CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — When Boston College dealt No. 2 New Hampshire its last defeat on Nov. 5, the bounces did not go the Wildcats’ way. In today’s rematch, they made sure the outcome would not come down to chance.
New Hampshire (23-2-1, 12-1-1 Hockey East) went ahead 2-0 late in the first period and never looked back in a 6-1 win over the Eagles (13-9-4. 12-3-1), who had been the Wildcats’ closest competition in the league standings.
“That’s as solid a game as we’ve played all year,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “We moved the puck great on breakout, we moved it great in the offensive zone. We got great efforts from a lot of people.”
Among the great efforts, the one by freshman Sam Faber stood out. Fresh off her shorthanded third period game-winner against No. 10 Providence on Wednesday, she set up linemate Jennifer Hitchcock for the game’s first goal at 14:06 of the first period, and she netted a key insurance goal for a 3-0 lead with 3:16 to go in the second period.
On the first goal, Faber circled behind the net to the end line and fed Hitchcock wide-open on the opposite side for the easy finish.
“She passed it to me in the middle of the slot there, I can’t miss that,” Hitchcock said.
Faber’s second period goal showcased the most elaborate stickwork of anyone that afternoon. After receiving the puck in the slot from Hitchcock, she eluded a couple defenders, faked her shot several times before goalie Alison Quandt went down, and buried the puck upstairs.
“Faber showed why she might be the best freshman maybe in the country, but certainly the best freshman in our league,” McCloskey said. “She’s very confident, and she’s got some of the best moves I’ve seen. The kids tease her all the time, she waits till she fools the goalie 18 times, and she’s got the open net for a half hour before she puts it in. It’s almost like she’s taunting her, but she isn’t.”
With a goal and two assists in this win, Faber has scored 11 points over a six-game point scoring streak. She had a tougher time stickhandling against a more physical Providence team in two games last week, but she still scored a goal in each. Her line with Sadie Wright-Ward and Hitchcock has been clicking since they were reunited.
“Me, Hitch, and Sadie well, we just find each other really well outside the corners and coming down,” Faber said. “We make each other look good, so it works out.”
One unique aspect of UNH’s victory was the strong start in the first period. Hitchcock’s goal and Jackie Wedster’s deflection of a floating blue-line shot by Lindsey Caleo gave the Wildcats their first 2-0 first intermission lead since November. Prior to today, UNH had been outscored 8-7 during the first period in the 11 games this calendar year. Their 10-0-1 mark during that stretch relied on strong second periods, during which they outscored opponents in 10 of the games by combined 20-2 margin.
The Wildcats had gone four straight games without scoring in the first period and two straight without scoring the first goal.
“It’s definitely a big thing for us to get the first goal,” Hitchcock said. “The last couple games where we haven’t been getting it put us against the wall.”
UNH limited the Eagles to just seven shots over the first period. They had more success with eight shots in the third period, after the Wildcats had already gone up 6-0. Christin Stuart finally broke the ice for BC by scoring on a screen shot just inside the blue line with 3:21 to go. UNH outshot BC 38-15 for the game.
“One of the things our team has been doing so well the last month is we pin teams in and control the puck in the offensive zone for such extended periods that sometimes you wear them out,” McCloskey said. “So at the end of the game, you’re like, ‘They didn’t do much offensively,’ but problem was they were playing so much defense, it tires them out. A lot of teams do what BC did today, even if they break out, they dump it in because they’re spent.”
Unlike the 3-2 loss to BC in November, UNH dominated the special teams battle. In the defeat, UNH gave up a shorthanded goal and a power play goal. This time, the Wildcats dominated puck control in going 1-for-4 on the power play and only had to kill one penalty.
“I thought our power plays today were outstanding,” McCloskey said. “We only got one, but we moved it better.”
BC made strides this season by putting itself atop the league standings for a considerable period, but the team is still a long way from being a championship contender. Coach Tom Mutch hopes the Eagles will get another chance.
“That’s a terrific team, and they came with their ‘A’ game,” Mutch said. “They have all 20 kids playing together. They move the puck well, they shoot the puck, and they’re big and strong.
“We’re still in the building process. We’ve never been in this position where we’re playing for first place. It’s a learning experience. Hopefully the next time we face [UNH] is in the Hockey East championship.”
In the meantime, BC has another championship on its agenda–the Beanpot. The tournament kicks off against Northeastern, 5 p.m at Harvard. UNH, after a brutal schedule of four games against quality opponents in nine days, gets a much needed week off before a home rematch against the Friars.
When the Wildcats last lost at BC, Faber never imagined they would return to Chestnut Hill without losing again, but that is how the season played out. Now, with Wisconsin losing to St. Cloud, UNH likely has avenged its last defeat and set the stage for its return to No. 1 on the same afternoon.