DURHAM, N.H. — Any fan of New Hampshire or Maine would tell you when the two clubs get together, you’re in for high-intensity hockey. No one, though, could’ve predicted the entertainment value of Saturday’s 2-1 UNH win at the Whittemore Center.
In a game that featured 87 shots combined between the two clubs, goaltending was the highlight of the night with New Hampshire Kevin Regan stealing the show, making a career-high 46 saves, including 28 in the game’s final two periods.
“We talked earlier this week that [this weekend] was going to be six great periods of hockey, and that’s what it was,” said UNH head coach Dick Umile, whose club rallied for a win on Saturday after dropping a 4-2 decision to the Black Bears in the first game of the series.
It was difficult for anyone after the game to find superlatives strong enough to describe Regan’s play. What was equally impressive was that he was matched by not one, but two top-notch goaltending performances at the other end of the ice.
Ben Bishop (17 saves) made his customary start in net for the Black Bears but had to leave the game early in the second period after a collision with UNH’s Trevor Smith injured Bishop’s groin. He was replaced by inexperienced rookie netminder Dave Wilson (21 saves), who stood tall much of the evening and gave the Black Bears the chance to win the game.
“I was very proud of how [Wilson] competed,” said Maine head coach Tim Whitehead. “He was thrown into as tough a situation as you could be.”
Momentum played a major role in the opening period. After UNH came out guns blaring, at one point outshooting Maine, 11-3, the Black Bears responded midway through with the frame’s only goal.
After a UNH turnover during a penalty kill, Michel Leveille found rookie Teddy Purcell wide open at the left post. His shot into the open net spotted Maine the early lead at 12:24.
In the opening minutes of the second, Smith’s collision visibly shook Bishop, who spent three minutes on the ice while being attended to by Maine’s trainer. Though he’d return to action briefly, Wilson was forced into action at the 3:13 mark.
Said Whitehead about his decision to take Bishop out of the game, “These are the games guys train for He tried to stay in, but we do have more games this year. It would’ve been foolish for him to stay in there.”
Having only five appearances this season, with a 5.10 goals against average and a dismal .688 save percentage, Maine’s hopes might have appeared dim. Wilson, though, stood up to the test throughout the period, stopping six shots total in the frame, many from point-blank range. Unfortunately, though, he was no match for a UNH power play that peppered the rookie goaltender.
At 7:06, Matt Fornataro evened the game with a blast from the left faceoff dot with the man advantage. And at 11:40, Mike Radja’s wrister from the same spot trickled through the legs of Wilson to give UNH a 2-1 lead.
The second period became penalty marred by multiple scrums both before and after the whistle. In the midst of it all, though, UNH’s Smith was whistled for a five-minute major for charging that gave the Black Bears an optimal chance to tie or possibly take the lead.
Throughout the five minutes, Regan, and the crossbar, stood tall for UNH. Leveille had two incredible opportunities, clanging metal on his first bid at 14:38 and then getting robbed by Regan’s glove just 11 seconds later.
In total, Regan was forced to make 18 saves in the second enabling UNH to carry a 2-1 lead into the third.
Maine would muster 15 shots in the third, and that didn’t include a bid by Purcell that hit the post with 2:12 remaining. With Wilson pulled for an extra attacked, the Black Bears again would get a great look at goal when Mike Hamilton was set up alone in the slot. But as he did plenty of times throughout the night, Regan was there to make a key stop that eventually results in victory for the Wildcats.
The victory allows first-place New Hampshire (20-5-1, 15-3-1 Hockey East) to gain ground on its three closest pursuers in the Hockey East standings. Boston College and Boston University were both idle on Saturday in preparation for Monday’s Beanpot tournament, while Vermont dropped a 4-1 decision to Providence.
For Maine (17-8-2, 10-8-1 Hockey East), the fact that the club couldn’t muster a victory didn’t overshadow the fact in Whitehead’s eyes that his team played two excellent games, decidedly better than a 6-1 loss eight days ago at home versus Northeastern.
“We’re very disappointed not to win tonight, but we talked to the team about how far we’ve come in the last eight days,” said Whitehead. “We’ve really made a lot of progress.”