DURHAM, N.H. — Had you been anywhere in the vicinity of the Whittemore Center at about 3 p.m. on Saturday, you might have been able to hear a big, long sigh of relief emanating from 1,607 fans of the University of New Hampshire.
Sighs mixed with cheers, as UNH senior Sadie Wright-Ward deposited the game-winning goal with 2:40 gone in overtime to lift the No. 3 Wildcats to a 3-2 NCAA quarterfinal triumph over upset-minded No. 6 St. Lawrence.
Wright-Ward, who hails from Durham, threaded in her 20th goal of the season through a screen that had collected in front of Saints goalie Meaghan Guckian.
The first overtime goal for UNH in an NCAA tournament contest staved off a rousing upset bid by St. Lawrence, while insuring the ‘Cats a Frozen Four appearance next weekend in Duluth.
As for the goal that got them there, it was one that neither Wright-Ward or Guckian actually saw go in.
I blanked out a little bit, said Wright-Ward. We were aggressive on our forecheck, and we stuck with that. The puck popped loose, and I just put my head down and shot. I realized it went in when Leah [Craig] tackled me.
The puck appeared to have skipped off a St. Lawrence defender before finding space inside the right post.
In any event, Guckian said she didnt get a look at it as it came in on her.
Not much, said Guckian. I saw the puck in the back of the net. I heard the release of the shot, and I went down. That was [it].
St. Lawrence, which had handed UNH one of its three losses early in the season, surprised the higher-ranked Wildcats by taking a 1-0 first-period lead at 4:39.
Saints senior Sabrina Harbec pounced on a loose puck in the UNH end, then slid it across the crease to a waiting Carson Duggan.
Duggan promptly slammed her 21st goal into the open left side. It was the first goal scored against UNH goalie Kayley Herman in three games, and ended her lengthy shutout streak at 149:28.
The Wildcats knotted the score 1-1 on Courtney Birchards tally at 6:28 of the second period.
Birchard pilfered the puck inside the blue line, swiveled to the left side to draw out Guckian before rifling in her eighth goal of the season.
A minute later, Harbec was robbed by Herman from point-blank range.
But at 9:36, Harbec restored the St. Lawrence lead, 2-1, with a slapshot from the high slot.
You get to this point in the season, said UNH coach Brian McCloskey, and you wonder sometimes that its not going to be your day. But Ive believed in this team all year. We have a lot of resilency. [Still] youre down 2-1, and youre thinking, are we going to get this done.
In the third period, Guckian frustrated the Wildcats by making a host of clutch stops.
Among them were ones she pulled off in succession on Wright-Ward and Birchard at 12:48.
I give (Guckian) a lot of credit, said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan, for getting us here. Shes an unheralded player who didnt get a chance to make any kind of an All-Star team. But she gave us a chance.
Then at 13:27, UNH freshman Jenn Wakefield one timed in a slapshot from the left dot, which knotted the game again, 2-2, and set the stage for Wright-Wards dramatic game winner.
It might have gone off Leahs butt, said Wright-Ward. Im not really sure. I have no idea. Thank God it went in.