Men's Hockey: Willows scores five in weekend action against BU
The UNH Wildcats won back-to-back games over Boston University, 4-3 on Friday night and 3-1 on Monday afternoon, thanks in large part to Matt Willows. Willows scored five goals on the weekend, including a natural hat trick on Monday. Willows now leads the team in goals (18) on the season, as well as short-handed goals (2). Kevin Goumas had a hand in two of Willows' goals, while blueliners Matias Cleland and Brett Pesce each added an assist.
On Monday, BU struck first at the 7:40 mark of the first period on a goal from Brendan Collier. Willows answered just five minutes later on a backhand shot that tied the score at 1-1.
Willows second goal came on the penalty kill about halfway through the second period on an unassisted shorthanded chance.
Willows had a chance at the hat trick in the second period when he was hauled down in front of the BU net and awarded a penalty shot. Willows came down with the puck on his forehand and took a wrist shot, but Sean Maguire made the stop.
BU pulled its goalie with under two minutes to play, but Willows was able to cap off his dominant weekend with the empty netter.
Despite being outplayed in the second and third periods, the UNH hockey team was able to hold on and beat BU by a score of 4-3 on Friday night. Willows netted two goals for the Wildcats, while Eric Knodel and Dan Correale had one apiece. Justin Agosta was also credited with three assists on the night.
The best player on the ice for UNH was goaltender Casey DeSmith. Late in the third period, BU had a number of open looks at the net that DeSmith was able to stop. The first save came when BU was on the power play, when Garrett Noonan received a pass right on top of the crease. DeSmith got his glove to the left and snagged the puck before it went in. BU was able to counter on the forecheck, forcing a turnover that gave them a 2-on-1 chance a few minutes later, but DeSmith stepped up again and made another glove save on a Danny O'Regan shot to preserve the lead.
"Casey DeSmith got the two points [for the win] tonight, we almost gave it away," head coach Dick Umile said. "I was disappointed with the way we ended the game, we started very well."
UNH had one of its best periods of the season, starting the game with a shorthanded goal by Correale. senior Jeff Silengo was able to intercept a pass and get a breakaway, but Matt O'Connor stopped his shot. Correale crashed the net and was able to find the rebound in space for his fourth goal of the year.
Eric Knodel scored his seventh of the year on the power play, from a spot in the high slot he has scored from multiple times this season. With bodies in front of the net screening O'Connor, Knodel's wrist shot was able to find a lane and went inside the left post to give UNH a 2-0 advantage.
Towards the end of the first period, UNH was able to find the back of the net again, this time on a rebound goal by Matt Willows. Agosta threw a wrist shot from the blue line that O'Connor stopped with his left leg. Willows was waiting for the puck without any BU defenders near him and increased UNH's lead to 3-0.
BU was able to answer at the end of the period, however, when Agosta and Kevin Goumas were called for penalties just 26 seconds apart. On the ensuing 5-on-3 advantage, the Terriers' Evan Rodrigues was able to punch in a loose puck with just 7.7 seconds left on the clock.
"When we struggle, we really struggle," BU head coach David Quinn said after the game. "It's frustrating because we've been playing a lot better lately."
BU started the second period on fire, getting a number of scoring opportunities and doubling UNH's shot on the period. Rodrigues made one of the best passes of the year to set up Danny O'Regan for his ninth goal of the season. On the rush, Rodrigues pulled up at the top of the faceoff circle and sent a saucer pass to the front of the net. O'Regan burned Knodel on the play and made a little move on DeSmith to cut the lead down to 3-2.
Willows answered almost three minutes later, however, when he intercepted a pass and had 2-on-1 chance with Dalton Speelman. Willows froze the defenseman with a fake pass and put his shot inside the right post to bring UNH's lead back to two.
Robbie Baillargeon scored the third and final goal for the Terriers on another 5-on-3 chance. After DeSmith made a huge save on Noonan, Baillargeon found the puck in the slot from Ahti Oksanen and put the wrister past DeSmith.
BU had a huge penalty kill with about five minutes left and turned up the pressure on UNH. With their goalie pulled, the Terriers had a flurry of activity in front of the net, but DeSmith was able to stand tall as the final buzzer went off.
With the win, UNH moves up to a tie for third place (20 points) with Maine, trailing only BC (31 points) and UMass-Lowell (22 points).
"Every point is going to be real important in this league, they're hard to come by," Umile said. "Everybody's fighting for points because of the parity [of Hockey East]."
The 'Cats will have a weekend off before they finish the season with two road game against Merrimack.
Follow Justin Loring on Twitter @JLo_TNH
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