The Wildcats (5-2-1, 3-1) are beginning to establish themselves as a premier team, inching closer to the national rankings with their continued Hockey East success. Their bid against No. 5 UMass Amherst (6-2, 2-2) is further evidence that the ‘Cats deserve more respect nationally.
Entering play with the top-ranked power play in the Hockey East, the UNH men’s hockey team looked to draw penalties often and early against powerhouse UMass Amherst. The UNH power play is 10-31 this year, which is good for fourth in the country only trailing three Ivy League schools who have yet to play five games apiece this season.
Yet, it was UMass’s penalty kill that reigned supreme, stifling UNH’s three power plays in the first period.
The Wildcats broke out of the gate looking to be the aggressors in their afternoon bid against the Minutemen. The ‘Cats racked up a staggering 14 shots in the first period, all of which were halted by UMass sophomore goaltender Filip Lindberg.
Lindberg, one of the better goalies in the country, finished in second place in goals-against average last season. He let up 1.60 goals per game and posted a .934 save percentage over 939 minutes in net. The sophomore was drafted in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL draft by the Minnesota Wild, and based off his play within the Hockey East, that pick may be a huge steal.
UNH junior goaltender Mike Robinson, a San Jose Sharks third round pick in 2015, stopped seven shots in the first period extending his shutout to four consecutive periods.
Postgame, Robinson commented on UNH’s defensive performance. “Our defenseman did a great job like they always do, keeping everything to the outside. It’s a scenario where we have to weather the storm.”
The second period began with UNH on the power play, courtesy of a two-minute minor on UMass’s junior forward Oliver Chau for faceoff interference. The Minutemen’s penalty kill remained strong, holding UNH off once again.
Soon after, UMass struck with the first goal of the game as their captain, junior forward Mitchell Chaffee tipped in a slapshot from first-year defenseman Zac Jones. The lead did not hold, however.
UNH delivered an onslaught of shots that finally found the back of the net when sophomore defenseman Ryan Verrier converted the first goal of his collegiate career. The equalizing goal was shot from near the blue line, then tipped by a UMass defenseman past Lindberg. UMass head coach Greg Carvel called it a “fluke goal”.
Seconds later, UNH got on the power play following a tripping penalty on UMass’s Trivigno. The fourth best power play in the nation proved their positioning as junior defenseman Max Gildon ripped a slap shot from the top of the right faceoff circle. Assisted by sophomore forwards Jackson Pierson and Angus Crookshank, this was Gildon’s fourth goal of the season.
As the period went on, UNH’s defense proved to be the dominant force with the defensemen racking up block after block, thus making Robinson’s life a tad easier. UNH head coach Mike Souza expressed his feelings on the multitude of blocks. “Blocked shots. They’re a necessity, but when they pile up it typically means you spent way too much time in your zone.” He continued to say, “It’s a winning formula when guys are willing to sacrifice themselves.”
UMass gathered 13 shots to UNH’s three in the third period, and the defense remained sturdy leading to the 3-1 win. UNH’s captain, senior defenseman Anthony Wyse converted his first goal of the season late in the period when UMass pulled their goalie for a late push.
UNH continues play this weekend as they head to Orono, Maine for a double header with the Black Bears (5-3-2, 2-2-2). Puck drop is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Friday and 7 p.m. Saturday.