Men's Hockey: UNH edges Maine
DURHAM — Down a couple of key players and entering crunch time in the season, the University of New Hampshire hockey team needed some people to step up.
Led by senior defenseman captain Eric Knodel and junior goalie Casey DeSmith, the Wildcats did just that on Friday night and knocked off No. 20 Maine, 3-2, in front of a sellout crowd of 6,501 at the Whittemore Center.
Knodel put UNH in front for good with a second-period blast that beat Maine goalie Martin Ouellette.
DeSmith, a junior from Rochester, made 32 saves.
Maine's Mark Anthoine scored an extra attacker goal with 54.7 seconds remaining to cut UNH's lead to a goal and make things interesting.
The Black Bears kept coming in the closing seconds, but DeSmith and his defenders held on.
The Wildcats improved to 14-12-1 overall and 6-5-0 in Hockey East.
UNH jumped over UMass-Lowell in the standings and into a fourth-place tie with Maine.
Maine first-year coach Red Gendron, a native of Berlin, dropped his first game against UNH. His team fell to 11-9-3 and 5-4-2.
UMass-Lowell dropped a 5-4 game at Providence College on Friday night when the Friars scored three goals in the last seven and a half minutes.
UNH and Maine both headed north up I-95 after the game and will finish off the series on Saturday night at 7 in Orono.
Knodel gave UNH a 2-1 lead with a one-timer from the left point that beat Ouellette to the glove side at 7:23 of the second period.
Sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce took the initial shot, got the puck back after the shot was blocked and got it over to Knodel.
It was Knodel's sixth goal of the season and second at even strength.
"Eric Knodel's had a fabulous season," said UNH coach Dick Umile earlier in the week. "He's done it all over the ice, on the penalty kill, blocking shots, scoring goals, getting into the rush. He's played very well. He's done yeoman work for us."
The Wildcats had several chances to extend the lead to two goals late in the second period.
Ouellette stopped a bid by Tyler Kelleher, who deflected a shot by Knodel. Casey Thrush made a nice move to get in close and beat Ouellette with a backhander, but the puck bounced off the inside of the left post and away.
The Wildcats did push the lead to 3-1 just 2:22 into the third period.
Junior Jay Camper finished off a nifty bit of passing with his first goal of the season. The play went Thrush to Kelleher to Camper in tight.
The insurance goal came in handy when Maine scored in the last minute.
The Wildcats finally scored a first goal of the game. Opponents had scored first in each of UNH's last six games and eight of the last nine.
UNH senior forward Nick Sorkin cut right to left in front of Ouellette and slid the puck back past the goalie.
Will Merchant answered for Maine just over two minutes later and it stayed 1-1 through the end of the period. Maine took the play to UNH late in the period and ended up with a 16-6 advantage in shots through the first 20 minutes.
Defenseman Brice O'Connor, a senior from Londonderry, is the Maine captain. Brian Morgan, a freshman from Windham, was left wing on the third line for the Black Bears ... UNH played its first full game without junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (broken ankle) and junior center Grayson Downing (sprained shoulder) who left Saturday's game against Union after being injured.