BOSTON — When Kevin Goumas arrived at the Whittemore Center last Sunday, he did so knowing it could be his final collegiate hockey game. Lose to Northeastern, and his University of New Hampshire hockey team would be finished. The senior center's days as a Wildcat would be done.
So Goumas did something about it. And he's still not done — with his season, with his career, or with making a difference.
After his hat trick helped UNH survive last week's quarters, Goumas scored twice more in Friday night's Hockey East semifinal, spearheading a three-strike second period that gave the Wildcats a lead they wouldn't relinquish. With a 3-1 triumph over Providence, the Wildcats put themselves in the conference final, where they'll take on reigning champion UMass Lowell tonight with the league crown — and, still, their season — at stake.
Despite adding a 22nd win to their resume, it is almost certain that UNH (22-17-1) will not be given an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, according to the PairWise system that attempts to mimic the process the selection committee employs in seeding the national tournament — so the Wildcats still aren't out of the woods even after knocking off a Friar (21-10-6) team that is likely to hear its name called during Sunday's selection show.
The 'Cats need another win, and it won't be easy against a River Hawk team that blanked Notre Dame, 4-0, on Friday, and hasn't allowed a goal at TD Garden in its last 140 minutes of play.
But with the way Goumas, and Matt Willows, Nick Sorkin and Eric Knodel (each of those three notched his 21st assist of the season on Friday) have been producing lately, UNH looks well-equipped entering its first Hockey East title game in seven years.
UNH got a chance with the extra attacker in the first three minutes of the second, but did little more than pad its shot advantage with a couple more, so the ice remained unbroken until seven minutes had elapsed in the period — when the Wildcats' leading scorer displayed for a crowd of 11,143 the skill that's made him one of the most productive players in the program's recent history.
With Providence on its first power play, Goumas gathered the puck near his own blue line and hauled it up the right wing. He held the puck wide, with only his right hand on his stick as he did, and with speed he was able to create a step on the defenseman who chased him. He carried that speed, and the rubber, around the back of the cage — and before PC goalie Jon Gillies could slide across his crease, Goumas got his other hand on his stick and cleanly tucked his 18th tally of the season inside the near pipe.
It was his second shorthanded goal in two games.
About six minutes after taking their initial lead the 'Cats doubled it, when Justin Agosta's drive from the point snuck past Gillies after glancing off the skate of Friars defenseman Kevin Hart. Then about six minutes after that, Goumas got in the act again.
This time his rush up the ice came accompanied by Nick Sorkin, and though the two couldn't connect on a promising pass across the slot, the Wildcat seniors were still able to fish possession out of some traffic behind the Providence net. The middle stanza was down to its final ticks, so Goumas couldn't do much, but he managed to pull the puck to the side of the crease and throw it toward the front.
When he did, the goalie extended his stick in an effort to clear it away — but instead the puck popped off Gillies' paddle and into the cage. The only question was whether it had crossed the goal line before time expired, though the officials' review revealed there were 0.4 seconds to spare, and so UNH went to the final intermission with a 3-0 advantage.
Kevin Rooney scored for Providence with16:38 left in regulation.
*** *UNH's lineup featured 17 of the 18 players who helped eliminate Northeastern in last week's quarterfinal, with senior Jeff Silengo returning from an illness to take Collin Bourque's spot on the right wing.
* Goumas entered the game tied with 144 career points, tying him with Wildcats head coach Dick Umile for 30th on the school's all-time scoring list.
*Friday night marked the 1,000th UNH hockey game of athletic trainer Glenn Riefenstahl's career — which dates to the 1988-89 season. He has missed two games during that span.
*Hockey East presented its Founders Medal to former Boston University coach Jack Parker between the semifinal games as part of a ceremony honoring coaches from throughout the league's 30-year history.