DURHAM, N.H. — New Hampshire’s last win at home came just two days after Thanksgiving.
Providence’s last victory at the Whittemore Center came in 2002.
Something had to give.
UNH scored on three of its first eight shots and despite a strong pushback from Providence over the final 40 minutes, the Wildcats held on to beat the Friars 3-1 on Friday night. The victory moves UNH within two points of sixth-place Providence in the Hockey East standings, as the two teams will meet again Saturday night in Rhode Island.
“We’ll take the two points,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, whose Wildcats (10-14-2, 7-11-1 Hockey East) move from ninth to eighth in the conference standings. “We didn’t manage it very well, especially in the third period, but I’m not going to be too negative because we needed to get a win.”
The loss drops the Friars to 10-12-2 overall and 8-9-1 in league play. And while Providence remains in sixth, a win would have created some separation for the Friars, who are now just one point ahead of Northeastern, two ahead of UNH and three ahead of ninth-place Massachusetts.
“I thought the game was the first period – that was the game,” said Providence coach Nate Leaman, whose Friars outshot the Wildcats, 28-12, over the final two periods. “We came out mentally soft, came out on our heels and we paid for it dearly.”
The Wildcats, who had scored just seven goals on their previous 76 shots during a three-game losing streak, potted a goal on their first shot. Nick Sorkin found defenseman Eric Knodel sneaking down in from the point and hit him with a backdoor pass that the 6-foot-6 blue liner one-timed into the gaping cage behind Alex Beaudry (19 saves) just 1:30 into the opening period. The assist extended Sorkin’s point streak to seven games.
“It was one of the things we talked about most, getting an early lead,” Knodel said. “It was a good start.”
The early goal didn’t seem to rattle the Friars, who put the next four shots of the game on freshman goalie Casey DeSmith. A pair of penalties during the second half of the first allowed the Wildcats to seize back momentum.
On the first power play, senior John Henrion ripped a shot off the right post that sat in the crease for freshman Grayson Downing to pounce on and tap home for a 2-0 lead at 10:57. Stevie Moses then made it 3-0 at 14:19, netting his 19th goal of the season and seventh on the power play. Sorkin and Kevin Goumas picked up the helpers on the goal that came just 11 seconds into the man advantage.
“I thought we had our chances,” said Leaman, whose Friars rank second in the nation with eight shorthanded goals. “But it’s tough to try and come back in someone else’s building down 3-0.”
Providence certainly tried, though.
The Friars’ second period has been their worst period this season, giving up 29 of their 77 goals against during the middle period. Not tonight, however, as Providence needed less than five minutes to make it a two-goal game.
The top line of Matt Bergland, Tim Schaller and Drew Brown forced Wildcat blue liner Justin Agosta into a costly turnover behind his own net. Brown gained possession and chipped a pass to Bergland, who fed Schaller alone in front for a one-timer past DeSmith at 4:21.
Rob Maloney nearly made it 3-2 less than 30 seconds later, but DeSmith made a brilliant sprawling save on a backhand deke.
DeSmith turned aside 27 of his 37 saves over the final two periods. The freshman’s ability to control rebounds limited the Friars’ second-chance opportunities, especially in the final 10 minutes of the third when Providence really controlled the territorial advantage.
“That was a big one,” said Umile of DeSmith’s save on Maloney. “And he really bailed us out in the third period. We didn’t play that period very well at all.”
The win ended UNH’s five-game home losing streak, while Providence falls to 0-16-1 in its last 17 trips to the Whittemore Center.