DURHAM, N.H. — Hockey East top seed and nationally-ranked No. 4 New Hampshire got a goal in each period from three different goal-scorers, and held on to down a
tenacious Providence College team that needed a win here to keep its season alive. The 3-1 final score, which included an empty net tally, gave the Wildcats the automatic berth in the NCAA tournament that comes with the Hockey East crown.
This pairing of teams is no surprise in some sense. New Hampshire and Providence have met in the Hockey East championship game in three out of five years since the league was formed. No team from the league has won either the regular season or the postseason Hockey East title other than one of these two squads.
However, the motivation for each team was different. Providence needed the Hockey East autobid to continue its season, while New Hampshire, a lock
for the NCAA tournament anyway, wanted to head into the national tournament on a high note and secure home ice for the NCAA quarterfinals.
“I thought the game was as advertised,” said UNH coach Brian McCloskey. “They had a lot at stake. And whenever you have a senior goaltender [like
PC's Jana Bugden] you have extra motivation.”
PC relied quite heavily on Bugden, who made 34 saves in the game today, after making 33 in a 3-2 win over Boston College in the semifinals. Bugden
was named the MVP of the tournament, the first first time in the short history of the women’s Hockey East tournament that the MVP has come from the losing team.
“I’ve never been prouder of a team than I was of this one,” said PC coach Bob Deraney. “And we’ve been on the winning side of this game. But I’ve never been prouder that I was today, with the way the team played.
“I’ve said before that whenever you have a goalie, you are in every game,” he added. “Bugden gave us a chance to win.”
“You have to get her moving,” said UNH’s Sam Faber, who was named to the All-Tournament team. “They have such a strong defense that it is hard to get any movement.”
New Hampshire’s Kacey Bellamy scored the game’s first goal just seconds after what had been the back-end of a two-man advantage expired. Bellamy took a pass from captain Jennifer Hitchcock from behind the net, and scored in the wide open left side of the basket. The net was empty because Hitchcock, who had a goal and an assist in yesterday’s game, took a shot on the right-hand side of the net, which got Providence goalie Jana Bugden to drop to the ice to block the side of the net. Bugden couldn’t recover in time to stop Bellamy’s shot.
“It would have been deflating if we hadn’t scored at the end of that power play sequence,” said McCloskey. “We were moving the puck really well and generating a lot of chances.”
The slow start was the second in a row for the Friars. PC had been outshot 15-3 by BC in yesterday’s semifinal, while in today’s game UNH had a 13-6 first period edge.
Also for the second straight day, the upstart Friars came back to tie the game, and Minnesota-Dulth transfer Mari Pehkonen spurred the scoring. Pehkonen, an All-Tournament selection, gave linemate Erin Normore a pass that sent her on a breakaway deep in the New Hampshire zone. Normore got off the shot, which went right between the legs of UNH goalie Melissa Bourdon.
The lead was short-lived however, as New Hampshire regained the lead just three minutes later, on Wildcat Lindsey Caleo’s eighth goal of the season. Caleo slid behind the PC net to pick up a loose puck, spin around the net, and shot high over Bugden’s shoulder. The goal, which made the score 2-1, proved to be the game-winner.
“Caleo is crafty, coming behind the goal,” said McCloskey. “She made the goalie make a move. Bugden is very agressive, covering pucks, cutting down angles. You have to get her moving, like Lindsey did today.”
“Everyone was exactly where we wanted them to be,” said Caleo. “We created a turnover, and I tried to do the wraparound that I always do. I almost lost it — I know I would have heard about it from the coach if I had,” she joked.
Losing the lead was unfortunate, said Deraney, but not devastating. “We were down 2-0 to BC in the semifinal, but we came back to win. As long as it was a one goal deficit, I thought the game was within reach.”
The third period saw New Hampshire dominate the ice territorially, as UNH forwards spent much of the period in the Providence offensive zone. The shots were fairly limted, but the Friars had limited offensive chances to tie the game. UNH could not put the game away.
“We knew that we had to get to the outside to get some chances,” said McCloskey. “Providence has a very good defense, they are very good at collapsing on the puck defensively. So we knew we would have to get the puck through the defense, and hope for some good bounces.”
The best Friar chance came with about four minutes remaining in the period, as Sonny Watrous sent Brittony Nelson in on a break, but Bourdon made the save, and Erin Normore couldn’t quite get her stick on the rebound in front of the empty net.
As a loss in this game would end the Providence season, Deraney decided to pull the goalie with 2:18 left in the third period, following a time out. PC had several chances to score, but eventually Faber came up with the empty net goal to seal the win for UNH.