The regular season came to a close on Sunday, with the Wildcats and the University of Connecticut Huskies splitting a pair of games at the Whittemore Center. Sophomore left wing Carlee Toews scored a late power-play goal to lift UNH to a 2-1 win on Saturday, but UConn answered back with a 2-1 win of its own on Sunday, notching the game-winner in overtime.
The Wildcats finish the season with an overall record of 11-22-1, including 8-16-0 in Hockey East play. Their record puts them in fifth place in the conference and books a rematch with UConn next weekend in Connecticut for a best-of-three playoff series. UNH won two of its three meetings with UConn this season, all of which ended with a score of 2-1.
Head coach Hilary Witt said that the team will use the past matchups to improve its game in search of a first round victory.
“We’ll do what they’ll do, and watch the video, and find some things that we think we can improve on, and things that we have to do to get pucks in the net, but it’s going to be a grind, and we’re looking forward to it,” she said.
In addition to this weekend signaling the end of the 2015-2016 regular season, it also marked the final regular season game for the seven seniors on the team.
Senior defenseman and team captain Sara Carlson views the impending end of her UNH hockey career as a bittersweet moment, but is preparing for one final playoff run.
“It’s difficult to describe the feeling when you know your time playing this game is coming to an end,” she said. “I feel so overwhelmed with joy and thankfulness for my career here, but it’s still hard to think it’s almost over. We are excited for playoffs, though, so it doesn’t feel like it’s over yet.”
The seniors have earned the respect of Toews, who was quick to praise them following Saturday’s win.
“I’m so happy for the seniors, and so proud of them for coming this far,” she said.
Toews finished the weekend as the only UNH skater with multiple points, assisting on the team’s lone goal on Sunday in addition to her tally on Saturday. Coach Witt is pleased with what she has seen out of the Grand Prairie, Alberta native this season.
“She’s been solid for us all year,” she said. “It’s nice to see her rewarded with points, but she’s been a kid all year long we’ve used on the penalty kill. She’s quietly a great player on the power play for us, so I’m proud of the way she has played this year.”
The Wildcats yielded just three goals between the two games, and Witt credited not only freshman goaltender Kyra Smith, but the team as a whole, which put in the work to earn the defensive results.
“[Smith] has given us a chance to win pretty much every game she’s played this year,” said Witt. “I think my confidence is coming from our whole team, and our work ethic together. I liked how we finished the regular season.”
The playoffs begin on Friday, Feb. 26, and Carlson knows exactly what is at stake.
“We know that each game will be a battle and that every play counts. We will just need to stay focused on making sure we play our game for the full 60 minutes.”