GOFFSTOWN — As it has been recited time and time again, shots on goal is an overrated statistic in hockey.
Case in point came during Saturday’s Northeast 10/ECAC Division II championship tilt. Saint Anselm College put up 40 shots on goal yet Southern New Hampshire University prevailed 4-3 at Sullivan Arena.
“I cannot say enough about this win,” said Penmen junior goaltender Kurt Gutting, who finished with 37 saves and was voted tournament MVP. “We’ve gone through so much adversity throughout the whole year and in years past. For our seniors to go out like this, it is incredible.”
In spite of finishing with just 16 shots, the Penmen made theirs count a little more as they claimed their first postseason crown since 2014.
Second-ranked SNHU jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before holding off a late-surging Hawks club to earn the victory.
“It was a wacky game,” Penmen second-year head coach Sean Walsh said. “The emotions were kind of all over the place. Trying to control those emotions was probably the biggest thing for us.”
No. 1 seed Saint Anselm, who won the Northeast 10/ECAC Division II title a year ago (its 10th overall), appeared somewhat bewildered by the events taking place during the opening 20 minutes. The Penmen (14-9-4) came out with a little extra adrenaline flowing as their play appeared to stay one step ahead of the Hawks, beating them to loose pucks and creating time and space inside the offensive zone.
The results soon followed. Just 1:04 in, Artem Efimov-Barakov tallied to give SNHU a 1-0 lead. Three minutes later, Joe Fiorino, taking a nice side feed from Andy Somerville off of the left half-wall, streaked in between the circles untouched before flipping a shot over Colin Soucy’s shoulder.
Continuing to dictate the pace, Hooksett’s Chris Moquin scored on a tip-in at 16:52 to send the Penmen into the first intermission on top by three.
“Jumping out by three goals was huge for us,” said Fiorino, finishing with two goals. “To get a lead like that early was massive. This is the best feeling in the world. A rivalry game like this, it doesn’t get any better than that.”
From the opening face-off to begin the middle period, Saint Anselm (16-13-2) was finally able to adjust and get itself playing the way it is accustomed to. Fully dominating the action throughout the frame, the Hawks began to rev up their play inside their offensive zone as they started moving their feet and positioning themselves down low. Putting forth the first 17 shots of the period, Saint Anselm, which holds a 36-7-1 all-time lead against SNHU, proceeded to narrow the deficit to one goal thanks to a pair of markers from junior forward Sean Verrier, the second one coming on the power play. However, SNHU’s first attempt on goal, coming at 11:55, resulted in Fiorino’s second score of the afternoon. Standing just above the right circle, the freshman unloaded a shot through traffic that Soucy never saw, upping the Penmen’s advantage to 4-2.
“You cannot give a team three early goals like we did,” Hawks first-year head coach Larry Rocha said. “We did a nice job coming back in the second period. I thought their goalie made some good saves and in the end, we just couldn’t convert. (Fiorino’s) goal in the second killed us because we had worked so hard to regain momentum then all of sudden it is 4-2. But that’s the nature of the game. It happens.”
The Hawks answered back with fewer than four minutes left. Beginning with a hard rush up the ice, junior Trey Aiello pushed in a rebound to make it a one-goal affair again.
With 20 minutes remaining to decide a victor, Saint Anselm parlayed its strong second period into the third. The Hawks gained control of things, constantly working the puck inside the attacking zone. However, many of their attempts sailed wide of its target, as they finished with eight shots in the frame.
“Once we got into the third I thought we were better with our details,” said Walsh. “You cannot underestimate the size of this team’s heart and fortitude. We were led by a senior group (and) down the stretch, we were able to lean on those guys a lot. The biggest thing was us beating them two weeks ago (3-1 on Feb. 16). I think that gave us a belief all week that we’re going to come in and beat these guys. Fortunately we did.”