DURHAM — The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team only scored one even-strength goal in its 4-3 triumph over Bentley University of the Sunday at the Whittemore Center.
The Wildcats’ other three tallies came over their seven power-play opportunities.
Sunday marked the first time the Wildcats (5-7-5) scored three power-play goals in a game since its 6-3 triumph at RPI on Dec. 6, 2017.
Patrick Grasso scored what proved to be the game-winning goal, which marked his second of the season, from the doorstep on a power play 9:03 into the second period, which built a 4-2 UNH advantage.
“I think we kept it simple,” Grasso said of how UNH played on the power play. “We got pucks to the net and didn’t try to do too much. We were taking pucks through the seems, we were switching sides — kind of what we talk about in practice.”
Bentley sophomore Luke Santerno trimmed the Wildcats’ lead to 4-3 with a power-play goal 5:56 into the third period but UNH held off the Falcons (5-11-1) the rest of the way. While on the penalty kill, Bentley pulled goaltender Aidan Pelino (39 saves) for an extra skater with 27.2 seconds remaining and spent the final 10 seconds on a six-on-five advantage.
The Wildcats outshot Bentley, a member of Atlantic Hockey, 10-6, in the third period and 43-16 overall.
“We came off three weeks off and it looked like three years off,” Falcons coach Ryan Soderquist said. “I guess in the third period we built a little bit and kind of (got) our game under our belt but (it was) way too late. The score was a lot closer than that game was played.”
UNH made the Falcons pay for each of its three first-period penalties and took a 3-1 lead into the first intermission.
UNH forwards Liam Blackburn and Jackson Pierson both tallied power-play goals in the opening frame. Angus Crookshank scored from the right circle off an assist from Marcus Vela two seconds after Bentley’s second penalty expired to break a 1-1 deadlock with 5:59 remaining in the first period.
Blackburn scored on the man advantage from the slot through an Ara Nazarian screen 7:32 into the first period to open the game’s scoring. Bentley answered 1:09 later with a goal from defenseman Alexey Solovyev, who was ejected with 7:11 left in the second period for a hit to Blackburn’s head.
Pierson received a behind-the-net feed from Charlie Kelleher before scoring from the left circle through a screen with 1:31 left in the opening period to give the Wildcats a two-goal lead.
The Falcons cut UNH’s lead to 3-2 at the 4:24 mark of the second period, when Ryner Gorowsky redirected Tanner Jago’s shot from the high slot past Wildcats netminder Mike Robinson (13 saves).
UNH coach Mike Souza would have liked to see his power-play unit score during Solovyev’s five-minute major penalty in the second period but was still pleased with its overall play on the man advantage.
“A little bit disappointed there but we still ended up with three power-play goals so I was happy with the result,” Souza said.
Kelleher, Pierson and Anthony Wyse all returned to the lineup from injuries. Kelleher missed five games with an lower-body injury while Pierson missed four with a upper-body injury. Wyse did not play in UNH’s 4-0 triumph over Dartmouth on Dec. 8 due to an upper-body injury.
Grasso said the Wildcats put an emphasis on maintaining the momentum they built by sweeping Dartmouth before entering the holiday break.
“That was one of our big keys coming into tonight,” Grasso said. “Obviously in the past, we’ve had some lulls (in the) second half maybe but I think this year, it’s obviously a new year and we’re taking it in stride.”