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Tirone’s effort gives UNH a weekend split

The UNH men’s hockey team might be struggling of late, but it brought the heat of competition to two of the NCAA’s top programs over the weekend.

The Wildcats couldn’t pull out a weekend sweep against Boston College and UMass Lowell, but they managed to split the series. After falling in a competitive contest to the Eagles 4-3, Danny Tirone’s 43 saves propelled the team to a much-needed win against the River Hawks. Saturday was the first time UNH has defeated UMass Lowell since Dec. 1 2012.

“Play like that and we’ll see where we go, because I really liked the way we competed,” head coach Dick Umile said following the loss to BC. “We got stronger as the game went on and battled and I thought we had an opportunity.”

Boston College entered the weekend as the No. 4 team in Division I hockey, but the Wildcats made the game worth watching.

After a scoreless first period, the Eagles landed two quick goals on Tirone. The first came on a power play from Austin Cangelosi. The ‘Cats clawed their way back with two goals, one from Kyle Smith and one from Andrew Poturalski.  The goal was Smith’s third in two games.

But BC dropped another two-goal bombshell on UNH in the third period giving the Eagles a strong 4-2 lead. Dan Correale’s highlight-reel goal from his knees gave the ‘Cats some life late in the game, but they could not complete the comeback.

Despite the loss, UNH played physically, and Tirone put on a great show. The sophomore goaltender was peppered with 34 shots, 18 of which came in the first period. He was acrobatic in his efforts against one of the nation’s top offenses, and earned praise from Umile.

“He made key saves at a key time when we needed him,” Umile said. “It was a good hockey game and I liked the way the team competed.”

The team brought a similar intensity to the Tsongas Center on Saturday night. This time, the Wildcats came out on top. The game came down to the final seconds, but UNH earned a crucial 3-2 win.

The Wildcats were a dominant force in the first period, drawing blood only 30 seconds into the contest.

Poturalski netted his 21st goal to give UNH a 1-0 lead. It was the first game in which UNH scored the first goal since Dec. 30 against the University of Maine at the Verizon Wireless Arena. Tirone took over the rest of the first stanza to secure the lead going into the second period.

Poturalski attempted his first penalty shot as a Wildcat in the second period, but the sophomore was denied. Only minutes later, sophomore forward Shane Eiserman tallied his first goal of the season to put UNH up by two.

“It was kind of dragging on. It was kind of haunting me  a little bit,” Eiserman said when asked about the scoring drought. “It was good to get that goal and you know, to get the win, too.”

Ara Nazarian joined the party halfway through the third period with a nifty cut move and top-shelf goal to put UNH ahead 3-0. But the River Hawks would not go away quietly.

With their goalie pulled, Jake Kamrass and Nick Master cut the deficit to one with just over a minute left in regulation.

Tirone didn’t let the two goals rattle him, standing tall once again and helping UNH secure the victory with a 43-save effort.

“They came hard. They’re a good team. They got a couple but we were able to close it out,” Tirone said. “They are definitely one of the best teams we’ve played.”

“He competes real hard, the kid does everything,” Umile said, praising his young goaltender’s work ethic. “He trains well, he eats well, he’s a great student, everything about him. He’s a terrific young man.”

The Wildcats return home to the Whittemore Center for a two-game series against the Vermont Catamounts next weekend. The last time they met, the Catamounts edged the ‘Cats in overtime at the Gutterson Fieldhouse by a score of 3-2. Both teams are tied for sixth in Hockey East with 12 points.

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