DURHAM, N.H. — University of New Hampshire freshman forward Greg Burke played his first game back after sitting out four games with an injury and made a stunning play to set up the game-winning goal in the third period as his Wildcats held on to beat the University of Massachusetts-Lowell River Hawks, 2-1, on Friday night at the Whittemore Center Arena in Durham.
UNH stormed into the game as the top-ranked team in Hockey East and held off the nations eighth-best team in the final minutes to secure their hold on first place
UNH defenseman Blake Kessel recorded his fourth goal of the season at 6:47 of the third period to put UNH up 2-1, but he gives all the credit to Burke, who gave him a spinning, behind-the-back pass that fooled everyone in the audience, especially River Hawks senior goaltender Carter Hutton.
Its basically his goal; I had the easiest part to do, Kessel said. It was unreal to see that, especially from a freshman. Hes an unbelievable talent for us, I feel like hes going to be a huge help for us down the road.
Sophomore forward Mike Borisenok started the play by skating around the right side of the net to find Burke, whose original plan was to shoot as he started to spin.
I thought I was going to shoot, but as I started to spin I bobbled the puck and I couldnt shoot; then, as I turned, I saw Kessel and got it to him, Burke said.
The River Hawks made a furious rally to tie the game in the final minute after pulling their goalie, but UNH goalie Brian Foster stood tall in net and kept Lowell from sending the game to overtime.
UNH opened the scoring with a power-play goal by junior forward Mike Sislo, who slid a bouncing puck past River Hawks senior goaltender Carter Hutton.
The puck was originally stopped by Hutton after a shot from the right point by Wildcats defenseman Damon Kipp, but forward Stevie Moses slapped the puck loose from Huttons pads and Sislo pounced on the rebound to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead at 1:40 of the second.
Only minutes later, UNH forward Paul Thompson was stopped on a breakaway after his backhand shot was turned aside by Huttons right shoulder. Thompson then wildly threw the puck back into the slot, where UNH captain Bobby Butler was waiting, but Hutton dove back to the center of the net and deflected the shot wide to preserve the 1-0 score.
The teams traded penalties and failed to score on the ensuing power plays, but UMass-Lowell tied the score 1-1 on a fluky goal at 16:54 of the second when River Hawks senior wing Kory Falite wristed an off-balance, bad-angle shot from the left side that squirted through Fosters arm and trickled across the goal line.
Obviously that wasnt a good goal, Brian [Foster] knows that, but it was a good win for us and well move on and get ready for Vermont, said UNH head coach Dick Umile.
Umile attributed much of the Wildcats success in Hockey East play to the underclassmen on his roster that have stepped up and played strong defense, and Burke echoed those thoughts.
You get into problems when you start to run around in the defensive zone, so basically patience is what it comes down to, Burke said.
UMass-Lowell has now lost three straight games, all in Hockey East, and head coach Blaise MacDonald said it comes down to a lack of offense.
Its a challenge not only in this league but in any league to win ballgames when youre only scoring one goal, he said. UNH had a lot of jump and lot of energy; their skill guys made plays and we failed to capitalize on a lot of momentum swings that I thought we had throughout the game.
UMass-Lowell (8-5-1 overall, 4-4-1 in Hockey East) travels back home to play ninth-ranked Massachusetts tomorrow night at 7 p.m., while UNH (6-6-3, 6-2-2) heads to the University of Vermont for another Hockey East battle on Sunday at 3 p.m. The Wildcats and River Hawks will meet again in just over a month on Jan. 8, 2010 at the Whittemore Center.