'Cats top Denver, to battle UMass Lowell in regional hockey final
MANCHESTER - Call it Hockey East North.
The No. 2 seeded University of New Hampshire knocked off Denver, 5-2, on Friday night in front of 8,049 fans at Verizon Wireless Arena to earn a date against UMass Lowell Saturday night.
The Wildcats and River Hawks play at 6:30 for the NCAA Northeast Regional championship. The winner advances to the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh April 11 and 13.
Casey DeSmith, a sophomore goalie from Rochester, made 31 saves and kept the Wildcats in the game after they trailed 1-0 and 2-1 after the first period.
Juho Olkinuora had 33 saves for Denver.
The Wildcats won their three games with UMass Lowell this season, but the teams last met on Dec. 1.
Their next game, a 2-0 win over Northeastern, started the River Hawks off on the three-and-a-half-month-long run that carried them to the Hockey East regular season championship and tournament title and into tonight's game.
UNH improved to 20-11-7 and Denver closed out its season at 20-14-5.
"Certainly they were opportunistic," said Denver coach George Gwozdecky.
UMass Lowell, the top seed here, is 27-10-2 after Friday night's 6-1 win over Wisconsin.
UNH, up 3-2 going into the third thanks to a couple of late second-period goals, had a great opportunity to extend the lead with a five-minute power play in the final frame.
Denver junior forward Nick Shore was called for a game misconduct for contact to the head on an open-ice hit on Kevin Goumas. Shore was ejected from the game and UNH went on the power play.
The Wildcats, playing without Goumas or another of their leading scorers Grayson Downing, were unable to sustain pressure on the power play.
Not to worry.
Senior John Henrion lifted a shot under the crossbar to finish off a nice bit of passing for a 4-2 lead with 11:11 to go.
The Wildcats then did some timely penalty killing of their own. They killed off two consecutive Denver power plays, including 34 seconds of a five-on-three.
A couple of minutes later, the Pioneers pulled their goalie for an extra attacker and Casey Thrush threw a backhander into the net for his second goal of the night.
The Wildcats, back in the NCAAs for the 11th time in the last 12 years, have won their last four first-round games, three of them here.
Denver jumped on UNH for three goals in the first nine minutes of the game when the teams played in Denver in late November On Friday night, Daniel Doremus took advantage of a UNH turnover and put the puck over a sprawled DeSmith to open the scoring just 2:24 into the game.
Thrush answered that with a goal at 5:39. Freshman defenseman Brett Pesce put a shot on Ulkinuora and Thrush was all over the rebound.
Denver freshman Quentin Shore made it 2-1 after another UNH turnover in tis defensive zone. Nick, Quentin's brother and a draft pick of the Los Angeles Kings, took the first shot and DeSmith saved that one. Quentin put the rebound over DeSmith's left shoulder.
The Wildcats tied it again with a power play goal with 5:26 left in the second period.
With Denver's Larkin Jacobson in the penalty box for crosschecking, UNH put lots of pressure on the Pioneers and had a couple of chances in close before a penalty killer lost his stick.
The Wildcats then set up patiently and sophomore Trevor van Riemsdyk scored with a low shot from out front.
Five minutes later, UNH had its first lead of the night.
Thrush drew his second penalty of the period and the Wildcats went back to work. Just as the penalty ended, defenseman Brett Kostolansky shot from the point. The rebound bounced to the right and junior Dalton Speelman quickly put it behind Olkinuora and it was 3-2 with 22 seconds left in the period.
UNH and Denver played a wild one during Thanksgiving weekend. The Pioneers took the 3-0 lead early and still led 4-2 at the start of the third period. But the Wildcats scored four unanswered and ended up with a 6-4 win.
Goumas and Downing each had a hat trick in that one.
Denver won the last NCAA tournament game between the two teams. The Pioneers knocked off UNH, 4-2, in a Regional final in Amherst. Mass., in 2005.
They went on to win their second straight, seventh overall and most recent NCAA championship.