BOSTON– The good news? The UNH Wildcats made it to Boston for the Hockey East Semifinals–something they hadn’t accomplished in over three years.
The bad news? They drew a very determined and gritty Merrimack team, which resulted in a 4-1 UNH loss at TD Garden Friday night.
Despite never before making it to the Championship game, the Warriors never lost any of the strong-willed, hard-nosed aspects that have made them so effective all year. In fact, they just continued to thrive on those qualities all game, winning one-on-one battles and clogging the shooting lanes consistently.
UNH on the other hand found itself in a familiar position and one they have been in before. And as captain Mike Sislo said, “this one’s going to sting for a while.”
The Wildcats were very aware of the heartbreak that Merrimack was capable of inflicting. They fell victim to the Warriors in the season series, including a two-game sweep just a month ago. After that series, UNH went 2-2-2 for the rest of the regular season, being swept again by Boston College in the last weekend.
However, their most recent loss meant a bit more and left a lasting impression on the second-seeded Wildcats. For some players like Dalton Speelman, Friday night’s game was the first time he had been to TD Garden. Others, including Stevie Moses, had dreams of skating the prestigious rink as a young kid, when he cheered on the Boston teams that he now skates against.
For the seniors, this was the second time in their collegiate careers they have been to the Garden with the only other time coming their freshman year. But the Garden has not been kind to the Wildcats in the past, and in 2008, they came up short after losing 5-4 to BC after three overtimes. The year prior to that, UNH made it through to the finals, but lost again to the Eagles.
This time, while it didn’t take six periods of play, nor was it BC that ended their tournament dreams, the three periods of gritty hockey with Merrimack was enough to leave UNH tired, banged up and unsatisfied with the results.
Perhaps one of the most noticeable downfalls of UNH’s play was the lack of offense allowed. Merrimack managed to shut down an otherwise explosive first line as well as the depth of the second and third, with the exception of one goal by Moses in the first period.
But, if there is one thing UNH is used to, it’s being down a goal or two going into the third period, only to come back in a thrilling nail-biter. Unfortunately for them, Merrimack can hold a lead, and hold it well.
UNH did generate a number of quality opportunities and put up 31 shots on net. However, only seven of those shots came in the third period. They also had their chances with Merrimack heading to the penalty box three times during the game, but couldn’t convert any of them into goals. Merrimack did however find the back of UNH’s net during a Wildcat man-advantage instead, and a second empty-netter, shorthanded goal at the end of the game.
The special teams, and most notably the power play, have been struggling as of late for UNH. In the past two games, the Wildcats have gone 0-11 on the power play, while allowing at least one special teams goal in each game.
“You’re never going to win games or have success without success on the power play…this time of year you can’t win games if you don’t give yourself chances on the PP.”
While this was not the way the Wildcats wanted to leave TD Garden, their season is not over. They are still in the NCAA tournament and will play next week at the Verizon Wireless Arena on Saturday.
Though UNH will live to see another day, there is no balm that will soon soothe the pain from this loss for them.
“We weren’t focused on [clinching the NCAA tournament spot].” Sislo said. “We were focused on Merrimack and trying to move on to Saturday so, this will hurt for a while, and come Sunday, we will see what happens I guess.”