DURHAM, N.H.– It was a special game at the Whittemore Center on Saturday night. The Wildcats were taking on the Michigan Wolverines for the first time since 2004, it was the home opener for UNH and it was the special teams that played a huge role in the 3-3 tie.
“It was a game of special teams obviously,” Michigan coach Red Berenson said. “I don’t know how many power play goals there were, but I think it was most of them.”
And he was right. For Michigan, every goal was in by the man advantage, and every goal was very deserving.
It was no surprise that whenever Michigan scored it came off some of the most precise and exact power play transitions. The first came in the first period and no UNH defenseman had a shot at blocking it. It went from the left side hash marks, to the back of the net, out in front and into the net with just enough time for people to tell what was about to happen.
That happened three times.
But for the rest of the time, it was UNH goaltender Matt DiGirolamo that took hold of the game. In the second period, DiGirolamo made a key save while the Wildcats were on the power play. While UNH was aggressively attacking in the offensive zone, the puck was turned over and the Wolverines had a 3-on-0 shorthanded breakaway with only DiGirolamo standing in the way.
“That was a crazy play, and he made a huge save,” UNH forward Stevie Moses said. “That wa s a huge turning point in the game because if they would have scored that shorthanded goal that would have really deflated our tires a lot. We are proud of him and excited with how he’s playing.”
As for the rest of the Wildcats, they had their fair share of specialty situations too. Though only one resulted in a goal, it was on a 4-on-3 with less than five minutes in regulation, and they had the crowd roaring for more.
The goal came on a rush back into the UNH offensive end. Senior forward Phil DeSimone carried the puck into the zone, and down towards the goal line. A slight look behind him, and he noticed a crashing Paul Thompson, turned, made a perfect pass to Thompson’s stick and it found its way under the blocker of Shawn Hunwick.
“A 4-on-3? That just about better than a 5-on-3,” Berenson said. “That’s a huge penalty to call. When you are 4-on-4 you just about don’t want to touch anybody because you know they are going to call something and that could change the game and it did.”
UNH had other opportunities with the extra attacker, and the best came during the second period when the Wolverines took three consecutive penalties–the second two overlapped by 24 seconds. Despite a barrage of shots and close calls, Hunwick continuously denied them.
“I think some guys were getting kind of frustrated,” UNH forward Paul Thompson said. “We had a lot of really grade A opportunities, but they blocked shots better than any team we’ve played since I’ve been there I think or right up there. They had big bodies in front of the net and weren’t giving us second opportunities too much and when we did, they barely ever made it back to the net, because they were just so good at getting in the shot lanes.”
On the flipside of the specialty teams, DeSimone added another goal to his season, as did Stevie Moses, both at even strength. While the Wildcats were able to improve their power play units, perhaps what was more important to the team is that they were receiving production from every venue tonight.
“1-1-1 is where we are at right now, and coming in the season, playing two of the top 5 teams in the country, we can be happy with that,” Thompson said. “We would have liked to have tonight, but they are a very good team and coming from behind I think we are happy with where we are at with a tie.”