'Cats let go of lead, tie with Maine
UNH splits season series with Black Bears
Published: Saturday, March 9, 2013
Updated: Saturday, March 9, 2013 22:03
What better way for the No. 5 UNH Wildcats to close out the Hockey East regular season than by facing off with conference rival Maine? The cards were laid out on the table for UNH to take two quick games against the eighth-place Black Bears this weekend and secure home ice for the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament.
Instead, the Wildcats found themselves facing a 4-3 deficit on Senior Night with five minutes remaining in the third period on Saturday as they battled with Maine to gain back control of a game which they had been leading since the opening period. Fortunately for New Hampshire, Maine captain Joey Diamond was called for hitting from behind, giving UNH a power play opportunity that Eric Knodel capitalized on to tie the game up 4-4.
The overtime period could not produce a winner as both teams skated to a draw, depositing one final conference point into the standings.
A tie was not the result UNH coach Dick Umile was looking for.
"We wanted to win," Umile said. "We gave it up in the third period so we are not too pleased with that."
After falling to Maine on Friday night 4-3, Knodel made it clear that the team needed to fly out of the gates on Saturday and make an early impact. New Hampshire did precisely this as it maintained control in the opening period, firing 14 shots at Maine's junior goaltender Martin Ouellette.
Scott Pavelski opened up the scoring for the Wildcats with four minutes remaining in the first period as he tapped in a goal off of a quick pass across the front of the net by freshman Maxim Gaudreault.
The fourth line struck again, this time in the second period as Gaudreault picked up his own rebound and put the puck away with a backhander, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 lead.
"It always feels good contributing on the fourth line," Pavelski said. "Ice time is kind of rare at times when the power play and penalty kill is going...so it's always good to chip in and help out."
Maine added two more tallies in the period from Diamond and senior winger Adam Shemansky. Grayson Downing also found twine on a slap shot from the top of the red circle with Dalton Speelman screening Ouellette down low. Senior Austin Block was credited with the assist.
Maine overcame the 3-2 deficit in the first eight minutes of the third period, first with Diamond scoring off of his own rebound for his second goal of the evening. Freshman Will Merchant followed up with a goal on a fast moving puck that bounced its way into the net.
Suddenly, the Wildcats had given up three unanswered goals and were in need of a score just to tie it up.
As the third period developed, the ice started to heat up as the two rivals battled, one to maintain their slim lead, and the other to save a their own chances of earning home ice in the playoffs.
With 4:18 remaining in regulation, Diamond was tagged with a push from behind penalty, which led to Knodel's power play goal. This was Knodel's third point of the weekend.
"I looked at the net and saw it wide open," Knodel said. "Austin Block was perfectly positioned right in front of the goalie. (Ouellette) didn't see a thing."
Seconds after Diamond emerged from the penalty box, he was caught up in an altercation with Knodel after the whistle. Diamond knocked Knodel's stick out his hands and then exchanged words with referee Tim Benendetto, which earned him yet another trip to the sin bin with a 10-minute game misconduct. Diamond was sent to the dressing room for the overtime period.
"It’s unfortunate," Maine coach Tim Whitehead said. "Joey needs to keep his mouth shut...Obviously we would rather have Joey on the ice. We would have a much better chance to win in overtime with him."
The Wildcats entered the weekend hoping to put the Black Bears away and earn the No. 1 spot in Hockey East, but Friday's loss would not allow it. UNH then returned on Saturday, this time working to gain home ice in the quarterfinals, but now even that is up in the air as they could only muster a draw with Maine.
Despite only earning one point in the weekend series, Umile said the team is ready for the playoffs, but would have preferred to have earned home-ice on their own terms.
"We will be fine for the playoffs," Umile said. "Now we (got to) wait and see based on other (teams) whether we even get home ice."