No. 9 Northeastern finally lost their first conference game, falling to sixth ranked New Hampshire, 4-2, after a feverish Wildcat rally on Friday night.
Usually dogs chase cats, but tonight the Wildcats pounced on the Huskies in front of another sell-out crowd of 6,501 at the Whittemore Center.
It was a scoreless, even-handed first period, but the intensity heightened as the game went on. Both the Huskies and Wildcats took over 20 shots in the first, but under eight were actually on net. UNHâ€™s Brian Foster went on to make a total of 27 saves in the game while Northeasternâ€™s Brad Thiessen stopped 33 shots.
Both teams killed off penalties, but UNH could not generate a point in three power-play opportunities in the first as the Husky defense held its own.
UNH got the first try with a man advantage when Louis Liotti got two minutes for checking at 8:38, but nothing happened.
The Wildcats got their second chance to strike on the power play but the Huskies were too strong on the penalty kill. Ryan Ginand was sent to the box for holding at 6:18 irritating Foster in the process after invading the crease.
Co-captain Joe Charlebois got UNHâ€™s first and only penalty of the period for slashing at 13:46, but his fellow Wildcats killed off the Husky power play.
â€œThe first period was kind of like two fighters jabbing at each other and a couple righties being thrown,â€ said Northeastern head Coach Greg Cronin. â€œI thought that if you look at the shot chart it was pretty accurate, there were quality chances on both teams. In the second period though New Hampshire picked their game up quite a bit and we didnâ€™t respond to it.â€
Third time was not a charm for the Wildcat power play, but the fourth time was.
When the Huskies sent Dan Nycholat to the box at 4:23 for interference, UNH finally capitalized on the power play. Peter LeBlanc took the puck down the left wing dishing it to the net. Thiessen let it rebound and Bobby Butler was there to get a piece of it, but it was James van Riemsdyk who slipped it past the Husky net minder at six minutes for his third power play goal of the season.
The Wildcats continued to keep the puck deep in the Husky zone for the next four minutes. Butler was alone at the net, got the puck and chipped it glove side. Thiessen watched Butlerâ€™s first goal of the season go in at 8:26 to put UNH up by two.
â€œI got like 30 pounds off my shoulder putting that in,â€ said Butler. â€œBig relief. I had a dream last night and thatâ€™s kind of how it went in so I was glad. I had tons of chances at St. Lawrence; I just couldnâ€™t find the back of the net so Iâ€™m glad that one went in tonight. Hopefully from there our line will just keep rolling like we were today.â€
The Huskies were handed the chance to get themselves on the board when UNHâ€™s Jamie Fritsch was sent to the box for hooking at 14:39 and then fellow co-captain Greg Collins joined him at 15:23 for tripping.
The Huskies took over Fosterâ€™s territory and Alex Tuckerman slipped the puck through Fosterâ€™s legs for the 5-on-3 power play goal at 16:18 into the second.
The players and the crowd became more animated in the third period as the physicality and aggression of the Wildcats and Huskies intensified.
After a centering feed, Thiessenâ€™s helmet was knocked off by a Wildcat and he was kneed in the head with eight minutes left in the game. The official call was hitting after the whistle for Northeasternâ€™s Greg Costa and UNHâ€™s Danny Dries at 12:03.
But the real drama waited until the last five minutes of the game. The Huskies managed to tie it up at 14:56 when Costa came from the back of the Wildcat net, wrapped around front, and shoved the puck in Fosterâ€™s five-hole.
UNH didnâ€™t wait long to respond as Phil DeSimone fired the game winner into the top right corner past Thiessen at 17:05 after a faceoff mistake on Northeasternâ€™s behalf.
â€œI won the draw back to Riemer [van Riemsdyk],â€ said DeSimone. â€œHe [van Riemsdyk] took a shot and I donâ€™t know if it got deflected or if it was a rebound I donâ€™t even know. I just grabbed it and went for my back hand and put it by him on the right side. I actually had [a shot] before in the game like that earlier in the game and I didnâ€™t hold onto it, so the second time I had it I knew the goalie just commits you right away so I just waited.â€
â€œThe game winning goal was a faceoff mistake from the whole line,â€ said Cronin. â€œAnd that DeSimone who took the draw should never be left alone in front of our net and he scored the goal; so thatâ€™s a lack of execution that potentially cost us points.â€
Northeastern pulled Thiessen in the last minute of the game, but UNHâ€™s Mike Sislo was able to generate a goal from the empty net with just 30 seconds remaining to bump the Wildcats up by two in the final score.
The Wildcats are now (4-1-1, 2-0-1 HE) and face Northeastern (5-1-1, 4-1-0 HE) again in the second series game Saturday night.
â€œNow we just have to worry about tomorrow,â€ said Butler. â€œItâ€™s going to be a dog fight over there at their barn.â€