College Hockey: UNH wins, gets the help it needs for first-round bye
The University of New Hampshire needed just seven ticks of the clock in the second period to turn around a game that was going the wrong way at Merrimack College.
A goal by sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce at the 12:21 mark of the period followed by one from senior forward Dalton Speelman seven seconds later spurred the Wildcats to a 5-2 win at Lawler Arena.
The win, coupled with a Boston University win at Northeastern, gives UNH the No. 4 seed in the Hockey East tournament. The Wildcats earn a first-round bye and will play a best-of-three quarterfinal series at the Whittemore Center beginning on March 14.
The Wildcats will play host to Northeastern in the quarterfinals.
UNH and the Huskies finished tied for fourth, but UNH gets the bye and home ice because it swept the season series from Northeastern.
The Wildcats found out they had earned home ice for the playoffs as they came off the ice.
"The guys are ecstatic," said senior forward Kevin Goumas who had a goal and three assists. "It's pretty exciting. We haven't had home ice since my freshman year."
UNH lost in three games in the quarterfinals last year at Providence and in three games in the quarters the year before at Boston University.
Prospects for home ice were not looking good halfway through the game.
At the midway point, Merrimack led, 1-0, and was outshooting UNH 33-7.
Less than three minutes later, UNH led 2-1.
"Obviously they were taking it to us early in the game," UNH coach Dick Umile said. "I thought the guys in the middle of the second period turned it around and started to battle back. . . . In the middle of the game I think we started to get an awful lot of confidence. We started turning the puck over and doing a good job of getting out of the zone. We were getting hemmed in in the first half."
Casey DeSmith, the junior from Rochester, was immense for UNH with 49 saves.
"He comes up with big saves all the time, every time we need him late in the game," Goumas said."
Merrimack outshot UNH, 51-21.
UNH improved to 19-16-1 overall and 11-9-0 in Hockey East.
Merrimack finished the regular season 8-21-3 and 3-15-2.
The Wildcats led 3-1 after two period and Clayton Jardine scored to cut the lead to one with 12:19 left in the third period.
Goumas answered that with a goal with 6:58 left to put UNH back on top by two. Pesce and senior defenseman Eric Knodel had assists.
Goumas collected his final assist, No. 100 for his career, on Nick Sorkin's empty net goal with 1:28 to play.
The Wildcats broke the game open with three second period goals.
Goumas was behind the net and passed out front to Pesce at the top of the right faceoff circle for the first goal at 12:21. Sorkin made a diving play to poke the puck to Goumas and put things in motion.
The ensuing faceoff went from Grayson Downing to Knodel and up to Speelman, who raced up the left side and beat Sam Marotta with a blast to the far side.
Sorkin finished off a two-on-one with Willows to give UNH a bit of a cushion at 3-1 with 39.4 seconds left in the period.
On Friday night, Merrimack took control of the game with a couple of second-period goals after a scoreless first two periods.
The Warriors opened the scoring on a Quinn Gould power play goal with 8:46 left in the first period on Saturday. Quinn was just outside the crease when he collected a pass from Chris Collins, who was behind the net, and put it behind DeSmith.
Merrimack outshot UNH 20-5 in a penalty filled first period. The Warriors had seven shots on three power plays. UNH had one shot on its two power plays. The Warriors finished with 14 shots on five power plays, UNH had three shots on four power plays.
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No. 10 Massachusetts is at No. 7 Vermont, No. 9 BU is at No. 8 Notre Dame and No. 11 Merrimack is at No. 6 Maine in single game playoffs next weekend. . . . Boston College is the No. 1 seed, UMass-Lowell the No. 2 and Providence the No. 3. The winning teams next week will be reseeded for the quarterfinals.