Concord, N.H. native Mick Mounsey had a goal and an assist, while Michael Ayers recorded his third career shutout, as No. 2 New Hampshire defeated No. 11 Providence, 3-0, at the sold-out Whittemore Center.
Steve Saviano also had a goal and assist for the Wildcats (6-1-2, 4-1-1 Hockey East). Freshman netminder Bobby Goepfert stopped 36 New Hampshire shots for the Friars (8-3-0, 3-3-0 HE).
“It was a well-played game. They had a little more jump than we did. Goepfert played well for us. Overall, I think that they were the better hockey club tonight,” said Providence head coach Paul Pooley.
Providence, which was playing its fourth game in the last eight days, didn’t have nearly the same intensity and in-your-face style of play that the Friars exhibited in Durham last year in a 4-3 victory on January 13, one of only two losses the Wildcats suffered on home ice during the entire year.
“You could use that as an excuse, I suppose,” said Pooley. “[The tough schedule] certainly hurt us against Boston College [a 6-1 loss on home ice Tuesday night], after a very tough series against Northeastern the weekend before, where I thought we played very well.”
New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile shuffled his lineup, inserting sophomore speedster and resident sniper Sean Collins on the top line with seniors Lanny Gare and Colin Hemingway.
“I was pleased. We played a solid 60-minute game. Providence has had a great start this year. We kept [Peter] Fregoe’s line in check pretty well. We didn’t give them much room to make plays.”
Pooley could probably tell that it was going to be a long night when the opposition came up with better scoring chances on his club’s opening power play of the night.
With Wildcat forward Josh Prudden off for hooking at 7:37 of the opening frame, it was New Hampshire that almost connected on two short-handed breakaways. And as the Friar power play was coming to an end, Goepfert had to come up huge on a Gare wrister. Providence, meanwhile, could not muster up a single shot on the man advantage.
“Our power play was very, very poor tonight. We have to improve on that, because that’s how you become a good road team,” said Pooley.
At 11:44, Mounsey found Gare behind the Providence net. The senior from Vernon, British Columbia, threaded the needle to a wide-open Collins, who sent a wrist shot past Goepfert from just inside the left circle for his fifth goal of the season.
The Friars’ best chance came late in the period, when senior Jon DiSalvatore’s shot from in close just trickled past a sprawled Ayers and wide of the net. UNH held a commanding 20-8 shot advantage after one period.
Midway through the second period it was Mounsey himself who found the back of the twine for his first goal of the season, taking a pass from Saviano at the blue line. His slap shot glanced off a Providence defenseman and past Goepfert, making it 2-0 New Hampshire. Mounsey, who was benched for the Wildcats’ game against Boston University here on Nov. 2 (a 3-2 New Hampshire loss), made no apologies for the gift goal.
“It went off the defenseman’s skate. I’ll take them any way, shape or form,” said Mounsey.
Regarding the benching, Mounsey had put it aside long before the puck was dropped.
“I knew I didn’t play that well against Merrimack (Nov. 1). Plus, we have a lot of veterans back there on defense. I just wanted to come back and work that much harder.”
While most of the second period saw few good scoring chances on either side, the last three minutes were full of opportunities.
Goepfert had to be quick at the 3:00 minute mark, when Hemingway fought for the puck along the boards and fed a nifty pass to Gare, who one timed a shot that Goepfert stopped with the left pad. The freshman goalie then stoned Jim Abbott with less than two minutes to play. Not to be outdone, the Friars’ Devin Rask looked to have made it a one-goal game with under a minute and a half left, only to be stopped by Ayers.
“Mike is playing with a lot of confidence. Hopefully, he’ll continue to play like that, and we feel he will,” said Umile.
“Defensively, I think this was the best game that we’ve played all year,” said Ayers. “It was the best that my teammates have played in front of me since I’ve been here. I saw just about every shot.”
UNH had a chance to break the game open early in the third, when a turnover in the Providence end led to a three on one break for the Wildcats. Hemingway’s shot hit the post, however. Just minutes later, freshman Andrew Leach made a bid for his first collegiate goal on a breakaway, but his shot went wide.
Providence clamped down defensively for the remainder of the period, holding New Hampshire without a shot for close to 10 minutes. And while the Friars were keeping the Wildcats off the scoreboard, they were not generating many good scoring chances of their own. Of the 24 shots the Friars came up with, few were testers for Ayers.
“You look at the teams in Hockey East, all of them have lines that can score. I think for us to do well this year, we have to step it up a notch defensively, and I think we did that tonight,” said Mounsey.
Saviano’s empty net goal finalized the scoring, 3-0, UNH.
And even though the new ice surface had barely been zambonied and the lights turned out at the Whittemore Center, Umile was asked about what’s looking to be an upcoming Super Tuesday of a different sort — a showdown with top-ranked rival Boston College.
“We’re going to see one of the top lines in all of college hockey with the Eaves boys [Ben and Patrick]. BC has all the ingredients — size, speed and skill. We’re looking forward to our matchup with them on Tuesday.”
New Hampshire travels to Conte Forum to battle the Eagles on Tuesday. Providence hosts Merrimack on Friday. Game time for both contests is 7 p.m.