Two straight Frozen Fours, a cast of stellar seniors and a No. 1 seed meant nothing to the University of New Hampshire hockey team on Saturday.
Wildcat bodies flooded the frozen floor each time the dynamic Miami University offense flew through the neutral zone and fired shots at the cage. The Red and White – who averaged nearly four goals per game during the season – were held to just a single score, falling 3-1 in the Northeast Regional to the No. 4 seed Wildcats.
“Tonight wasn’t our night,” coach Enrico Blasi said. “I take responsibility for that. That’s on me. UNH played well so don’t take anything away from them. If it wasn’t for Cody (Reichard) making several difficult saves, it could have been worse. Don’t lose sight of the fact of what this team has done. I want to leave it at that … what the seniors accomplished.”
It was a freshman, forward Bryan Paulazzo, who scored the game’s first goal just 53 seconds in for a RedHawk lead. For Blasi’s men it was the ideal way to start a contest in front of a Wildcat tilted crowd. Senior Carter Camper skated through Wildcat defenders on the play before finding Paulazzo in front of net. The man with four career scores then fired at the rival goaltender and then retrieved the rebound off of the save for his third score in as many games.
The biased boards of the Verizon Wireless arena doomed the Brotherhood (23-10-6) one minute later. A Wildcat shot went wide, bounced behind the goal and goal tender Cody Reichard and ricocheted perfectly to forward Kevin Goumas, who buried the puck for a 1-1 score.
“We knew it was going to be tough coming in here,” Reichard said. “They had the home crowd. We jumped on them early but they got it back. We just didn’t execute. We knew they were going to come. Their game plan is transition. Credit to them for executing their game plan.”
Reichard, who finished with 24 saves, caught a break later in the period when a Wildcat goal was negated after the replay confirmed the go ahead score was kicked into the net. But the Wildcat defense would not let the RedHawks get a second score, no matter what the cost.
“They did a great job retrieving the puck in the slot,” Camper said. “It wasn’t just their defensemen but their wingers as well. Me, myself…I don’t remember how many shots I tried to get through but they were sacrificing the body [blocking shots] and I know we took more than 22 shots but that’s what got through.”
The bridge period was a heavyweight bout between a decorated senior class, wanting to extend its career to the field of eight and a Wildcat team (22-10-6) playing with confidence.
Both squads left the second stanza deadlocked at 1-1, setting the stage for a dramatic final frame.
“We were pretty good coming in,” senior Pat Cannone said. “But UNH had a good game and a good game plan that they executed well. All the credit in the world should go to them.”
Wildcat attackers wasted no time, scoring 39 seconds into the third period. Blake Kessel fired the puck from the point to the net, finding Wildcat weapon Mike Silso on the back side post for an easy second score.
“It was a great pass … it’s the type of play forwards dream about for a defensemen to find you backdoor and he did,” Sislo said. “It’s a result of hard work. Blake’s vision was great and it was a great play by him.”
The Wildcat offense looked to score again, but Reichard blocked puck after puck. On their next best chance, it was junior Alden Hirschfeld who stretched his leg in front of the crease to save a goal.
The RedHawks were not able to answer on two power plays and were forced to pull Reichard with two minutes left in the contest. But with just 1:30 left, the Wildcats found the puck at center and flicked it into the cage for a 3-1 late lead.
“It stings because of the seniors…two Frozen Fours, a conference regular season, a conference [tournament] championship,” Blasi said. “Other than Boston College, I’m not sure there’s a senior class that has a better record than our seniors.”
Camper, Cannone, Andy Miele, Justin Vaive and Vincent LoVerde took the ice for the final time as ‘Hawks Saturday after a career 108 victories.
“I remember as a freshman Jonesy (former Miami captain Ryan Jones) was in the same spot as a captain who lost in a regional,” Camper said. “He said he knew we’d get to a Frozen Four and he was right. It’s my turn now and we made it to two Frozen Fours. It’s been a great four years and Miami will win (a national championship) someday, I know that.”