DURHAM, N.H. — All season long, New Hampshire’s strongest period has been the second. Sunday against Providence, the No. 2 Wildcats took their play after the first intermission to another level.
Trailing 1-0 after a first period it had dominated, UNH (21-2-1, 10-1-1 Hockey East) exploded for four goals in the second period and three in the third period for the 7-2 win over the No. 10 Friars (13-8-4, 7-3-2). It was the program’s biggest win over Providence since the 1997-98 national championship season.
“I think falling behind galvanized us,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “If you want to win the league and be a national tournament team, you’ve got to take care of business at home, and the kids just took it on their shoulders and got after it.”
The game’s momentum shifted when Providence took four penalties in the first six minutes of the second period, including a 10-minute misconduct to All-League defenseman Kathleen Smith. The shorthanded defensive unit struggled on UNH’s Olympic-sized ice.
“In a game like this, every mistake is magnified in a very big way, it’s young kids wanting to give you everything they’ve got, but they don’t know how to do it in a constructive way,” Providence coach Bob Deraney said of his team’s penalty troubles. “You’re wasting a tremendous amount of energy just trying to stay even. That was the turning point of the game, and we could never catch up after that.”
Sophomore Sadie Wright-Ward, fresh off her game-winner against No. 6 Mercyhurst on Friday, finally made Providence pay for its mistakes with a power play goal at 7:02 of the first period. Exhibiting good puck movement, sophomore Leah Craig gathered a rebound from Martine Garland’s shot at the point and fed Wright-Ward wide open on the left side. Wright-Ward’s initial shot was stopped by Providence goalie Jana Bugden, but the rebound went right back, she roofed the puck to tie the game, and extended her point streak to 12 games.
“We came into today saying that we can’t take penalties, especially on the big sheet with their great power play,” said Providence captain Karen Thatcher. “We tested that today, and learned the hard way The penalties gave them momentum, and took a lot away from us. We lost a ton of composure as soon as we started stepping into the box.”
With the game tied 1-1 at the halfway point both goalies seemed in control. UNH junior Melissa Bourdon’s play was crucial to killing two Wildcat penalties at 8:25 and 11:02 of the second period. Bugden faced 30 shots in the first two periods alone.
Bugden’s play earned the praise of both coaches. She had success coming out of the net to challenge UNH early in the second period, but that aggression came back to haunt her when the Wildcats took the lead with 5:28 to go. As she came out to the left side, the puck landed right on the stick of Lindsay Hansen, who fed Nicole Hekle on the opposite side for the empty-net finish and the 2-1 lead.
“That was lucky, but also a good play on our part,” McCloskey said. “The kids read [Bugden] was going to throw it over there, and they covered it, and Nikki stepped off the back side. I felt bad for Jana because she had been playing well, and that was a bad goal at a bad time for them.”
The Wildcats didn’t waste any time burying another pair to extend their lead. Shannon Clement, one of UNH’s hottest players as of late, deflected in a feed from Garland for the 3-1 lead. Then in the final minute on the power play, defenseman Amy McLaughlin found some space in the left faceoff circle and buried the puck for the 4-1 lead.
“In the middle round, it was like we’ve got them on the ropes, the bell wasn’t going off, and the knockout punch was coming,” McCloskey said.
For the second period, UNH outshot Providence 19-8, after a mere 11-7 margin in the first period.
“The second period we just took it to them,” said junior tri-captain Martine Garland. “We just kept firing on net trying to get at their goalie. In the first period, we didn’t really show her what we’re made of It’s frustrating when you’re down a goal and outshooting a team. You know you need to step it up for the next period.”
Garland matched her career high with three assists, the last coming on the fourth goal. McCloskey said Garland and a number of the defensemen had improved in getting the puck to the net.
UNH put any Providence comeback hopes out of reach early in the third period. A scrum in front of the Friar net led to a penalty shot by Craig, and she buried it in the top-left corner. Lindsey Caleo converted a 2-on-1 with Clement for the 6-1 lead a minute later, and Sam Faber made it a 7-1 game.
“They’re big, so it’s kind of hard for me being so little to get to the net, but I just kept going and the puck was sitting there,” Faber said.
Providence’s Erin Normore scored a power play goal and a feed from Thatcher at 9:11 of the third period, but the game was far out of reach by that point.
The Friars also scored the game’s first goal on the power play. With 4:16 to go in the first period, Thatcher converted on a fourth-chance opportunity that began with a Smith shot from the point. The Friars’ power play success was one of the day’s bright points leading into Wednesday’s rematch with the Wildcats.
“We had a little trouble getting in the zone and setting up, but once we did, we started moving the puck well, getting some good chances and hopefully that will help us Wednesday as well,” Thatcher said.