DURHAM, N.H. — Friday night’s matchup between the University of New Hampshire Wildcats and the University of Vermont Catamounts reflected perfectly the bizarre night it was within Hockey East.
In an overtime bout at the Whittemore Center, New Hampshire pulled out an emotional 5-4 victory to improve to 15-10-4 on the season, 14-5-3 in Hockey East. Vermont falls to 13-11-5, 7-10-5 HE.
This was the first game in a two-game series between the two conference foes, and in a night where the University of Maine defeated Massachusetts-Lowell 8-4 and Northeastern pulled out an upset over Boston
College, it was only fitting for this game between the No. 13 Wildcats and the No. 17 Catamounts to finish in a unique fashion.
However, according to UNH coach Dick Umile, it was not the prettiest win, and there were a lot of mistakes made that could have cost them the game.
“We were real fortunate to win the game tonight,” Umile said. “We didn’t play very well, especially in the first two periods. We did not play well in our own end, but obviously it’s a huge win, especially
when you hear about some of the scores out there. We almost gave it away, and I’m just disappointed with the way we played tonight.”
New Hampshire now owns a five-point lead over Boston College in the conference standings, while Vermont currently sits in a tie for eighth with Merrimack College.
For Vermont, it was a game of possession, and according to coach Kevin Sneddon, UNH outplayed them and kept the momentum largely in their favor.
“I think the story of the game was puck possession in the offensive zone, and they did a good job off rushes,” Sneddon said. “I think their momentum came off of rush opportunities, and obviously some good
cycling plays. Both teams kept counter-punching, and you really saw out there how much this game meant. Obviously we’re disappointed, but we have very little time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
It appeared that it was going to be a high-scoring game right from the drop of the puck.
It didn’t take long for the puck to reach the back of the net. UNH’s Phil DeSimone netted the game’s first goal after just 26 seconds of play when he collected a rebound to the left of Vermont goalie Rob
Madore and hammered it home.
The Catamounts weren’t going down easily, however. A UNH penalty sent freshman Dalton Speelman to the box at 2:51 of the first, and the game was tied 10 seconds later on a Brayden Irwin goal. Irwin took
advantage of an out-of-position Brian Foster in the UNH net.
Another goal for each side sent the teams into the locker rooms knotted at two.
The second period was more of the same, as New Hampshire scored first out of the intermission, only to be answered minutes later by Vermont.
Later in the second, UNH defenseman Nick Krates took the puck through the neutral zone, glided in uncontested to the right of Madore and fired a wrist shot right past the Vermont goalie’s shoulder, giving the Wildcats a temporary lead.
Not to be outdone, Colin Vock of Vermont gathered a rebound on a shot and, with a wide open net, drilled a wrist shot to Foster’s weak side, evening the score at four.
The eight goals in two periods remained throughout the entirety of the third period. It was defensive struggle that saw several acrobatic saves, but no real offensive production.
New Hampshire had a chance to take the lead when Vermont was whistled for two penalties, giving the Wildcats a five-on-three advantage for a 1:40. Clean passes and good shots could not result in a goal, and the game went to overtime.
It was UNH senior Peter LeBlanc who finally put the puck past Madore 1:25 into the extra period, sending the Whittemore Center crowd of 6,044 into a frenzy. LeBlanc took advantage of a deflection that gave him the open look.
“[Blake] Kessel took a shot, and I don’t think it got to net, I think it hit off one of the Vermont players,” LeBlanc said. “It just bounced out and as soon as I saw the lane I threw it on net. I think it went through his legs; I think he was trying to recover. I can’t say it was planned. I just threw it to the net and was lucky it went in.”
Hobey Baker Award hopeful Bobby Butler had a goal and an assist for UNH in the win.
Both teams return to the ice tomorrow night for a rematch at the Whittemore Center.
“We’ve got to come back with the same energy we had tonight, and hope that we’ll get a better result tomorrow night,” Sneddon said.
Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m.