It was a bend-but-don’t-break weekend for the Wildcats as they hosted Vermont for a weekend doubleheader. UNH dropped Friday night’s decision 3-2, then tied Saturday’s game 2-2 to grab a single Hockey East point. The result gave Vermont a jump over UNH in the Hockey East standings, and the Wildcats’ probability of securing home ice in the Hockey East playoffs remains questionable.
“I just told my team that we spent too much time in our own end. They outcompeted us in our own end,” head coach Dick Umile said after Friday night’s loss. “We couldn’t get the puck up to our forwards and we spent too much time in our defensive zone.”
Although Umile’s words weren’t optimistic, the team had a strong start to Friday night. Tyler Kelleher scored the first goal of the game, his eighth goal of the season, on the man-advantage to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead 7-minutes, 54-seconds into the game.
It became a much more physical battle going into the second period, making power plays critical. Vermont, who came into Friday night with the nation’s worst power play efficiency, surprised the fans and tied the game on a power play goal from Liam Coughlin.
The ‘Cats quickly answered with a five-on-three advantage and Michael McNicholas grabbed his second goal of the season. Kelleher’s assist on the goal gave him his 100th career point as a Wildcat. McNicholas was just happy he could help.
“He is a great player and it definitely was a special moment for him,” McNicholas said. “It was nice to be a part of that, for sure.”
“It was pretty cool, unfortunately we didn’t get the win, but it was a cool feeling though,” Kelleher said.
The Wildcats mustered a measly six shots in the third period after a controversial goal call for Vermont. While Umile and the UNH fans appeared irate, the goal was upheld by the officials, and proved to be enough for the Catamounts to secure the 3-2 victory.
UNH looked to salvage lost ground and flip the script against the Catamounts on Saturday. Though they played tough, the Wildcats found themselves down early when UVM’s Mitch Ferguson and Chris Muscoby beat Tirone to put Vermont up 2-0.
But the Wildcats came roaring back. Andrew Poturalski netted a goal on the power play to cut the deficit to one. Early in the third period, Shane Eiserman stepped up and fired one past Catamount goaltender Packy Munson to tie the game at two. Poturalski was pleased with the way the team fought back despite the deficit.
“I think we battled back and we knew we could. [We] got to take something positive out of that,” Poturalski said. “It’s not the start we wanted, but it shows good signs that we battled back.”
Eiserman’s goal forced overtime for the second time against Vermont this season. It was an intense five minutes, but nothing came of it and the teams ended in a tie.
Saturday’s game marked coach Umile’s 1,000th game as a head coach, a milestone only 11 other coaches have reached in history.
“Played a lot of games with a lot of great kids,” Umile said. The UNH alum is currently in his 26th season as a UNH head coach. “I’m just thankful and fortunate.”
Next up for the Wildcats is a home-and-home series against the Boston University Terriers next week. Friday night’s game will be at the Whittemore Center and will be televised on NESN at 8:30 p.m.