By Greg Laudani, Staff Writer
The UNH men’s hockey team kept the good times rolling on Friday night, muscling its way to a 5-2 win over UConn in Game 1 of its first round, best-of-three Hockey East Quarterfinal series. The win pushes UNH’s season-high winning streak to six games.
Tyler Kelleher and Grayson Downing powered the Wildcats with two goals apiece, while Downing also collected an assist. Team captain Matt Willows added a goal and an assist to guide UNH to its convincing victory.
Kelleher said the win carries a lot of weight for his team going forward in the series.
“It’s huge, I think we control the series now that we got the first one,” Kelleher said. “Hopefully we can end it tomorrow.”
UNH did most of its damage on the power play, netting three goals on four chances.
“Overall, it was a solid game for us,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “We moved the puck and made smart decisions on the power play.”
UNH jumped out to a 4-0 lead at 8:32 of the second period after Willows and Kelleher each scored power-play goals in a 32-second span.
The Huskies got on the scoreboard at 13:32 of the second with Spencer Naas’ goal. Joey Ferriss added another for UConn at 9:39 of the third to cut UNH’s lead down to 4-2.], but the Wildcats clamped down defensively to shut down the Huskies following Ferriss’ goal. Downing buried an empty-netter with 45 seconds remaining to seal the win.
UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh said postgame that he was not surprised to see UNH have success scoring throughout the night.
“You have to weather storms up here, whether it’s in October or whether it’s in the playoffs,” Cavanaugh said. “You are going to have to be able to weather a storm.
“I’ve been a coach up here with some national championship teams, and UNH is going to control play for a while.”
Cavanaugh said special teams was “clearly the difference” in UConn’s loss. However, he said this series does not come down to one game.
“It’s a three-game series, not a one-game series,” Cavanaugh said. “We have to be better. We have to have better sticks, block shots and win more battles. We have to come back tomorrow and try to put forth the same effort and try to be better on special teams.”
The Wildcats took early control in the first period, establishing a two-goal lead within the first 20 minutes. UNH used its speed and puck handling to keep the Huskies on their heels.
Kelleher sparked UNH’s 1-0 lead at 4:38, when his diving wrist shot trickled past Nichols’ glove. The right-winger took a cross-ice pass from Dan Correale, then raced into UConn’s zone and lifted one on net. The puck narrowly crossed the red line as the goalie reacted a split-second too late.
The officials reviewed replays of the score and later confirmed it a good goal.
Kelleher’s speed on the play soon helped the Wildcats extend their lead to two. As Kelleher lifted his shot, UConn’s Kyle Huson committed a two-minute hooking penalty that caused Kelleher to tumble to the ice.
Grayson Downing made the Huskies pay with his fifth power-play goal of the season. At 5:48 of the first, Matt Willows weaved around the back of UConn’s net and fired a pass to Downing in the low slot. Downing rifled one top shelf on Nichols’ stick side to give UNH a 2-0 advantage.
The Wildcats continued to ride their hot power play in the second, exploding all the way to a 4-0 lead 8:32 into the period.
After back-to-back penalties, UConn gave UNH a five-on-three advantage. 8:12 into the second, Willows pushed the lead to 3-0 after he redirected a Downing blast into the back of the net. Willows fought for positioning in front of UConn’s goal and was in prime position to bat in his fourth goal against the Huskies this season.
Kelleher notched his second goal of the night 30 seconds later to put the Wildcats up 4-0. Correale and Cameron Marks collected assists on the play.
The Huskies showed resistance toward the end of the second. UConn’s leading scorer Spencer Naas grabbed his 13th goal of the year on a deflection from a shot by Shawn Pauly, the Huskies’ leading point-getter.
UNH closed the second frame with a 4-1 lead and a 22-12 advantage in shots. The Wildcats dominated scoring chances in the period by a 13-6 margin.
UConn cut the Wildcats’ lead to 4-2 at 9:39 of the third with help from Ryan Tyson and Joey Ferris. Tyson fired a one-handed shot on Tirone, who deflected the shot in front to Ferris, who netted his second goal of the season.
The Wildcats return home for game two of the series on Saturday night at 7 p.m. in the Whittemore Center.
Men's Hockey: Wildcats roll in Game 1, win 5-2
By Greg Laudani, Staff Writer