The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (3-4, 1-2) stepped into a crucial home-and-home series this weekend against the No. 8 Providence Friars (6-3, 3-1) following a loss to them the previous Sunday.  

On Friday night the Wildcats traveled down to Rhode Island to take on the Friars in a game which saw UNH get shut down 6-1. Providence’s junior goalie Jaxson Stauber limited the Wildcats once again with an impressive 24-save night. The Wildcats’ only goal was a third period blue line snipe from sophomore defenseman Luke Reid to make it a 6-1 game. Providence had a well-balanced approach on offense as all six goals were scored by different players.  

New Hampshire’s senior goaltender Mike Robinson was removed from net for the second time this season on Friday and was replaced by junior David Fessenden – his first action in a Wildcat uniform. Robinson played the first 31 minutes of the game, allowing four goals on 19 shots. Fessenden played the final 29 minutes, conceding two goals on 13 shots.   

On Saturday however, the Wildcats defense was able to find their legs and shut down Providence’s forwards, winning a 2-1 overtime thriller. The game-winner came from senior Jackson Pierson, who netted his first goal of the season after he stole a pass in Providence’s defensive zone, attacked Stauber one-on-one and deked out the Friars’ goaltender. With that goal, UNH earned their first points of the year in Hockey East action and currently sit at 10th in the conference.  

Pierson spoke about how the play developed from his perspective and what led to his first goal on the season. 

“They had the puck, and the guy made a lackadaisical pass to be honest, kind of a lucky turnover I guess but I found a way to put it in,” said Pierson.  

He continued, “it’s nice [to score] obviously, but we’re happier and I’m happier with getting a win against Providence, a really good team. It’s a huge win in our league and it’s huge to get those wins, especially at home. You can’t lose three straight to a team. So, it’s good to be able to get one out of three against them.”  

The real shining star of Saturday’s game, however, was Fessenden, who got his first career start in net for the Wildcats. Fessenden played up to the task, blocking 31 of the 32 shots that Providence threw at him, including some crucial diving stops in overtime. Fessenden earned high praise from his teammates including Pierson. 

“He played unbelievable tonight,” said Pierson. “There was no way we won that game without his performance. There were a lot of big saves in OT. He’s a great kid who’s extremely positive and I’m happy for him that he got his first win, especially in that fashion playing like he did was awesome.”  

Fessenden was asked after the game if he was feeling antsy during the day, knowing he’d be getting his first start. 

“Not really,” Fessenden answered. “As a goalie you always have to be ready no matter what situation you fall into. You have to treat every game the same with preparation and everything.”  

After transferring from the University of Alabama Huntsville, Saturday’s star says he couldn’t be happier with where he’s landed. 

“I’ve been through a lot, obviously I transferred schools and that was a pretty emotional roller coaster, but I found home here, and I truly love UNH, I love New Hampshire, I love Durham, and I think I found my new home,” Fessenden explained. “I’m so happy that after all the hard work, the emotions, and the ups and downs, that I’ve found a great place and an organization that takes me in. I’m just happy to be here and play with this logo on my chest.”   

Despite the win on Saturday, two key seniors suffered injuries this weekend for the Wildcats. On Friday, senior captain Will MacKinnon left the game with an upper body injury and did not return. MacKinnon was out of the lineup for Saturday’s contest and was sporting a sling on his right arm. There is no timetable for his return. On Saturday MacKinnon’s classmate and defensive partner Ryan Verrier also left the game with an upper body injury after a shift where he blocked three shots. Verrier stood in the tunnel for the rest of the game after he left in the second period with a sling on.  
 

Souza did not want to speculate on Verrier’s injury after the game 

“I just want to see where he’s at after the weekend,” said Souza. “But he left the game, and I don’t expect him to be available soon, but we’ll see, he’s going to be reevaluated [Sunday] and we’ll go from there.” 

On Saturday first-year defenseman Colton Huard made his collegiate debut on the blue line for the Wildcats in place of MacKinnon. Before MacKinnon’s injury, the Wildcats had run with the same defensive pairings for the first six games. With the injuries, however, New Hampshire will have to see someone else step up into a more involved role than they have to this point. Other defensemen on the roster include seniors Drew Hickey and Alec Semandel. 

The Wildcats return to the ice on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Whittemore Center against the Northeastern Huskies (5-3, 2-2) Northeastern is currently unranked, however they received the most votes of any team in college hockey outside of the top-20 in the U.S. College Hockey Organization (USCHO) Poll. The Wildcats will then travel to Boston on Saturday to take on Northeastern once again.  

Photo Courtesy of Rick Wilson