The Wildcats brought their overall record to above .500 at 4-3-1 with a 2-2 tie against Sacred Heart University on Friday, Nov. 5, and a 3-0 win over Mercyhurst University the following night.
Friday’s game was riddled with penalties, 10 to be exact. However, UNH found a way to bounce back late in the third period. Danny Tirone had a solid outing and played a big part in keeping the team in the game, stopping 27 shots.
With 28 seconds left, freshman Liam Blackburn was able to tap in a game-tying goal, set up by teammates Marcus Vela and Brendan van Riemsdyk. Blackburn’s second goal of the season erased the two-goal defecit, and forced overtime at the Whittemore Center for the first time this season.
“It’s definitely a scramble play, we were just trying to get anything on net and Vela and [van Riemsdyk] were doing a good job doing that and the puck kind of squirted back door to me. And I think anyone could have put that in but [it was] definitely uplifting,” Blackburn said.
“He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s clever and has a good stick,” head coach Dick Umile said about Blackburn. “He played with great composure in that situation.”
The ‘Cats came out of the gate strong, posting a solid period where they seemed to have the upper hand. Despite the 12 shots on goal and close scoring chances, they could not find the back of the net.
The second period is when the penalties started to fly, and UNH lost a step going down by two. Pioneers goaltender Nathan Perry was solid through two periods and proved to be a challenging foe for the Wildcats.
With pressure mounting, forward Tyler Kelleher was finally able to get UNH on the board 13:42 into the third period on their ninth power play of the night. Assisted by Patrick Grasso and Matias Cleland, Kelleher found space to the right of Perry and placed the puck in the top right of the net.
“I don’t think we should have ever been in that position. We need to start taking advantage of our opportunities right off the start,” Kelleher said on the difficulty to score on the power play .
With Tirone pulled, Blackburn tied the score with the extra skater out, and the teams would need overtime to settle the score.
Both teams had four shots on net in the overtime period en route to the 2-2 tie against the Pioneers.
“I only give them credit for finding a way at the end to not lose the game,” Umile said. “We got to do more on the power play.”
In Saturday night’s tilt against Mercyhurst University, Tirone recorded his first shutout and Grasso scored his ninth goal of the season as the Wildcats defeated the Lakers, 3-0.
UNH dominated the scoring chances and time of possession throughout the game while outshooting the Lakers 41-14. The ‘Cats struggled to finish their opportunities early but Jason Salvaggio finally broke through at 3:08 into the second period. Two power play goals late in the third period solidified the victory as UNH played without Dylan Maller (hip) and Ara Nazarian (knee) due to injuries.
“Even though we didn’t score early on we had a lot of shots in the first period. Stayed with it in the second and played a much better second period than we did [Friday] night,” Umile said about his team’s performance.
Salvaggio found the back of the net first on a rebound chance provided by the shot from Michael McNicholas. The goal was Salvaggio’s third of the season as McNicholas and Kelleher recorded their third and seventh assists, respectively.
DeAugustine, in his first career start, was impressive in net for the Lakers with 38 saves. He was able to limit the UNH offense to one goal through two periods and the majority of the final period until the Wildcats’ power play broke through.
After failing to score on their first four power play opportunities, the standout freshman Grasso netted his team-high ninth goal of the season at 13:47 in the third after a slashing penalty on Kyle Dutra. Just minutes later at 17:40 Vela added a power play goal for his first goal of the season to seal the 3-0 victory for UNH.
Tirone saved all 14 shots Mercyhurst fired and stepped up as the Wildcats killed off a big five-on-three power play for the Lakers in the third period. The shutout was the fourth of Tirone’s career and his first since a 7-0 win versus Maine on Dec. 30, 2015.
With a big Hockey East matchup versus No. 5 Boston College looming on Tuesday, Umile and his team were happy with how they ended the weekend.
“Overall, we generated a lot of shots,” Umile said after the game. “I like the way the team competed and I told them to enjoy it.”