DURHAM, N.H. — Freshman defenseman Blake Kessel, double-shifting on the power play because of an injury to Jerry Pollastrone, scored with 2:02 remaining in regulation to lift New Hampshire over Vermont, 3-2.
UNH had dominated the second period only to give a goal away on a turnover, then after taking an early third period lead on Alan Thompson’s first career goal had surrendered the equalizer within little more than a minute.
As a result, it fell to the UNH power play, the unlikeliest of heroes, to pull out the win. After going 0-for-14 last weekend while getting swept by Boston University and failing to capitalize on its first three opportunities in this game, the man advantage came through. Kessel dropped down from the point to collect a pass from Greg Collins and beat UVM goaltender Rob Madore from the left faceoff circle.
“It was a great look from Collins across the seam,” Kessel said. “That’s what we were trying to do, find little seams in the power play after the struggles last weekend. We wanted more movement. Somehow it found its way in.”
When asked about double-shifting after Pollastrone sustained a shoulder injury, Kessel smiled.
“At that point in the game, 2-2 on the power play with two minutes left, you want to be out on the ice,” he said. “Any time I can get on the ice, I’m out there.”
The win could prove decisive in the Hockey East race. Had Vermont won, the third place Catamounts would have held a commanding six point lead over UNH. Instead, the Wildcats remain within striking range, two points out.
They also moved a point ahead of Boston College, with whom they were tied for fourth place and the final home ice playoff berth. While UNH won, BC had to settle for a 2-2 tie with Providence.
The win in the Wildcats’ lone game this weekend also got the taste of last weekend’s sweep out of their mouths.
“It’s a huge win,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “Our first goal is to get home ice in Hockey East. That was a huge win for us to stay alive for home ice.
“We got stronger as the game went along. From the net out we did a lot of little things well. We just beat a real good team.”
Despite the last minute nature of the loss, Vermont coach Kevin Sneddon made no excuses.
“Quite frankly, UNH played a lot better than we did,” he said. “Our defense had one of their worst games.”
Briefly in the third period, it appeared that a Hollywood ending was in store for the Wildcats and senior Alan Thompson who scored the first goal of his injury-plagued career. Pollastrone, who had not yet hurt his shoulder, quickly fished the puck out of the net even though the goal was initially credited to Bobby Butler.
At 7:15, however, Vermont’s Brian Roloff put a shot on net and Viktor Stalberg deflected it in from the right post to tie it, 2-2.
The two sides exchanged chances until a Catamount took down James van Riemsdyk to give UNH the fateful power play with less than three minutes remaining.
Missed opportunities marked an opening period in which the two teams combined for 22 shots but no goals.
Ironically, the best chance of the entire period came in the closing seconds when the puck came out of the right corner to Stalberg on the left post, but UNH goaltender Brian Foster came up with the save.
The scoreless trend last only 49 seconds into the second period when Peter LeBlanc got the puck to linemate Paul Thompson in the right faceoff circle and the New Hampshire native roofed it for the game’s first goal.
The teams then traded good chances, LeBlanc and Phil DeSimone for UNH and Dean Strong and Brian Roloff for Vermont, before a turnover tied the game.
All in all, though, the Wildcats were getting the best of it by a good margin until a self-inflicted wound tied the score.
An ill-advised UNH pass in the defensive zone hit Vermont’s Jack Downing, who made the most of the gift-wrapped opportunity beating Foster block-side high.
As a result, the two teams went into the second intermission still tied despite UNH’s 25-10 lopsided advantage in attempted shots and a similar 12-6 domination in shots on goal.
Both teams are off until next weekend.