March 27, 2011

UNH can't get past Notre Dame in regional final

by Dan Hickling

UNH goalie Matt DiGirolamo (photo: Dan Hickling)

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Everything but the kitchen sink.

And if one of those had been handy, the University of New Hampshire would have tossed it in, too.

As it was, despite their best efforts, which included a 38-shot barrage and a 36-save performance from goalie Matt DiGirolamo, the Wildcats fell to Notre Dame in the NCAA Northeast Regional final, 2-1, before 5,906 at Verizon Wireless Arena on Sunday night.

With the loss went the ‘Cats’ hopes of earning their first Frozen Four berth since 2003. Instead, they end their 10th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance in disappointment.

“There are a couple chances I wish I could take back,” said a tearful senior right wing Mike Sislo, whose goal with 6:23 to play kept UNH's fortunes alive. “But I can't.”

The Wildcats were utterly dominant throughout the first several minutes, piling up an 8-1 shot advantage, but they couldn't dent Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson.

“This was like a home game for them,” said Irish defenseman Joe Lavin (Shrewsbury, Mass.), the lone New Englander on the club. “We knew they were going to come out with a lot of jump and lot of speed. We just wanted to come in and weather the storm. I think we handled it pretty well.”

Duly weathered, Notre Dame rebounded to scored on its second shot of the game, a blueline slapper by freshman defenseman Stephen Johns at 7:26.

UNH traded chances with the Irish in the second stanza, but was unable to trade tallies.

Johnson made 16 saves in that period, including a snag of John Henrion's (Holden, Mass.) drive from the left circle with 25 seconds left.

“Johnson made good saves,” said UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.), “and he didn't give up any rebounds.”

The contest spun squarely in Notre Dame's direction with just 5 seconds remaining, when Billy Maday swept a 10-footer past DiGirolamo to make it 2-0.

Despite the two-goal hole facing them in the third period, the Wildcats put on a strong show of pressure, and were finally rewarded for it when Sislo collected Matt Campanale's centering feed and fired from point blank range over Johnson's right shoulder.

“We just got it in deep,” said Sislo. “(Campanale) did a great job of getting the puck in front. That's what we needed was to get out in front of the net. I was able to stop it with my skate and put it in.”

With momentum already squarely on their side, the 'Cats received a power play with less than five minutes to go, but managed to get off just two shots during that time.

The crusher came when defenseman Mike Beck took a tripping penalty with 1:44 to play.

“I'm proud of the way the team played,” said Umile, whose team has lost in the regionals each of the last three seasons. “We just couldn't pull it off. It's a lot of disappointment. Once again we had a great group of players, and I feel for them. They've done everything they could to get to the Frozen Four.

“It's disappointing.”

Dan Hickling can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.