DURHAM, N.H.– There are a lot of expectations in 5-on-5 college hockey game, but when 5-on-5 turns into a game of specialty teams, the vision becomes a little skewed and what was expected in normal play becomes more “what can I get out of it” in the special situations. However, for the UNH Wildcats tonight there was little room for uncertainty–especially when talking about specialty situations.
It didn’t take long for UNH to put their fourth ranked penalty kill to the test.
Just 6:27 into the first period, UNH defenseman Damon Kipp was called for hooking and the Minutemen had the opportunity to set the tone for the game. But instead of putting shots on net, UMass found itself more often than not protecting its own net minder with the Wildcat onslaught.
The Minutemen had three opportunities in the first period on the man advantage to try and take a lead, but UNH held them to just two shots on the period, and one total on all three of the power plays.
“First period was our golden opportunity with Teglia playing really solid and giving us a chance to keep the score square and to have those power play opportunities,” UMass head coach Don “Toot” Cahoon said. “That was a chance to give ourselves a cushion and a lead.”
But with neither a goal nor a shot advantage to give them momentum, the Minutemen fell behind and never caught up after that. The second period was the real undoing, as the Wildcats took a hold of their own power play and found three goals on three power plays.
Coincidentally, all of the goals came in one way or another, from the top line of Mike Sislo, Paul Thompson and Phil DeSimone. Two of the goals came within two minutes of each other, when the Wildcats had a 5-on-3, converted, and then scored again on the lasting second penalty.
“Our power play really moved the puck well and did a really good job,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “That’s as well as I’ve seen our power play move the puck.”
Besides the three on the top line, also included on the power play line were combinations of Kipp, Blake Kessel and Brett Kostolansky, all of whom had at least one point on the night.
So what makes them so good? A combination of Sislo’s quick hands and top-notch shot, paired with the play-making abilities and maneuverability of both DeSimone and Thompson, tacked on with the defenseman Kessel who can see the ice very well in his own zone, makes for a successful night.
With the super inflated power play stat courtesy of the night they had, the Wildcats are now 4-for-14 with the extra attacker in league play while only allowing one power play goal against them. Credit is due to the penalty kill team, but one player in particular can take a lot of credit, and that’s net minder Matt DiGirolamo.
Putting up only 19 saves may look insignificant on paper, but there were moments in which UMass could have easily stolen away the momentum from UNH had DiGirolamo not come up with the save. One situation in particular came after UNH scored its second goal in the second period, and UMass came back on the next shift, drove to the net after Kipp fell on defense, created a 2-on-1 and tried a nifty move to try and score. DiGirolamo had to slide from all the way on the left of the crease to the right, making a last minute leg pad save, keeping the momentum on his team’s side.
“He was great and got his first shut out of his career here, so he’s been improving every week and he’s been there for us since the start,” Sislo said about DiGirolamo. “We try not to make him make the saves to win the game for us, but when he’s had to he’s made them so it’s been nice playing him front of him.”
With his first shutout, DiGirolamo improves to 5-1-2 on the season with his last and only loss so far this season coming in his first game against Miami. In conference play he’s garnered a 0.98 GAA and a .965 save percentage.
“I think that’s what is making him special,” Umile said. “He’s making–it’s when you make the saves, and the momentum could turn on you when we comes up with a big save. They get the goal and suddenly your playing on your heels, but he’s coming up with the saves at the right time.”
UNH will look for a weekend sweep tomorrow, as they will faceoff again against the Minutemen at 7 p.m.