DURHAM — Considering the opponent, it was perhaps the University of New Hampshire’s best defensive performance of the season.
Second-ranked UMass, last season’s national runner-up, entered Sunday’s Hockey East matchup at the Whittemore Center averaging 4.43 goals per game — third best in the nation. Only Harvard (5.67) and Cornell (4.75) were scoring more goals per game.
That’s what made UNH’s 3-1 triumph extra impressive.
UNH goaltender Mike Robinson recorded 27 saves, 13 of which came in the final period, to help the Wildcats raise their record to 5-2-1 overall and 3-1-0 in Hockey East.
“The third period we were under siege pretty good,” UNH coach Mike Souza said. “We didn’t generate much offensively. For 60 minutes I’m not sure I’d say it was (the team’s best defensive effort), but at times we did a good job. When you play talented teams it’s hard to play airtight and not give up any (Grade A scoring opportunities). We did what we had to do to come out with a win.”
UNH had to kill a penalty when Charlie Kelleher was called for boarding at 15:41 of the third, and also had to deal with an extra attacker when UMass (6-2-0, 2-2-0) pulled goalie Filip Lindberg (26 saves) with 42 seconds left.
Defenseman Anthony Wyse helped the home crowd relax when he scored into an empty net to make it a 3-1 game with 28 seconds remaining. UMass’ best bid to tie the game came when right wing Mitchell Chaffee hit the post from the slot with less than four minutes to play.
“Sometimes you get the bounces, sometimes you don’t,” said Robinson, of Bedford. “That was a situation where I got the bounce and it stayed out of the net. It hit the post and went out of the zone. Good location, one-timer.”
Robinson was coming off a 27-save performance in a 1-0 victory over Boston College on Nov. 1.
Sophomore defenseman Ryan Verrier and junior defenseman Max Gildon supplied the other UNH goals, which came 13 seconds apart in the second period. Both shots came from the right point.
Verrier’s goal, the first of his career, fluttered into the net after hitting a UMass defenseman in the shoulder. Gildon’s goal came during one of UNH’s six power plays, all of which came in the first two periods. Sophomore center Jackson Pierson assisted on each of UNH’s first two goals. He has a team-high 11 assists this season.
UMass took a 1-0 lead when Chaffee scored a power-play goal 3:01 into the second period.
“The goaltender (Robinson) was outstanding late in the game,” UMass coach Greg Carvel said. “We couldn’t find a way to score another goal.”
The loss ended UMass’ five-game winning streak. The Minutemen scored at least four goals in six of their first seven games, and scored five goals or more in four of those contests.
Next up for UNH is a pair of games at Maine on Friday and Saturday.
“That was a big win for our players and for our program,” Souza said. “Michael Robinson was outstanding. I thought the kids in front of him were outstanding. They pushed hard in the third, but we weathered the storm.
“It’s a one-day-at-a-time mentality around here, so we’ll reset and get prepared to play Maine.”