BOSTON — New Hampshire left no doubt that it deserved its No. 1 national ranking in Sunday’s Hockey East championship game.
With a dominating performance in every aspect of the game, UNH cruised to a 6-0 victory over a young Boston College squad that was never able to make a dent in the Wildcat armor. Top liners Jennifer Hitchcock and freshman Sam Faber each scored two goals and linemate Sadie Wright-Ward had one goal and two assists. Faber earned tourney MVP honors.
“Our team was certainly on a mission,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “Like games all year, we seemed to get stronger as the game went on.”
“I don’t think there is a better team in the country than UNH,” said Tom Mutch, BC coach. “If there is a better team, they must really be something, because that team is special.”
The win gave the Wildcats (32-2-1) their first postseason title in the league’s four-year history. UNH had lost the final games in 2003 and 2004.
“We wanted to win the [Hockey East] tournament for the respect of the tournament,” said Melissa Bourdon, Wildcat goalie who was named to the All-Tournament team. “We’ve never won it before, so it was a goal for us.”
But not, it was clear, the ultimate goal. After the final buzzer, the UNH players celebrated the win, but some might call the reaction subdued.
“At the beginning of the year, the players made a list of goals to achieve,” said McCloskey. “Now they have managed to achieve all their goals but one.”
That last goal is winning the NCAA tournament, and with this win the Wildcats earn Hockey East’s automatic bid. Going by the NCAA selection criteria, UNH will enter the tournament with the No. 1 seed. With a semifinal win at home, UNH would advance to the Frozen Four, which will take place in Minneapolis starting March 24. All games will be played on the Olympic ice surface that suits the Wildcats.
New Hampshire took a commanding three-goal lead in the opening period of play, and never looked back en route to the shutout win. All three opening scores came from New Hampshire’s top line players, all three of whom were named to the All-Tournament team. In fact, the awards were a clean UNH sweep.
“The top line has really become a dominating force,” said McCloskey. “[Center] Sadie Wright-Ward is so creative with the puck. Hitch [Jennifer Hitchcock] is your classic power forward, and Sam Faber, when I first saw her play, I said, ‘She’s going to win scoring titles.’”
The first two goals, scored early in the first period just a minute and a half apart, were nearly identical power play tallies. In both cases, defender Kacey Bellamy, skating near the right faceoff dot, threaded cross-ice passes to open Wildcat forwards for open looks at the net, first to Sam Faber, then to Sadie Wright-Ward. Martine Garland, who had both secondary assists, and Bellamy became that All-Tournament defensive pairing as a result.
“The key in the game was the special teams,” said McCloskey. “Anyone who watches our team has to see the way our D handles the puck. It makes our forwards that much more dangerous.”
The third New Hampshire tally was nearly scored when Faber and Wright-Ward had a give-and-go play that had the BC defender out of position. Faber couldn’t quite pull the trigger on the return pass, but once the puck went wide behind the net, she managed to center a pass to a crashing Jen Hitchcock.
Despite not getting their first shot until nearly the halfway mark of the first, the Eagles came on strong in the waning moments of the period, mostly on the strength of back-to-back penalties on New Hampshire that led to a five-on-three advantage.
The best scoring chance came on the BC power play with about three minutes left in the frame, as UNH netminder Melissa Bourdon and BC defenseman Maggie Taverna raced for a loose puck. Bourdon got to it first, but a swing of the stick by Taverna knocked the puck loose past Bourdon and through an empty crease. The shot wasn’t at quite the right angle to cross the goal line, and no Boston College player was there to knock it in.
As the two-man advantage expired, the wind seemed to be taken out of the sails of the Eagles.
In the second period, the only goal of the afternoon not scored by New Hampshire’s top line was potted by Shannon Clement, on a rush toward the goal mouth. Then Jennifer Hitchcock scored her second goal of the game on a blind backhanded goal as she was facing away from the net. Sam Faber added the final goal in the third with a tap-in from the corner of the crease.
“That’s a young BC team that we played,” said McCloskey, “and we brought our ‘A’ game. I have no doubt that they’ll be back and be back and challenging for league titles and national titles in the future.
“BC is where we were last year,” he added. “The difference from our team last year to now is a combination of two things — maturity, with the team growing from being in difficult situations; and depth, with talent that has really transformed this team.”
Boston College (20-11-4) is in the running for the final at-large berth, but won’t know its ultimate fate until the seeds are announced next weekend.
“Hopefully the chips will fall for us at the Heights,” said Mutch. “But we’ll be back and be back stronger.
“I’m not going to say that that we are satisfied just to be here, because we’re not,” said Mutch. “These kids are going to learn something from this game. And after they graduate and move on from hockey, when the going gets tough they’re going to have this game to call on to help them get through it.”