ORONO, Me. — With a last name like Hitchcock, it was only a matter of time before the New Hampshire forward provided a sense of terror to opposing defenses.
After Friday’s tie against the Maine, the No. 1 Wildcats (17-2-1, 8-1-1 Hockey East) got back to their winning ways. The Black Bears (10-5-5, 2-5-3) led 1-0 and 2-1, but Jennifer Hitchcock’s clutch two-goal performance led UNH to a 5-3 win Saturday at Alfond Arena.
“You have to give Maine a lot of credit with the way they played,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey “This was the kind of game where they did make us go out and earn it, and that is something you have to respect.”
Hitchcock’s first goal tied the game 2-2 at 13:55 of the second period, just over five minutes after the Black Bears had taken a 2-1 lead on a goal by Julie Poulin. As the Wildcats were on the power play, Hitchcock deflected in a shot from captain Martine Garland.
“Our second line has played well all season and between Leah [Craig], Sadie [Wright-Ward] and myself, we have been able to get a lot of points,” Hitchcock said. “Even though [Maine is] a rival for us, it’s about winning in conference, regardless of who we play.”
UNH needed just 34 more seconds to take its first lead on a goal by captain Nicole Hekle. Once the Wildcats cleared the puck, a streaking Craig, who had three points in the series opener, made her way down the ice and set up Hekle with a centering pass.
“We have a lot of juniors on our team and because we played together for a year, last year was a learning experience for us,” Hekle said. “Even though we have played well as a whole this season, that line of Jennifer, Sadie and Leah have done an amazing job.”
With 1:27 left in the second period, the Wildcats increased their lead to 4-2, just like their second intermission lead in Friday’s tie. The goal came on the power play as a lengthy pass from Garland found the stick of Hitchcock. The assist was Garland’s third of the game for a career high.
In the face of deficit, Maine rallied again for the second straight day. Brigitte LaFlamme cut the lead to 4-3. LaFlamme’s goal which came on the power play, was set up by a pass from Patricia Gagnon.
“If our lines keeps working hard like we have we should do well for our next game,” LaFlamme said. “We have to work on things like playing well when we are leading and just other things as well.”
Unlike yesterday, the Wildcats held their third period lead. Maine had a few quality scoring opportunities, goalie Brittany Busa stopped seven shots in the period. Busa’s start was the lone lineup change that McCloskey made after the 5-5 tie.
More than halfway into the third period, the Wildcats suppressed all chances of a Maine comeback with a shorthanded goal by Sadie Wright-Ward. As the Black Bears were looking to move the puck around for an open shot, Hekle intercepted a pass and darted her way down the left side of the ice. Once she got into the Maine zone, she played a pass to Wright-Ward to give the Wildcats a 5-3 lead. The goal was UNH’s seventh short-handed of the season, the best total in the nation.
New Hampshire extended its unbeaten streak to 13 games with the victory. The Black Bears’ loss snapped a nine-game home unbeaten streak and dropped them to 1-21-2 all-time against the Wildcats*. Maine remained five points back of Connecticut, who currently holds fourth place in a league with four postseason spots.
“We made some against a very good team that capitalized on them,” said Maine coach Guy Perron. “Now it’s just a matter of getting back to basics and believing we can win.”
*This article previously stated that Maine was 0-21-3 all-time against the Wildcats. USCHO regrets this error.