PROVIDENCE, R.I. — When Mike Souza was named the New Hampshire men’s hockey coach, the last thing he had in mind was breaking one of the program’s more bizarre records: most overtime games played in one season (12).
After Friday’s 1-1 tie with No. 10 Providence College in a Hockey East game – the first of a home-and-home series — the Wildcats are well on their way to smashing that record.
Seven of UNH’s 13 games (and five of the last seven) have gone into overtime.
Making the Wildcats’ task even more difficult was the fact they were playing without two-thirds of their No. 1 line (Charlie Kelleher and Jackson Pearson) plus two of their top defensemen (Benton Maass and Matt Dawson), which deprived the Wildcats of a combined 21 points.
Despite playing short-handed and given the caliber of the opposition, Souza only had praise for his team.
“I thought we got some great performances out of a lot of guys,” Souza said. “A lot of guys played their tails off tonight. I was proud of the way we competed for 65 minutes.
“And we lost another defenseman (Richard Boyd) early in the first. It was a gritty effort tonight. But I told them coach (Nate) Leaman’s team will throw everything at us (Saturday) so we’ll need to exceed our effort.”
UNH (2-6-5, 1-3-3) needed only 20 seconds to break one of hockey’s primary rules: “Thou shalt not allow a goal in the first or last minute of a period.”
In this case, Kaspar Bjorkvist won the opening faceoff and fed Jason O’Neill, who beat Bedford’s Mike Robinson with a bad-angle shot from deep in the left end.
“Those happen,” Souza said. “That’s why we talk about funneling pucks at the net all the time. But we’ve showed that resiliency all year. The guys are really good about knowing it’s a 60-minute game.”
Robinson’s 31-save performance wasn’t lost on his teammates.
“ ‘Robby’ made some big saves for us,” Ara Nazarian said. “He had plenty of chances. Providence had some rushes and back-door plays they could have scored on but Robby was right there to stop those pucks.
“He played a heck of a game and we definitely need another effort like that from him (Saturday).”
Each team had two power plays in the first period but the Wildcats managed only one shot during each man advantage.
PC outshot UNH, 15-6, in the period. Ironically, the Wildcats came within 20 seconds of tying the game when Patrick Grasso tried to flick home a rebound only to be robbed by Hayden Hawkey (23 saves).
The Friars (7-4-3, 4-2-1) were on their fourth power play of the game in the second period when Liam Blackburn stole the puck in the neutral zone and skated over the blue line. When a Friar defenseman closed in on Blackburn he passed right to Brendan Van Riemsdyk, who beat Hawkey on a one-timer at 7:24.
“Liam and Brendan have been excellent for us going back to their freshman year killing penalties,” Souza said. “For whatever reason we don’t seem to score a lot of goals (UNH came in averaging 2.25 goals per game). Shorthanded is OK as long as we don’t allow a lot of goals on the power play (Providence was 0-for-5 on the power play) I’m fine with it.”
UNH was on a power play early in the third period when Ryan Tait emulated Blackburn and stole a puck in the neutral zone. Tait skated in on a clean breakaway only to have his snap shot snared by Robinson, which enabled UNH to maintain the 1-1 tie.
“After the game our whole team and the coaching staff were proud of our effort,” Nazarian said. “We were proud of the way we played. We played fast. We played on our toes the whole game. We’re not going to get too ahead of ourselves and be happy with the point but obviously it’s a good point to get and we’re excited to get back at it (Saturday).”
Ice chips: Brentwood’s Spenser Young is a second line defenseman for Providence … UNH was 0-for-5 on the power play … As a result, the Wildcats are only 8-for-41 (.163) with a man advantage … The Friars are now 32-29-10 in the all-time series at Schneider Arena whereas the Wildcats at 31-7-2 at the Whittemore Center … The Wildcats are 2-3-1 versus the Friars over their last five games … Sophomore defenseman Max Gildon had his five-game point streak broken.