DURHAM, N.H. — Wildcats’ fans should not be disappointed about the departure of Hockey East Player of the Year Kevin Regan anymore, since junior Brian Foster stepped up during No. 7 UNH’s 5-1 win over visiting No. 14 Wisconsin before a sell-out crowd of 6,501 at the Whittemore Center
The Wildcats are now (11-0-1) in the last 12 season openers-quite a feat-but the first period of this one was almost like watching an everyday team practice. Instead of scoring goals, the teams decided to play ‘pass the puck’ and see who could show off their moves. Wisconsin has some quick, skilled skaters on their roster, and they showed it during a penalty-filled first period.
“I thought he [Foster] handled everything comfortably tonight, very calming in the net,” UNH Coach Dick Umile said. “He handled the pucks, especially the shots that were coming in the second period on [Wisconsin's] power play when they were throwing it to the net.”
Right after the puck dropped in the second period, the blandness of the first 20 minutes was soon forgotten.
Wisconsin started it off by attacking deep in the UNH zone. At 3:43, Wisconsin’s John Mitchell scored their only goal off a pass from Ryan McDonagh.
However UNH took control the rest of the game. On a power play, Kevin Kapstad took a slap shot from just inside the blue line, but the puck flew over Badgers’ goalie Scott Gudmandson’s head, slamming the boards behind the net. Blake Kessel was there to grab it and dish it to James van Riemsdyk, who dumped it glove side in the net at 6:29.
UNH kept the momentum, quickly building on their lead. After a struggle behind the Wisconsin net, Alan Thompson and Steve Moses got the puck out to Paul Thompson, who was waiting stick side to put it in the lower left corner past Gudmandson at 7:08.
The aggressiveness and physical domination continued, and the 11 penalties in the second period included a surprising unsportsmanlike conduct call to Wisconsin’s Patrick Johnson and UNH co-captain Joe Charlebois at 11:45.
Just as UNH reached even-strength, the puck was cleared to the Wisconsin zone, and with bad judgment, Gudmandson left his territory to get it. However, UNH’s Mike Sislo beat him to it, getting an unassisted easy point in the wide open net at 18:55.
The drama continued in the third with nine more penalties and two more exciting goals. UNH’s co-captain Greg Collins had an aggressive drive to the Badgers’ zone, knocking Gudmandson in the net with the puck at 1:47 into the third.
“Dries made a nice move to the blue line and he got it back to me and I just tried to get rid of it as quick as I could,” said Collins. “I tried to surprise the goalie and it went in for me.”
Umile has high regard for Collin’s aggressive work ethic on the ice and winning approach to the game.
“Greg Collins sets the standards for us the way he works,” Umile said. “We talked about that this year with the team, to work the way he does with that attitude in the locker room.”
At 17:37, Danny Dries swiftly crossed over the puck to center Peter LeBlanc who then wristed it in the hole above Gudmandsons left shoulder.
Wisconsin head coach Mike Eaves seems to think the trouble in net and elsewhere on the ice is because of the youngness of his club, but playing a team like UNH is good experience for his players.
“We got rattled a little bit coming in with a young group,” said Eaves. “The first goal was a shot over the net and he [Gudmandson] didn’t know where it went and his first reaction should have been to go back to the net, but he looked around first and I think that was a young mistake. Obviously the third goal is one he’d like to have back again, but you can do this a thousand times in practice, that drill, but until you do it under a gun and in a building like this, you’ve got to learn to do these things under fire. The experience will help him; that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to play him here.”
Foster may be a junior, but his experience is comparable to a younger goalie with not many starts under his belt. However, lack of experience made no difference to Foster, because it’s the preparation that built his confidence and ability that helped the Wildcats win on opening night.
“I’ve been preparing for this [his first start in the first game of season] for two years pretty much,” Foster said. “I was really looking forward to it, playing and getting the start, and the team really helped me out with five goals and the defense let me see everything. So the whole team came together and played really well.”