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March 20. 2014 11:07PM

Allen Lessels on College Hockey: High-stakes semifinal for Wildcats

DURHAM --- Last year, Providence College beat New Hampshire in the battle to get to Boston.

Tonight, they do battle in Boston and the stakes are even higher.

No. 3 seed Providence and No. 4 UNH square off in the second of two Hockey East semifinal matches at TD Bank Garden. The game is scheduled for 8 p.m., but will probably start at least a little after that.

No. 2 UMass-Lowell takes on No. 8 Notre Dame — the team that took out No. 1 Boston College last week in the quarterfinals — in the first semifinal of the night at 5 p.m.

The semifinal winners meet for the Hockey East tournament championship and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament on Saturday night at 7.

Providence is 21-9-6 overall and will likely earn an at-large berth to the NCAAs no matter tonight’s outcome, but would like to make more sure of things with a win.

UNH, 21-17-1, needs to win the Hockey East tournament to get into the NCAA tournament.

The Friars and Wildcats played six times last season — Providence won four and one was a tie — and they split a pair of games in Providence in November. Providence won the quarterfinal series two games to one.

“It was a great series last year,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “It was hard-fought and we know that’s exactly how it’s going to be in Boston. They go to the net hard, very similar to Northeastern.”

UNH knocked off Northeastern in a tight quarterfinal series at the Whittemore Center last weekend.

“We thought Northeastern’s transition game was as good as we’ve played,” Umile said. “They take it to the net and get into the grade A areas, throw the puck in there. It’s a hard area to defend when they’re on the rush.”

There were Huskies all around the UNH net and goalie Casey DeSmith, a junior from Rochester, much of last weekend.

The Wildcats expect to see more of that from the likes of Providence forwards Nick Saracino, Ross Mauermann and Mark Jankowski this weekend.

“We’ve really got to control the front of our net,” said UNH sophomore defenseman Brett Pesce. “Pick up sticks as best we can, just get people out of there.”

At the other end, UNH will be trying to cause problems for, and create traffic in front of, Providence goalie Jon Gillies. The 6-foot-5 sophomore from South Portland, Maine, is the son of Bruce Gillies, a standout goalie at Bishop Brady High School in Concord and then at UNH.

“He’s a big guy and he’s pretty athletic for a big guy,” Umile said.

“He’ll catch everything if we don’t screen him. We’re not going to beat him unless we make him move and make him work in there.”

Providence and Gillies had a very good start to the season, stumbled a bit at the start of the New Year and have come on strong in recent weeks.

The Friars won a couple of games at Maine to clinch home ice for the playoffs the last week of the regular season and beat the Black Bears again at home in two games in the quarterfinals last weekend.

Providence ranks last in Hockey East with a 13.9 success rate on the power play, but the unit has picked up the pace in recent weeks. The power play had three goals in 10 chances last week against Maine.

Gillies is third in Hockey East with a .930 save percentage. DeSmith is tied for eighth at .920.

Gillies is fifth with a 2.17 goal-against average and DeSmith is eighth at 2.39.

Gillies and DeSmith played juniors together with the Indiana Ice in the United States Hockey League.

40 years ago

No. 8 Notre Dame’s upset of No. 1 Boston College brought back memories of one of the great moments in UNH hockey history.

Actually, it was 61 seconds of playing time and it came, oddly enough, during a Wildcat loss.

Forty years ago this month, on March 5, 1974, UNH was the No. 1 seed in the ECAC tournament and was playing No. 8 RPI in a single elimination, first-round game at home in Snively Arena.

UNH started future All American Cap Raeder in goal, but he had been injured in the previous game and soon he had been replaced and UNH was in a 4-1 hole to the visitors.

The Wildcats and Engineers were skating three-on-three at the start of the second period because of a series of penalties and UNH coach Charlie Holt put three forwards on the ice.

Not just any forwards, mind you, but three of the best ever to play at UNH in senior Gordie Clark, who was already an All American, and sophomores Cliff Cox and Jamie Hislop, who would be All Americans before long.

Cox scored once 44 seconds into the period and again at 1:05. Clark scored at 1:45, still three-on-three, and just like that it was all tied up at 4-4.

Snively was absolutely rocking.

RPI scored again to go in front. Cox scored his third of the game to tie it.

RPI scored again and this time Mike Burkart scored with 1:37 left in the game and it was 6-6.

The Engineers won it with a goal 1:38 into overtime and knocked UNH out of the tournament.

The whole segment — that’s longtime voice of the Wildcats Jim Jeannotte on play-by-play and keep an eye out for Bob Norton, then the assistant to Holt and later a hockey TV analyst, on the UNH bench — is available on YouTube.

Check it out. It’s well worth a few minutes.


alessels@unionleader.com On Twitter: @AllenLessels


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