With their backs against the wall, the Wildcats were able to walk away with two conference points and a much-needed weekend split.
On Friday, Feb. 10, the Wildcats trailed 2-1 in the third period, yet rallied to complete one of the most crucial comebacks this season to defeat the No. 14 Vermont Catamounts 4-2. The following night, a hot first period went cold for the ‘Cats as the Catamounts finished strong late in the final two periods to edge out UNH 4-2. The split gives UNH 17 Hockey East points, good for seventh in the conference standings. Previously losers of five straight going into the weekend, the ‘Cats weathered the storm, making progress with a weekend split.
Senior forward Tyler Kelleher reached yet another milestone this weekend. The Longmeadow, Massachusetts native recorded his 50th career goal, assisted by Michael McNicholas, on the power play in Friday night’s game. Kelleher’s four-point effort against Vermont over the weekend now gives him a share of the lead in the nation’s top point-scorers.
The ‘Cats’ comeback Friday night was preluded with another slow start in which UNH surrendered yet another opening goal while digging itselves a 2-0 hole. Anthony Petruzelli and Brian Bowen found the back of Danny Tirone’s net to give the Catamounts the early advantage. But with a win virtually a must, the ‘Cats responded with authority. Kelleher’s power-play tally got things started to cut the deficit in half, but it was a third-period showing that defined the game. Ten of UNH’s 29 shots on goal came in the third frame. Jason Salvaggio tied the game at 2:18 in the third with a sharp shot that beat goaltender Stefanos Lekkas. Anthony Wyse scored the game-winning goal, his first career goal as a Wildcat to overtake the Catamounts and propel UNH to its 12th win of the season.
A second-period uproar from Vermont was too much for the ‘Cats to come back from the following night. After a four-goal first period, the teams went into the first intermission tied 2-2, which included a game-tyer from Jamie Hill, his second of the season. The Catamounts notched double digits in shots in the second and third period. Forced to play catch-up hockey again, the ‘Cats could not come back in this one, falling 4-2 to end the weekend.
“They competed hard and it’s a tough league we are competing in,” head coach Dick Umile said following the loss and weekend split. “It was important to get these two points… We got to play good hockey down the stretch here with four games to go.”
The Wildcats now may face their toughest challenge to date, a home-and-home series with the No. 3 Boston University Terriers, a team that is 11-5 in conference and was once ranked this season as the No. 1 team in the country.
“Hey, we come up here and got a split, [and now] we got a home-and home with BU,” Umile said. “The focus is all [on] Boston University now.”
UNH will travel to Agganis Arena Friday, Feb. 17 for game one of the two-game series. Puck drop is 7 p.m.