UNH men’s hockey: Despite late comeback, No. 9 Wildcats eliminated in OT by No. 8 Boston College



Joshua Shaw, Sports Writer

BOSTON, MASS. — To survive the opening round of the Hockey East Tournament, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (14-19-1, 8-15-1) men’s hockey had to overcome past demons.  

Their last trip in the tourney ended in a 3-2 loss to Boston College (15-17-5, 9-12-3) in Chestnut Hill’s Conte Forum. Now 360 days later, the ‘Cats found themselves back in the Eagles’ nest, aiming not just to avenge last year’s defeat, but their 3-9 playoff record against the Eagles.  

Entering the third period of Wednesday’s playoff opener, all the Wildcats demons from years past were joined by those that plagued them earlier this season. The offense looked sluggish with a lack of quality chances despite outshooting the Eagles 23-17 while the power-play unit started 0-for-3. During their second attempt, UNH senior goaltender Michael Robinson got beat, allowing his second short-handed goal in as many starts.  

The Wildcats faltered under the bulbs of Conte Forum, exposing a team that played well in spurts but felt lucky to only be down by a pair of goals.  

Then a special teams exorcism occurred.  

With 11:29 remaining in the third, the Wildcats headed to their fourth power play of the night. And in nine seconds, the unit did what they hadn’t done in their last 10 times: score a goal. Senior Tyler Ward drifted to BC senior goaltender Eric Dop’s right post and flipped it over his shoulder for his second goal of the game to get the ‘Cats back on the board and back within one.  

With 4:53 remaining, the ‘Cats still needed one more. One more would tie things up. One more would send them into OT, where they’re 3-2 this season. 

One more came to them after junior Liam Izyk collided with Mike Robinson to send the ‘Cats back to the power play. Once more, UNH needed less than 10 seconds to find the back of the net, and once more Ward got the job done, deflecting a shot from the point past Dop to tie the game.  

“I thought two penalties gave them a little life in the third period. With the goalie, you can’t go anywhere near a goalie,” BC head coach Jerry York said following the game. “We got tangled up with [Robinson], and we paid our dues for that.”  

The Wildcats almost had to pay their own dues. With 35.5 seconds on the clock, senior captain Will MacKinnon took an ill-advised penalty. Yet the Wildcats killed the penalty in regulation and overtime.  

As MacKinnon stepped out of the penalty box, the game had been born again. Both teams were back at full strength. Both teams now understood one another. They knew each other’s weaknesses and strengths. What it takes to score and what’s at stake. Along with this understanding came tension. The sort that comes when any second could shatter dreams on one end while on the others they’re fulfilled.  

This is what playoff hockey is predicated on.  

Wednesday night, OT was dictated by the Wildcats, however. At the faceoff circle, the Wildcats won six draws while they had attempted six shots, each of which Dop stopped, upping his total to 44 saves on the night.  

On the other end of the ice, the Wildcats’ defense was just as dominant, blocking four shots while Robinson only had to make one single save.  

It was the only save Robinson made. With nine minutes remaining in overtime, UNH failed to clear the puck and allowed BC senior Marc McLaughlin to keep the play alive. The BC captain passed it to junior defenseman Marshall Warren at the point. Warren deked out a defender, recovered the puck after another stripped it from him, and backhanded the puck across the crease to McLaughlin.  

Robinson pivoted; McLaughlin dropped to a knee. The goaltender flung out his body to try and make one more save while the forward fired the puck to try and make one final shot.  

McLaughlin succeeded. The puck sailed over Robinson’s outstretched body and into the back of the net. From the benches came a gold rush of jerseys to envelop McLaughlin.  

“The goal was an outstanding play by Marsh. He lost the puck, got it back, and then found the backdoor. Marc [McLaughlin’s] not in a great situation because Robinson’s a big goaltender, but he was off balance a little bit and snapped it up top,” York explained.   

And while the Eagles celebrated, Robinson sat on his knees as the realization settled in. The New Hampshire native committed to the team back in 2014. He’s played for the Wildcats since 2017 and made 2,656 saves. And yet, this is how it all ends. With the one save he didn’t make. 

“You know we have a tradition, coaches, staff, underclassmen, we all thank the seniors for their contributions,” UNH head coach Mike Souza said. “I thought [Robinson] battled… Having five years with Michael, I thought he played well. I thought he gave us a chance. That’s all we ask him; give us a chance and he gave us a chance tonight.”  

Robinson isn’t the only senior whose final Wildcats moments would be defined by Wednesday night. The team’s 11 seniors are the most in the country with captain Will MacKinnon, assistant captains Jackson Pierson, Eric MacAdams, Wednesday’s hattrick hero Tyler Ward and Filip Engarås a part of that total.  

“You feel for those kids. You take that jersey off for the final time and it’s hard to see. I was telling the underclassmen that they’ll go through it someday,” Souza said. What’s the old line, ‘The older you get, the more it means?’”  

A long offseason awaits the Wildcats. One with perhaps more roster turnover than any team other in the nation and yet there is reason for hope. First-year players like Robert Cronin, Colton Huard, Alex Gagne and Liam Devlin all showed promise, with the last three winning Hockey East hardware this season.  

But there are no guarantees. Not in life or in hockey. All the Wildcats have is the promise that in another 360 days or so, they’ll get one more chance at glory.  

Photo courtesy of China Wong