UNH men’s hockey: Impotent offense sinks Wildcats versus BU in two game sweep

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WILDCATS 1, TERRIERS 3 

WILDCATS 1, TERRIERS 2 (OT) 

DURHAM N.H. —  It was the dogs versus the cats this weekend as the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (7-9-1, 3-7-1) played a home-and-home series against the Boston University (BU) Terriers (6-9-2, 5-5-2).  

The battle of the beasts favored the felines early Friday night. Five minutes into the affair at Agganis Arena, UNH first-year defender Colton Huard entered the BU zone and flipped the pass to junior teammate Harrison Blaisdell. The Saskatchewan native coasted down the ice and took a harmless shot from the bottom of the faceoff circle. However, the puck somehow skipped past BU’s Drew Commesso to hand UNH an early lead.  

As the first wore on, two things became the predominant theme, the first was penalties. Through the first 15 minutes, both teams made a pair of trips to the sin bin that failed to backfire. The second was the missed chances for the Terries to spring their forwards free for a breakaway.  

The two themes came together with a little over two minutes to go as BU junior Wilmer Skoog got the breakaway chance his team had been waiting for all night. And while Skoog was unable to score, his scoring chance brought the puck into the UNH zone and led to a penalty called on UNH sophomore Nikolai Jenson.  

Being on the penalty kill isn’t something that perturbs the Wildcats. After all, they’d killed 14 straight penalties. But Skoog had redemption on his mind. As the Terriers entered the Wildcats zone, Skoog beelined it for the net. By the time he reached his destination, junior teammate Matt Brown’s shot was in flight. Skoog’s stick acted as a conduit, redirecting the puck past the pads of UNH’s senior goaltender Mike Robinson to tie the game.  

In the second period of the game, six minutes swung the momentum. What at first seemed like a harmless collision between UNH first-year forward Liam Devlin and a pair of Terriers turned out to be anything but. BU head coach Albie O’Connell called for the officials to review the play for a potential penalty.  

“The guys on the bench that were on the ice were like, ‘that was a slew-foot,’” said O’Connell.  

Slew-footing is an oft-forgotten rule the NCAA describes as “the act of a player or goalkeeper using the leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under them or pushing an opponent’s upper body backward with an arm or elbow, and at the same time with a forward motion of the leg, knocking or kicking the opponent’s feet from under them, causing the opponent to fall violently to the ice.”  

The penalty carries with it a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Officials agreed with O’Connell upon review, meaning BU was headed to the power play, and Devlin was headed back to the dressing room.  

“I’ve got to watch it again. I watched it quickly. I saw it in real-time, and I wasn’t sure if it was a slew foot or not,” said UNH head coach Mike Souza. “But I’ve got a lot of respect for Jeremey and Marty, [Friday’s referees] I think if they had a chance to look at it on video, I’m sure they got the call right.”  

It only took the Terriers a minute and a half to capitalize on the opportunity. BU Sophomore forward Dylan Peterson acted as the set-up man. He carried the puck from the point and into the slot, shielded it from a storm of defenders, then shipped it to his left. On the receiving end of his pass was BU senior captain Logan Cockerill. Robinson read the cross-crease pass, but his outstretched 6’4 frame failed to stop Cockerill’s shot from finding the back of the net.  

Following the elongated one-man advantage, the Terriers looked to have struck again. BU junior defender Alex Vlasic fooled Robinson with a shot from the top of the left faceoff circle. Souza disagreed and asked for the officials to review the play to see if BU was offside when they entered the zone.  

Just like that, pink-shirted officials held the game in the palm of their hands. After five laborious minutes, officials sided with Souza to nullify Vlasics’ goal and bring an end to a six-minute stretch that sunk its teeth into the fate of the game.  

Despite their 12 shots, the third period offered no change for the ‘Cats. With a little over two minutes, Souza attempted to breathe life by pulling Robinson to give his team a man advantage. However, this man-advantage befell the same scoreless fate as the three other chances UNH had earlier in the game.  

Instead, BU graduate student Max Kaufman notched an empty netter to railroad any hopes of a comeback. 

That said, Souza was happy with how his team competed.  

“I was proud of the way we played right to the end,” said Souza. “We gave ourselves a chance, had a couple of chances on the six-on-five, but it’s hard to win hockey games if you only score one goal.”  

O’Connell believed the slew-footing call was the deciding moment of the game saying it was the “call of the year of [BU]. It was a big turning point in that game, and it was the right call.” 

Though the venue may have changed for the second game, the results did not. One of the few exceptions is that BU started the scoring; more specifically, Matt Brown started the scoring. He beat Robinson on the power play with a high shot that squeaked over the goaltender’s shoulder.  

Brown’s goal was the third power play marker UNH allowed on the weekend. Something which comes as a shock given the school was fourth in the nation in that category just last weekend.  

The lone goal seemed to be a fatal one as Wildcats offense couldn’t generate a consistent flow on offense, let alone score. Through the first two periods, the Wildcats had mustered just seven shots to the Terriers total of 17.  

Then came the third period. The Wildcats were a team possessed, tallying 18 shots, but none were of more importance than Devlin’s shot with 7:07 left to play. The puck found the first-year forward’s stick courtesy of a beautiful pass from Huard at the point. All Devlin had to do was direct the puck into the far post of Commesso’s net, for his fourth goal of the year.  

With neither team able to lay claim during regulation, the game headed to overtime. A period the Whittemore Center has grown accustomed to as the last four home games have all gone to extras.  

In the previous three, UNH had come through with the win. Kaufman decided to halt the streak there, however. With 13.9 seconds to play, the assistant captain got a one-on-one chance against Robinson and did not miss, moving the puck to his backhand then lifting it over him for the game-winner.  

“We bent. We didn’t break,” O’Connell said.  

While Kaufman slid across the ice on one knee with his fist raised, Robinson slouched in his crease, eyes staring at the blue paint through the slits of his mask as defeat sunk in.  

Souza’s comments Friday applied to Saturday as well, “It’s hard to win hockey games if you score one goal.”  

When the weekend began, the Wildcats were riding high; three straight wins, two against nationally ranked opponents, and had two games ahead of them against a Terrier team with a single win in their last nine games.  

Instead of riding that momentum, the Wildcats escape with one point out of a possible six in the Hockey East and face questions about an offense that is now 56th in the nation with 1.56 goals per game. 

UNH will have more than three weeks to try and fix things before returning on Dec. 30 to play Dartmouth College (2-8, 2-5) in the second game of the Ledyard Bank Classic.   

Photo courtesy of Jess Speechley