MANCHESTER, N.H.– NCAA basketball isn’t the only one that can claim madness in March, and so far in the men’s NCAA ice hockey tournament, there have been some crazy outcomes. But Saturday night, a much more subdued game surfaced between the UNH Wildcats and Miami Red Hawks.
In a game that highly favored the No. 4 ranked team in the nation, the Wildcats were able to control and temper the offensive power house for the majority of the game, and come out with a 3-1 win in the first round of the regional finals.
But while it seems impressive to hold the Miami offense to just 22 shots on net and one goal all game, the most profound statements were made with their actions and the way they played a 3-1 gritty game.
Two years ago, the Wildcats found themselves in the same building, going up against a highly ranked North Dakota team in the first round. They came back after a grueling 5-4 game, tying it up with just .3 seconds left to go, and eventually winning in overtime. But, the next round, they lost a heart-wrenching game to Boston University. Last year in New York, UNH battled its way against Cornell, ousting them 6-2, but fell very unexpectedly the next night to a ragtag RIT team.
So, what makes this year, or perhaps this game different from all those other years.
UNH captain Mike Sislo, along with the rest of the seniors calmed the team down after Friday night’s emotional win, urging their teammates to think about the next game they have to take care of. But this wasn’t a 6-5 OT victory. Nor was it a complete blowout. This, instead, was a game like the Wildcats had played all year– a hard fought, grinding and, well, average playoff game.
A change of pace from the last couple of years.
But, the Wildcats have learned a little over the past few years, and perhaps it was that hardship of the past that helped them stay cool amid all the excitement for this game.
“You can’t take anything for granted,” UNH captain Mike Sislo said. “You lose you’re done. You don’t play well, you’re done. We have to play like we did today if we want to have a chance to move on. Whoever we play, we have to play our best.”
After the Wildcats clinched the victory, Sislo said they celebrated in the locker room for a little while, but quickly brought everything back into focus for tomorrow night’s matchup. UNH will play the Notre Dame Fighting Irish–the No. 3 seed in the regional who ended up knocking out Hockey East foe Merrimack College.
Though Sislo and the rest of the team has seen and experienced the heart break of losing in the regionals, freshman Kevin Goumas has not been jaded by the agony of defeat. Instead, he took this first regional game by the horns and netted two of UNH’s three goals in the game, including an empty netter at the end.
“It was a little nerve racking,” Goumas said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but I just tried to keep doing what I have been doing since February, and it keeps working for us.”
Goumas’ two goals on Saturday night extended his goal total to six, and his first and second collegiate playoff goals. Though this was his first big playoff game of his career at UNH, he still understands how important it is to stay in line for tomorrow night’s matchup.
“[Sislo and Campanale] told us to stay focused,” Goumas said. “Obviously it’s exciting, but we got that one win, but we need one more tomorrow. We have to take care of our bodies tonight and hopefully we can do it again tomorrow.”