UNH men’s hockey: Wildcats searching for answers after Game Show Night-defeat to Merrimack



Joshua Shaw, Sports Writer

DURHAM, N.H. — Question: Despite a valiant comeback attempt, this NCAA Division I men’s hockey team lost to the Merrimack College Warriors (18-12-1, 13-9-0) at home on Saturday night.  

Answer: Who are the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (14-16-1, 8-13-1)?  

Game Show Night started strong for the Wildcats. First-year defender Colton Huard unleashed a howitzer 11 minutes into the game that beat Merrimack sophomore goaltender Zachary Borgiel. And while the scoreboard only read 1-0, the Wildcats had the advantage in shots, shots on goal, were tied with ten faceoff wins and had forced the Warriors to block seven shots in the first to keep it close. It was all Wildcats.  

Until the 19th minute of the period. An innocuous faceoff win in the Wildcats defensive zone by Merrimack junior Liam Walsh ignited the beginning of the end. Off the draw, Walsh passed the puck to linemate and fellow junior Filip Forsmark. Before the puck found Forsmark at the top of the faceoff circle, his stick was already in motion. The shot rocketed past UNH senior goaltender Michael Robinson to tie the game.  

In one second, all the dominance the Wildcats had established was erased along with the Warriors slow start. After the game, Merrimack head coach Scott Borek pointed toward UNH’s larger sheet of ice as the reason his team failed to find their footing until the last minute.  

“It felt that way, I didn’t think it should have been that way, we played here in the fall,” Borek explained. “[UNH] made us look probably more disoriented than we really were. But it did take them a while to get defensively into that rhythm.”  

As the Warriors found that rhythm, the Wildcats lost theirs. Almost seven minutes into the second, the Warriors utilized pinpoint passing to move both Robinson’s eyes and his body. Just as the goaltender’s momentum pivoted to his near post, Merrimack sophomore Alex Jefferies sauced the puck across the ice to sophomore Chrisitan Felton. The sophomore took a second to corral the puck before blasting it over an outstretched Robinson.  

Felton’s goal was the most obvious display of Merrimack’s second-period performance. In total, they outshot the Wildcats 10-6 and were in total control. 

“I didn’t like the way we responded in the second period at all,” a dejected Mike Souza said.  

At the least, with a one-goal deficit, UNH gave themselves a chance heading into the third period. Within five minutes, that deficit ballooned into two then three. 

Merrimack’s third of the night came courtesy of a gorgeous play by Walsh and junior Ben Barr. Walsh started the play behind the net and faked a Michigan goal. As Walsh’s stick flicked an invisible puck and captured Robinson’s attention, Barr carried the real deal and darted behind the net towards the other post. The junior finished the wraparound with Robinson none the wiser.  

 “Credit [for the play] goes to one of my assistants Josh Ciocco,” Borek said. “If I knew we were running it because he was running the power play, I might have questioned the decision. Once it went in I said, ‘Great, great play.’  

With eight minutes remaining in the second, hope was careening out of the Whittemore Center. Fans trickled out of the red and blue seats for the exit while everyone prepared to chalk another loss in the ledger. Then the ‘Cats got a 3-on-2 rush. Then they scored.  

Then they scored again. Then UNH was down by just one goal with 2:14 remaining in the game and an empty net at the other end. Then, all those fans surely began to regret their decision to leave.  

In those final two minutes, the Wildcats attempted eight shots. Of those eight shots, five were blocked, one sailed wide and one was miraculously snagged in the air by Borgiel. To the Wildcats chagrin, the defensive rhythm the Warriors found at the end of the first was their failsafe.  

“The positive for me is, I thought our kids played right to the final buzzer. And as we said after the game, [we] wouldn’t expect anything less from them. And you know what, I know we’ll play to the final buzzer of the season. That’s for sure,” Souza said.  

While Souza’s pride is warranted, the Wildcats are still looking for consistency as the season closes. One day, UNH will be shut out 3-0 by a five-win team. The next, UNH shut out the No. 13 team in the nation.  

“I’m not going to reflect on what I think or what we are as a group right now. All I know is that we have an opportunity to compete for home ice still in the playoffs. That’s a goal of ours,” Souza said. 

The ‘Cats can fulfill their head coach’s goal next week with a win, but they’ll have their hands full as they play the No. 16 UMass Lowell Riverhawks (18-9-3, 13-8-1).  

Photo courtesy of Jess Speechley