by his line mate Zajac, who pestered Yandle enough coming out of the New Hampshire end that he finally wrestled the puck away from him. Stafford had the puck a few feet from the crease at that point, and sent it under the crossbar.
An untimely penalty by Stafford, however, along with some luck on a deflection, got New Hampshire was back in the game less than four minutes after North Dakota had gone up 3-0.
Brett Hemingway fired a wrist shot that deflected off a North Dakota defenseman’s stick and past Parise, and the comeback was on for New Hampshire.
“They’re a good hockey team,” said Hakstol “I think we took not a good penalty, and then they get a goal on a deflection off our guy’s stick.”
Hemingway would get his second goal of the game later in the period, and freshman Trevor Smith got the equalizer in the third period, as the Wildcats clawed their way back for a hard-earned tie.
Positioned at the left face-off circle in the North Dakota zone while on the power play, Hemingway sent a shot towards the net. It ended up going through Parise’s wickets, much to the netminders surprise, who seemed to be playing Hemmingway’s shot as a pass.
“I was looking to throw it on net, to create a rebound. Definitely was not thinking 5-hole,” said Hemmingway with a grin.
Smith found himself at the right place at the right time thanks to patience displayed by sophomore Matt Fornataro, who skated patiently and waited until he saw an opening for a shot. His blast was stopped by Parise, but Smith was in position to bang home the rebound.
A freshman, Smith said the team remained focused despite being down three goals.
“The older guys really calmed us down, and got us focused on what we had to do,” said Smith, who last year was third in the United States Hockey League in scoring while playing for Omaha.
Both teams had equal chances to win it in overtime. Freshman Ryan Duncan almost sent the Wildcat faithful home disappointed just 20 seconds into the extra period off a turnover in the New Hampshire end, but sophomore goaltender Kevin Regan came up big and thwarted the chance.
Junior Jacob Micflikier created a great chance for New Hampshire with 46 seconds left in OT, circling in from the right and getting off a laser from the slot that sent Parise sprawling.
“A good weekend of hockey, well-played between two good teams,” said North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol. “Maybe justly so it ended in a tie. It was entertaining hockey.”
“I thought we showed some good character. It was good hockey,” countered New Hampshire coach Dick Umile. “I thought the guys carried the first period, with nothing to show for it. Then they score and we’re down 3-0. That’s hockey. It’s crazy sometimes. You can outplay the other team and have nothing to show for it sometimes.
The Wildcats poured 43 shots on Parise, but could not come away with the victory. Meanwhile, Regan turned aside 25 shots in the tie.
North Dakota hosts defending national champion Denver next weekend, while New Hampshire travels to play Massachusetts on Friday.