DURHAM — In a game with Hockey East playoff implications against the program’s archrival, the line of Ara Nazarian, Charlie Kelleher and Jackson Pierson took care of the offense for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team Friday night.
Nazarian scored twice, Kelleher logged a second-period goal and Pierson recorded a single-game career-high three assists in the Wildcats’ 3-2 overtime victory over Maine at the Whittemore Center.
Nazarian’s second goal was the game-winner. The senior wing found the back of the net 1:01 into the extra frame after Pierson won a faceoff in Maine’s left circle. Nazarian dragged the puck away from traffic before firing a wrister by Maine sophomore netminder and Boston Bruins draftee Jeremy Swayman (31 saves).
UNH entered its Saturday home bout with the Black Bears tied with Providence for sixth place in the Hockey East standings while Maine occupied the No. 8 spot. Only eight of the league’s 11 teams will qualify for the postseason tournament.
Nazarian, Pierson, a freshman center, and Kelleher, a sophomore wing, have logged a combined 48 points (18 goals, 30 assists) over the 16 games they have skated on a line together this season.
“We’ve had a pretty good connection since the start of the year when we started playing together,” said Nazarian, who scored the first goal in Friday’s game 7:20 into the first period. “And we just know where each other is going to be, we make plays and we just take pucks to the net.”
Nazarian’s two goals Friday gave him a single-season career-high 11 this campaign. Kelleher had a five-game point streak entering Saturday, over which he logged six points (two goals, four assists).
Nazarian entered Saturday’s game with 21 points while Kelleher had 20 points (three goals, team-high 17 assists) and Pierson had 17 points (seven goals, 10 assists).
“You’ve got three really smart hockey players — three guys that can create offense on their own in tight spaces,” UNH coach Mike Souza said of the trio. “All three guys have the ability to do that and when you’re able to do that, you’re able to keep plays alive. And I think they do a good job of keeping plays alive and then their skill takes over with each other and they’ve got some great synergy there.”
Maine forward Brendan Robbins did not score in Friday’s loss to UNH but that does not mean he didn’t make his presence known.
Robbins, a senior from Nashua, logged four shots on goal, one of which came on a breakaway 5:55 into the third period. Had Robbins beaten UNH sophomore goaltender and Bedford resident Mike Robinson on the shot, he would have scored Maine’s first goal of the game.
Robbins also had an opportunity to knot the score at 1-1 at the 1:35 mark of the second period but Robinson denied his uncontested wrister from the slot.
In addition to his scoring chances, Robbins also helped the Black Bears’ penalty-kill unit hold UNH to five shots on goal over its three power-play opportunities.
Robbins entered Saturday’s game against UNH with six points on four goals and two assists. The Nashua North graduate logged a single-game season-high two goals in Maine’s 4-4 tie with the Wildcats on Jan. 21.
“Brendan has a big-league motor,” said Maine coach Red Gendron, who is a Berlin native and New England College alum. “He plays one way and that’s at maximum intensity every night he steps out on the ice.
“He works, he battles, he skates. When he’s too exhausted to keep going, he gets off the ice, he rests up and (does) it again. And that’s the way he’s played his entire career here at Maine and in the interim, he’s improved himself as a hockey player — his skill level and his hockey IQ and all that stuff. Now as a senior, he’s a pretty darn good hockey player.”