BOSTON — New Hampshire coach Brian McCloskey believed Saturday’s semifinal win over Maine did not feel like a 6-0 game.
But players like Sam Faber and Melissa Bourdon can do a lot to make a team look better on the scoreboard.
The conference’s top rookie Faber scored just 55 seconds into the game, and goalie Bourdon allowed that 1-0 lead to stand through several uncharacteristic Wildcat defensive breakdowns over the first two periods before UNH (31-2-1) pulled away.
On the critical first score, the conference’s top scorer Sadie Wright-Ward darted into the zone and drew two defenders. The puck was poked to a wide open Faber in the right faceoff circle, and she buried her shot into the opposite corner.
“Coach always tells me to shoot, so I shot,” Faber said.
The shot was a pleasant surprise for her coach.
“Sammy’s a deadly lurker,” McCloskey said. “Sadie and [Jen Hitchcock] tend to go into traffic, and Sam came in back. As soon as she got it, I knew they were in trouble. I knew she was going to get open, because she was in the back of the scrum, but I didn’t know if she would shoot. I’m glad that she did.”
Despite four power plays, UNH could not extend its lead, and Maine (17-9-6) was dangerous both shorthanded and on its own power play. The Maine penalty kill was not overly aggressive, but it played smart enough to disrupt UNH’s puck movement, and Maine goalie Genevieve Turgeon shined in her role.
“We tried to work hard in the defensive zone and not allow second shots, and really pack it in,” said Maine coach Guy Perron.
Meanwhile, Maine had several scoring chances of its own, both shorthanded and on the power play. Sonia Corriveau was Maine’s first period standout. Early in the game she stripped the puck from Nicole Goguen for a breakaway and hit the pipe. She killed one UNH penalty singlehandedly by drawing a penalty deep in the Wildcat zone, and she got off another dangerous shot shorthanded on UNH’s last penalty of the first period.
“Our defense played poor which has been one of our strengths this year,” McCloskey said of the first period. “One-on-one they were skating around us, we were being aggressive in the neutral zone on the wall, which we shouldn’t have been.”
Bourdon held her own despite the pressure, against a Maine team that had scored a season-best five goals against her. One of the highlights was a Maine power play, when she stopped three shots in quick succession. The 21 saves was the most she had since Jan .11, and the UNH team now has a 342:19 scoreless streak.
“I thought Maine played a great first period, if Melissa Bourdon doesn’t make a couple big saves we could be at the short end of that period,” McCloskey said. “We hadn’t faced a lot of dangerous situations, and Maine got them tonight. She looked solid. She was square.”
Both teams exhibited strong defensive zone coverage in the second period and neither allowed many opportunities, but UNH finally broke the game open on the power play.
With 3:38 to go in the second period, Amy McLaughlin and Wright-Ward worked the puck to Hitchcock at the top of the crease. With a pack of Maine defenders in her face, she backhanded the puck off the right post for the 2-0 lead.
UNH pulled away at 7:29 of the third period on a controversial goal by Lindsey Caleo, when most Maine players appeared to believe there should have been a whistle. Top scoring defensemen Kelly Law and Julie Poulin each got misconducts before the game was over, and Maine never recovered.
Faber scored her second goal of the night when she took the puck from Hitchcock and threaded in a shot from the slot for the 4-0 lead. Just minutes after hitting the inside of the crossbar, Jackie Wedster scored on a second-chance opportunity to make it a 5-0 game. Hitchcock found the net with eight second left to round out the scoring.
The Hockey East final appearance will be UNH’s third in four years. The win extended the team’s unbeaten streak to 26-0-1, the most in a single season by a team since women’s hockey became an NCAA sport.