In a home-and-home series against the Holy Cross Crusaders this past weekend, the Wildcats walked away with two wins as well as sweeping the season series. The Wildcats now sit at sixth in Hockey East with 21 points, just a single point behind Providence for fifth place. First-year goaltender Nikki Harnett started both games and won both. Senior forward Meghara McManus led the way with three goals and an assist on the weekend. Senior captain and forward Taylor Wenczkowski broke a long goal-scoring drought with two goals on the weekend and added an assist. Despite that, she is still second on the team in points with 18.
In Friday’s game, the Wildcats won 3-0 and Harnett stopped all 17 shots she faced, which allowed her to earn her second career shutout. She also picked up the lone assist on the final goal for her first career point. It was a quiet game in net for Harnett, but she was solid when she needed to be and came up with timely saves.
Special teams were important for the Wildcats as they killed off all five penalties they committed, and scored their first goal on a power play. The Wildcats have the fourth-best penalty kill in the country, killing off 93.5% of their penalties. The Wildcats were also missing one of their top penalty killers in senior captain, forward Carlee Turner due to illness.
With her out, the top line consisted of McManus, Wenczkowski and first-year forward Annie Berry. According to Wenczkowski, that was the first time they had all skated together but she thought they played well together.
“We moved the puck and saw the ice well… I think we did well possessing the puck in the offensive zone,” she said. She also thought the team as a whole played well and came together in the third period to cap it off.
Head coach Hillary Witt liked the way her team played, complementing both the goal scorers and Harnett with the shutout, but she also thought they did more than just score to help get the win.
“I was really impressed with the way we battled. It was great to get that first goal. Things that win the game for you are blocked shots like we did at the end and little things.” The team blocked 12 shots in the game, with four players blocking two shots.
The Wildcats started off playing well, and they controlled play early on. The first shift from all of UNH’s three lines were all in the Crusaders zone. They also got some momentum by doing a really good job on their first penalty kill attempt. The Crusaders were unable to enter the zone in the first half of the period and then only registered one shot on goal from a poor angle.
The Wildcats dictated most of the play in the first period, but they were unable to get on the scoresheet until 17:15 into the game. They scored on a powerplay goal from Wenczkowski. Senior captain and defensewoman Tori Howran skated the puck behind the net and tried a wraparound but Wenczkowski was in front of the net and slipped the rebound past the goalie for her fifth goal of the season.
There was no scoring in the second period, but there were a few quality scoring chances, each team with one high quality scoring opportunity. The Wildcats got their opportunity from their third line of senior forward Nicole Dunbar and junior forwards Grace Middleton and Ellie Sasaki, as they nearly increased the Wildcats lead to 2-0 after a big net-front scramble, but the puck managed to stay away from the net. A few minutes after that, the Crusaders would have their best scoring chance after forcing a turnover behind the Wildcats net. Harnett made a huge pad save on a point-blank shot to keep her team in the lead.
The game started to get chippy in the third period but there was only one penalty called in the whole period.
“I just told our team to keep our heads, it’s gonna be chippy and we don’t want to retaliate and get penalties since that’s just going to help them out,” Wenczkowski said after the game. “I think it was important to stay calm and collected and just play our game.”
The Wildcats scored again 12 minutes into the final period with McManus tipping a shot in the slot from sophomore defense woman Talli Warren for her 12th goal of the season. Berry was also credited with an assist on the goal.
With just under a minute left in the game, first-year forward Tamara Thierus scored an empty net goal, using her speed to blow by the defense and stuff the puck in the open goal for her third goal of the season.
The next day, the Wildcats were the road team and won by three goals again, this time by a score of 5-2. Harnett made 21 saves on 23 shots, improving her record to 4-3-1. The Wildcats got off to a quick start, with Wenczkowski scoring just 32 seconds into the game, her sixth of the season. McManus and Berry assisted on the goal. Halfway through the first, the Wildcats scored on the powerplay. Witt said after the Friday game that the powerplay needed to be better and they pulled through with goals in back-to-back games. The goal was scored by McManus on an assist from Howran.
The Wildcats added another three goals in the second period, and the Crusaders tallied one. Middleton got the first one from Sasaki and Dunbar, her second of the season at 13:22. Shortly after, Thierus scored her fourth of the season. The goal was unassisted at 17:30 into the period.
The Crusaders struck for the first time exactly one minute later to finally get on the board. The Wildcats responded by scoring their fifth goal with just one second left in the second period. McManus scored her second goal of the game and team-leading 14th goal on the season. The goal was assisted by Wenczkowski and Berry, the third time that weekend that trio all pointed up on a goal. The Crusaders were able to score one more with just 18 seconds left in the game, but it was too little too late.
The Wildcats will play their next two games in Maine against the Black Bears who sit one spot behind the Wildcats in the standings, but five points behind. Those games will be January 31 and February 1. They then will have a home game against Dartmouth on February 4.