College Hockey: Wildcats fall in bid for Hockey East crown
DURHAM - Bottom line, it was a major opportunity lost.
The University of New Hampshire roared back with a couple of extra attacker goals in the last minute and a half, but came up short and fell, 4-3, to Maine on Friday night in front of 6,501 at the Whittemore Center.
The Wildcats squandered a chance to win the Hockey East title outright and put at risk their chances of getting home ice for the start of the league playoffs next week.
"Very, very disappointing," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "We just blew that opportunity to win the regular season championship. The cards were laid out for us to do it."
Providence opened the door to first place by beating UMass Lowell 3-0 on Friday night.
But the Wildcats could not take advantage of their opportunity.
Instead, they fell into a tie for third place with Boston College.
Lowell and Providence are tied for first place with 32 points each. UNH and BC are a point back with 31 heading into the final games of the regular season this afternoon and tonight.
UNH and Maine meet again at 4 p.m. at the Whittemore Center.
"We've got to win to get home ice," Umile said. "That's where we're at."
Boston University is a point behind UNH in fifth place and Merrimack is another point back in sixth. Either, or both, can knock the Wildcats out of a top-four spot and send them on the road for the quarterfinals.
UNH, the No. 4 team in the country, fell to 18-9-6 overall and 13-8-5 in the league.
Maine accomplished its goal for the weekend.
Several minutes after the UNH-Maine game ended, loud cheering came from the Maine locker room when word came that Merrimack had knocked off Massachusetts in overtime. Maine's win, coupled with the Massachusetts loss, guaranteed the Black Bears a spot in the playoffs.
Maine freshman Steven Swavely started the scoring at the 8:45 mark of the first period with a shorthanded goal, the second given up by UNH this year and first since the opening game of the season.
Freshman Devin Shore set up Swavely, who trailed the play and beat Casey DeSmith, a sophomore from Rochester, with a blast to the stick side.
Shore had a big-time bid from straight-on to make it 2-0 with just over six minutes left in the second period and DeSmith came up with a huge glove save. The goalie and UNH caught a break a minute later when Will Merchant hit the post.
Senior forward Austin Block had a pair of good chances for UNH in the period, but goalie Martin Ouellette (31 saves) stopped both of them.
Still down a goal, the Wildcats pressured Ouellette and Maine on a power play early in the third period but could still not get one past him.
Then Kyle Beattie crashed the net and knocked in the rebound of a Jon Swavely and it was 2-0 with 10:42 to play.
The Wildcats finally got on the scoreboard with 6:31 left in the period when a Eric Knodel shot deflected off forward Dalton Speelman and past Ouellette.
The Black Bears wasted little time in answering that one and quickly put the game away with a pair of goals.
Defenseman Mike Cornell scored the first off a faceoff, 23 seconds after the Speelman goal. Nineteen seconds later Beattie circled the UNH net and tucked the puck behind DeSmith (20 saves) and just like that it was 4-1 with 5:54 to go.
Then things got wild. UNH defenseman Eric Knodel scored a power-play goal with DeSmith also pulled for an extra attacker and it was 4-2 with 1:13 left.
Then Austin Block scored another extra attacker goal with 23.2 seconds left.
The Wildcats pressured again in the closing seconds but could not tie it.
"Pretty crazy," said Maine coach Tim Whitehead.