By Justin Loring, Sports Editor
It took a last-minute goal on Saturday and a hat trick effort from one of the best players in the nation to sink the Wildcat women’s hockey team this weekend in the Hockey East quarterfinals against Northeastern. After UNH earned an upset win 2-1 on Friday night, the two teams traded goals in the second match-up and it was Denisa Krizova’s goal with just 1:25 left in the game that took down the Wildcats to tie the series at 1-1.
Sunday afternoon’s game three was a lot of physical play and back-and-forth skating, as Northeastern came out on top 4-3. Kendall Coyne, a member of the 2014 U.S. Women’s Olympic Hockey team, notched three goals on the night to lead Northeastern to the semifinals and a match up with No. 2-seed Boston University.
“[At the] beginning of the year, we talked about being the team no one wanted to play,” UNH head coach Hilary Witt said. “I think we reached that goal … these kids play so hard and make it so difficult [on the other team], and I couldn’t be more proud.”
The first goal of the game came just 2:15 into the contest. After UNH’s Nico Jensen hit the post on its first possession, Haley Breedlove was called for an interference penalty on the other end, giving Northeastern a powerplay. The Huskies cycled the puck along the outside of the zone and then Heather Mottau fed Kendall Coyne, who was positioned just inside the blue line. Coyne ripped a slap shot that beat Ashley Wilkes on her glove side and gave Northeastern a quick 1-0 lead.
Northeastern had a chance to expand the lead to two on a two-on-one breakout, but Wilkes went down and sprawled across the crease, sticking her left pad out and denying the chance from the Huskies.
“Ashley stepped up in a big way for us,” Witt said. “This weekend, last weekend … she did a wonderful job and the team played great in the D-zone.”
UNH battled back, however, generating offensive zone time and putting shots on netminder Chloe Desjardins. The ‘Cats finally broke through at the 10:15 mark off the stick of Ali Praus. The freshman got the puck in the right faceoff circle and put a wrister that floated over Desjardins’ blocker, tying the game at one goal apiece. The score was Praus’ first collegiate goal.
The teams traded goals at the early stage of the second period, with UNH getting its first lead of the game at the 5:22 mark. The ‘Cats came out of the intermission with fresh legs and pressured the Huskies with their breakout, eventually getting a two-on-one look between Hannah Armstrong and Amy Boucher. Armstrong slid the puck across the crease to Boucher, who was waiting near the right post to hammer it home. The lead didn’t stay for long, however, as the Huskies answered with a score of their own. Jordan Krause notched the tying goal on a slap shot from the point that beat Wilkes low, and the game went back to a tie.
Northeastern pulled away late in the third period, getting two more goals in less than two minutes, thanks to the effort of Coyne. The first goal came on a powerplay after a slashing call on UNH. Coyne got another slap shot off from the point that went through a sea of traffic and into the net. The hat trick goal came less than two minutes later, this time on a breakaway look. Coyne intercepted a pass and took the puck into the zone all alone, working to her stick side and firing a wrister past Wilkes’ glove to give Northeastern a 4-2 lead with under five minutes to play.
“Our girls did great keeping the traffic out from in front of me, but … Northeastern got their opportunities and capitalized on them,” Wilkes said. “Our team is a bunch of grinders. We don’t have any Kendall Coyne’s or any superstars on our team, but we get in people’s heads and that’s the way Coach [Witt] wants us to play. She wants people to be scared of us.”
The Cats weren’t done, however. With Wilkes pulled from the net, UNH was skating 6-on-5 and got the puck into the Northeastern end after the Huskies came dangerously close to adding an empty net goal. Kayla Mork fired a shot off of Desjardins and gathered her own rebound, putting the ‘Cats back to within one goal with 2:48 to play.
“We got pulled in with five minutes left [in the period] and Coach said ‘We’re the team that never gives up,’” Mork said. “That’s what we did: we fought to the end. All year, to the very end of this game, too.”
UNH tried to get the tying goal with under a minute to play, but despite skating with an extra skater again, they were unable to generate a sustained possession and had to rely on a last-second shot from the point that sailed wide right as the buzzer went off.
“I’ve never been on a better team, I’m so proud of everyone,” Mork said. “I think this team, honestly, [gave me] the best senior year I could ever ask for.”