PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It appears that New Hampshire has found a third line that it can depend upon.
In reality, the Wildcats’ trio of center Thomas Fortney and freshman wingers Paul Thompson and James vanRiemsdyk deserved top billing tonight, courtesy of their performance at Schneider Arena.
Thompson netted the game-winning goal 2:57 into overtime, putting the finishing touches on his first career hat trick, and combined with Fortney and vanRiemsdyk for 12 points as the No. 6 Wildcats came from behind on two different occasions to edge the host Providence College Friars, 5-4.
Providence’s loss in the recruiting battle for Thompsons services turned out to be New Hampshire’s gain on Saturday, as the Derry, N.H., native chose his state university over Dartmouth and the Friars when he made his college decision last year. Thompson’s winner was almost a carbon copy of his goal that tied the game with 8:12 remaining in regulation, as he drove down the slot to the net and skated onto vanRiemsdyk’s backhanded pass before snapping a shot inside the left post past Providence goalie Tyler Sims.
“We needed something coming out of the weekend,” Thompson said. “We needed a big win here. It was a good game for us, obviously a good game for me.”
New Hampshire (6-2-1, 4-2-1 Hockey East) rebounded from its 4-1 loss to league-leading Northeastern on home ice Friday night to salvage a two-point weekend. The Wildcats’ potent offense was back in fine form 24 hours after being stonewalled by Huskies’ goalie Brad Thiessen and his 37-save effort at the Whittemore Center, and New Hampshire improved to 6-0-0 overall when it scores two or more goals in a game.
“You’ve just got to have a short memory,” vanRiemsdyk said. “It’s a new night tonight. You’ve just got to keep throwing pucks to the net. (Thiessen) played unreal last night.”
One quick glance at New Hampshire’s media guide provided the answers to the success of its third unit on Saturday, a group which played together for the first time after head coach Dick Umile decided to break up line combinations that he termed ‘stale’ after the game. Thompson was the Eastern Junior Hockey League (EJHL) scoring champion and Most Valuable Player last season and vanRiemsdyk, a product of the U.S. National Development Program and a member of its Under-18 team last year, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2007 National Hockey League Entry Draft behind current Chicago Blackhawks rookie Patrick Kane.
“They absolutely played great,” Umile said. “I know one thing, we’re not touching that line. Obviously, the team responded.”
“The first shift we started to make some plays,” said Thompson, who enjoyed the company of 20 or so friends and family in the stands on Saturday and the challenge of playing against several of his teammates on last year’s version of the EJHL-champion New Hampshire Monarchs. “Everybody here is a good player. We started to click after the first couple of shifts or so.”
Providence (3-6-2, 3-3-2 HE) fired home three unanswered goals in the third period to overcome a 3-1 deficit, the last two coming a mere 11 seconds apart.
Greg Collins started the comeback when his innocent flip into the Wildcats’ zone took a funky bounce over the glove of New Hampshire goalie Brian Foster just nine seconds in.
The Friars gathered steam from there and tied the game when Jon Rheault walked in from the left point and fired a wrist shot into the top left corner on a power play at 10:25.
Providence took its second lead of the game off the ensuing faceoff when Pierce Norton raced down the right wing on a two-on-one and did the honors himself, beating Foster under the crossbar to complete his second two-goal game in as many nights and hand the hosts a 4-3 advantage.
“(Norton) played very well,” Providence head coach Tim Army said. “He’s really moving. He’s skating. He’s done a great job with himself conditioning-wise.”
New Hampshire regained its composure in time to draw even again. Fortney’s shot from the right wing was kicked directly up the slot by Sims and Thompson put away the rebound to erase Providence’s second one-goal lead of the game.
The Friars used their prolific power play to jump ahead in the opening period, as Providence cashed in for the 11th time in its last 26 chances with the man advantage when Norton roofed a backhander from the slot over a downed Foster at 14:50.
Thompson tied the game less than two minutes later when he one-timed vanRiemsdyk’s perfect pass out of the left wing corner and returned the favor to his classmate with 20.3 seconds left in the first when he set up vanRiemsdyk in the slot for his fourth goal of the season to make it 2-1.
New Hampshire doubled its lead with 2.3 seconds left in the second when defenseman Craig Switzer flipped a shot from the left point that made its way through traffic and beat a screened Sims inside the right post.
“I don’t take anything out of it,” Army said. “We lost the game; we should have won the game. We should have at least gotten a point. We should have given ourselves a better chance. We made some mistakes we shouldn’t have made when we got the lead and it cost us against a good team.”