March 30, 2013

UNH rallies to beat Denver, sets up showdown with Lowell

By NEHJ Staff

UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith allowed two goals in the first period but stopped all 14 shots he faced in the final 40 minutes against Denver. (Dave Arnold Photography)

MANCHESTER, N.H. – Who are these guys?

Trying to get a read on the University of New Hampshire down the stretch has been like trying to translate a dead language with blinders on. Is this a good team? A great team? A struggling team?

Whatever it is, it’s a team that’s still playing. The Wildcats come from behind to knock off Denver, 5-2, in the late semifinal at the NCAA Northeast Regional, and will play top-seeded UMass-Lowell here on Saturday for a trip to the Frozen Four.

Casey Thrush scored twice, sealing the outcome with an empty-netter, and Trevor van Riemsdyk, Dalton Speelman and John Henrion (Holden, Mass.) also scored for the Wildcats (20-11-7), who are in a regional final one year after missing the NCAAs entirely.

“We’re excited that we’re going to be playing here tomorrow,” said UNH coach Dick Umile (Melrose, Mass.).

Waiting for the ‘Cats in Saturday’s final is Lowell (27-10-2), which skated past No. 4 Wisconsin, 6-1, in the early semifinal Friday. The teams played three times back in December with UNH winning all three.

Down 2-1 more than midway through the second period of their semifinal, the Wildcats closed the frame strong, scoring one power-play goal and another that may as well have been.

Van Riemsdyk tied the game at 14:54. With his team essentially on a 5-on-3 with a Denver player missing his stick, he took a stride in from the center point and lasered a wrist shot past goalie Juho Olkinuora  (36 saves).

The Wildcats went on the power play again late in the period. At the second the penalty to Denver’s David Makowski expired, Speelman cleaned up the rebound of a Brett Kostolansky shot from the point and the ‘Cats had a 3-2 lead.

“I thought we played real well the first 30 minutes of the game, dictated what we wanted to do,” said Denver coach George Gwozdecky, whose team finished at 20-14-5. “Their power play changed things dramatically.”

The ‘Cats were handed a golden chance to extend their lead early in the third, when Denver’s Nick Shore received a five-minute major and game misconduct for leveling Kevin Goumas in the neutral zone. But they couldn’t cash in.

The insurance came midway through the frame. Nick Sorkin started a play and defenseman Justin Agosta, playing up on the left wing, found a trailing Henrion, who buried the wrister from the edge of the right circle that made it 4-2.

After giving up a whopping 19 shots in the first period, the ‘Cats stiffened, allowing the Pioneers just 14 shots the rest of the way.

“I’m proud of the way the team responded after the first period,” said Umile.

The Wildcats knew coming in they would have a tough time absorbing defensive misplays and odd-man rushes, and a pair of the former bit them in the first period. Daniel Doremus cashed in after a misplay on front of goalie Casey DeSmith (31 saves) just 2:24 into the game.

Thrush evened it three minutes later for the ‘Cats, getting his stick on a Brett Pesce rebound as he was being pushed through the crease, but Denver went up 2-1 late in the period on a Quentin Shore rebound that followed a UNH turnover.

UNH had stumbled into the NCAAs on a 3-5-5 stretch, and hadn’t played for nearly two full weeks after losing at Providence in the Hockey East quarterfinals.

It’s still playing now.

“The challenge is in front of us,” said Henrion. “Everyone’s excited.”