The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team finally returned to action this past weekend with two games against longtime rival UMaine on Friday and Saturday. This was the first action for either team in the 2020-21 season. The Black Bears were scheduled to host this matchup, however a last second schedule switch brought them into Durham for the weekend.
The Wildcats were all over the Black Bears through two periods of Friday’s matchup. UNH seemed in control of the game outshooting the Black Bears 25-4 despite neither side being able to break through. The UNH powerplay struggled to find the back of the net going 0-of-5 through two periods.
It wasn’t until 12:42 into the third period when the first goal was put in the back of the net by UNH sophomore Kalle Eriksson. This was his first collegiate goal. The assists came from senior assistant captain Eric MacAdams and senior forward Kohei Sato.
UMaine responded quickly with a goal of their own just 32 seconds later with a nifty passing play to find first-year forward Lynden Breen alone at the top of the crease.
Regulation wasn’t enough on Friday, as they went to overtime, and then later a shootout. UNH outshot UMaine 35-13 but went 0-for-7 on the man advantage.
The game resulted in a 1-1 tie but with new rules in place for this season, the teams went to a shootout to see who would get the extra point for the Hockey East standings. UMaine eventually went on to win the shootout and the extra point. The Wildcats would get their chance for revenge the next night.
On Saturday, UMaine opened up quickly, scoring the first goal in the second game of the back-to-back just 4:50 into the first period on the powerplay. However, UNH junior forward Angus Crookshank leveled the playing field while on the powerplay with 9:18 left in the period.
Later in the frame senior assistant captain defenseman Benton Maass gave UNH the lead after he drew a penalty on the Black Bears. UNH never gave the lead back as they went on to tally another goal just 46 seconds later from senior assistant captain forward Patrick Grasso.
UMaine came back to battle in the second period potting a goal and outshooting UNH 22-20, making it a tight matchup for the third period.
The Wildcat offense exploded once more tallying another three goals in the final period. The first came from Crookshank, who picked up a puck in the neutral zone, turned on the burners to beat the UMaine defense and flipped the puck by the Black Bear netminder.
First-year center Cam Gendron netted his first career collegiate goal after he laid a hit on a UMaine defender, picked up the puck in the lower slot and let it fly top-shelf past sophomore goaltender Matthew Thiessen, extending the UNH lead to three.
Sophomore forward Joe Hankinson also tallied his first career goal when UMaine emptied their net to try and get back into the game. Hankinson put the Black Bears away with the empty net goal and buried UMaine’s chances of a comeback.
Ten different Wildcats appeared on the scoresheet with five of them posting a multi-point night. UNH had five different goal scorers and it shows how talented of a roster they have this season.
UNH head coach Mike Souza was proud of the effort that his team put forward after missing their first two weeks of games.
“Big first win for the guys, coming off the pause I’m very proud with how our team competed,” Souza said. “We got contributions from a lot of players and it starts with our great leadership.”
He continued, “Very pleased and proud of our players. I just want to emphasize it was a great team weekend and I thought we played solid hockey all weekend long.”
The UNH special teams was one of the best units this weekend, moving the puck well in the first game despite no goals being scored. However, in the second game, they tallied a couple goals and went 2-of-4 on the powerplay.
“I thought that first unit moved the puck incredibly well and tonight they were rewarded for it,” Souza said. “I also thought the penalty kill was outstanding.”
Souza also thought that his team was willing to put their bodies on the line to win, which was a positive sign for the team moving forward.
“It’s the selfless blocks, it’s not a fun thing to do but it’s a requirement if we’re going to be successful,” Souza said. “I also thought Robinson was outstanding early in this game.”
Senior goalie Mike Robinson made 32 saves in Saturday’s contest and kept UNH in a 1-0 game until the Wildcats could get their offense going.
UNH Improves to 1-0-1 on the year and will face the Merrimack Warriors (1-3) next on Dec. 19 and 20.
Photo courtesy of Michelle Bronner