DURHAM, N.H. — It was a game that during the preseason you marked down as a must-see contest between perennial powerhouses, likely a pivotal contest in the Hockey East race: Boston University at New Hampshire. Instead, the rivals entered the game in unaccustomed fashion, neither in the national rankings for the first time in memory, UNH with a 3-6-2 overall record and BU at 3-6-0.
The two points, though, were every bit as important as usual, though not entirely for the same reasons, and UNH took them both by winning the special teams battle and dominating in the third period. The Wildcats scored two power-play goals and killed all five penalties they took.
Bobby Butler scored the game-winner on a five-on-three power play midway through the second period, after which UNH flew past a Terriers’ squad that in the third period seemed ill-equipped to handle the Wildcats’ speed.
“We’ve been looking to play a 60-minute game and I thought we played one tonight from start to finish,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We had good speed and quickness and specialty teams. We had some power play [goals] and killed penalties. A good team effort. We’re playing much better defensively.”
The win lifts UNH to a lukewarm-at-best 4-6-2 overall record but also a share of first place in Hockey East along with Boston College, which also won on the evening. (Both teams leapfrogged inactive Massachusetts and Massachusetts-Lowell.)
“It’s been a crazy season,” Umile said. “We’ve played a tough schedule non-league, but it makes you a better team. It’s early. We have a long way to go.”
BU, which might have entered the game with a similar overall record to UNH’s but stood 2-5-0 within the league now falls two points further out of contention, alone in ninth place. It’s been a precipitous fall for last year’s national champions, who this week lost Chris Connolly to injury, necessitating the move of defenseman David Warsofsky to forward. The flu has also been running through the Terriers’ locker room.
“It thought we played okay in the beginning, pretty well in the second, and ran out of gas in the third,” BU coach Jack Parker said. “The difference in the speed of the game between BU and UNH in the third period was like night and day.
“I was disappointed with how un-thorough we were and how slow we looked as the game progressed. UNH out-battled us. All in all, not a good showing.”
The Terriers also continued a bad trend of taking critical penalties while already a man down. In this game, the two-man disadvantage led to the game-winner.
“It’s a pathetic problem,” Parker said. “They don’t get the message. It’s not that important to them to fight hard and be tenacious without being stupid.”
The two teams play the back end of their home-and-home series at BU’s Agganis Arena on Saturday.
The game opened with the Wildcats generating a golden scoring opportunity in the first minute of play when Stephen Moses and Peter LeBlanc broke in two-on-none. Moses drew goaltender Kieran Millan, passed across the goalmouth to LeBlanc, who returned the pass when Millan slid over to block the shot. Moses, however, couldn’t control the puck and what would have been a picturesque tic-tac-toe goal went by the boards.
The rivals then tightened up play considerably, and it wasn’t until 16:43 that UNH got on the scoreboard. Defenseman Damon Kipp scored his first goal, beating an apparently screened Millan glove side.
BU came out firing on all cylinders early in the second and tied the game at 4:33 on a Zach Cohen goal off the faceoff. Corey Trivino won the draw cleanly and Cohen was able to rip off a one-timer from the inner hash marks.
Almost immediately, the Terriers went on a power play with the opportunity to translate their momentum into a lead. Instead, Butler threatened with a good chance, driving down the left wing on a partial breakaway, but couldn’t sneak a shot in short side.
UNH took the lead back midway through the period when given a 1:22 five-on-three man advantage. After the Wildcats moved the puck in close, Butler forced Millan to make a spectacular Top-10-Plays-of-the-Day stick save, diving across the goalmouth, only to have Butler follow up with a shot Millan couldn’t stop at 11:24.
Although the Wildcats didn’t generate any significant pressure over the remaining seconds of the second penalty, they almost made it 3-1 seconds after going back to even strength. Mike Sislo took a cross-ice pass in the left faceoff circle and momentarily had the upper near side open but couldn’t control the pass enough for a one-timer before Millan recovered.
Though the shots on goal in the third period showed only an 8-6 advantage for UNH, the Wildcats had by far the better of the play. Freshman John Henrion scored off the faceoff, a wrister in the high slot just outside the circle, for his first career point.
Just 41 seconds later, BU’s Ross Gaudet knocked in a rebound at the other end to bring BU within a goal at 3-2, but that would be the closest the Terriers would get. A little over two minutes later, Paul Thompson added an insurance goal, lifting it over Millan at the doorstep on the power play.