DURHAM, N.H.–The first period numbers looked extremely bleak for the UNH Wildcats on Friday, putting up only four shots on net and taking two penalties early on. That being said, they also scored first, netting the first shot they took on net.
But the numbers that really mattered in the first period, and the entire game were the numbers put up by UNH netminder Matt DiGirolamo. While his offense started a bit slow, DiGirolamo took hold of the game immediately, making a few key stops very early on. He stopped 14 shots in the first period alone, including those coming from two power play opportunities.
While he’s been doing it all season–and his coach and teammates aren’t surprised at all by his play–what makes this performance especially impressive is the fact that it was the first playoff game he’s played in at UNH.
“I thought he played a great hockey game,” UVM head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “He’s played great all year and he continued that tonight. Bottom line is he’s an athletic goaltender. He made some big saves.”
And this is no news for the Wildcats. So far this year, DiGirolamo has, including tonight’s game, won 20 games–18 in the tough Hockey East conference.
“I’m not surprised,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “He’s been in big games all season and he’s been consistent all season, so I expect that from him. That’s the kind of goalie he is.”
DiGirolamo finished the night with 31 saves on 32 shots, facing five power plays in the process. DiGirolamo has been so consistent this year that he has earned every start of the season. While some may find that to be a bad idea, there hasn’t been a slip in his play, or fatigue in his abilities on the ice. In fact, even his play from tonight was similar to how he’s played all season. He’s faced the shots that he knows are bound to come his way.
“I approach everything the same,” DiGirolamo said. “It’s another game. I think people get caught up in the emotions of playoffs and that’s when you let things go and let things get to your head. So you have to treat it like another game.”
That logic didn’t fail him or his team tonight, and he will be put to the same test tomorrow night. And lurking in the back of the mind of UNH is last year’s Quarterfinal round, which was again, against Vermont.
It has been two years since the Wildcats have made it down to Boston for the Hockey East finals, despite holding the No. 1 seed last year. The only class that has had the taste of TD Garden is the senior class, and they were down there for only their freshman year.
“I was telling Camp [Matt Campanale], that we want to “remind the guys that one game means nothing,” UNH forward Stevie Moses said. “Last year, we came out strong in the first game, and lost the last two and that can’t happen this year. We have to refocus, enjoy this for a few minutes and get back to it tomorrow.”
And it’s not just about matching the intensity from Friday’s game.
“Vermont, they beat us twice last year after we smoked them the first game,”DiGirolamo said. “So we have to come back at them even harder tomorrow.”