BOSTON, MA – Top-ranked University of New Hampshire won the Hockey East Tournament Championship, and automatic NCAA bid, for the first time in its history Saturday night with a 3-1 victory over #7 University of Maine in front of a record Fleet Center crowd.
The Wildcats won the Hockey East tourney title for the first time in four tries, after losing in the finals in 1992 (to Maine), 1997 and 1999. Maine fell to 4-7 in their 11th championship game appearance. It was also New Hampshire’s first win over Maine in league post-season action after five Hockey East tournament losses to the Black Bears.
The championship game attendance of 17,122 was the best single-night attendance in the 18-year history of the Hockey East Tournament. The two-night total of 32,805 also set a record for semifinal and championship night total attendance. The previous single-night record was 15,989 for the semis on March 17, 2000, and the two-night record was 31,982, March 17-18 of 2000.
Michael Ayers (Hingham, MA) made 27 saves for New Hampshire while Matt Yeats (Innisfail, Alberta) stopped 29 shots for the Black Bears.
Freshman winger Sean Collins (Reading, MA) gave the Wildcats the 2-1 lead just 1:16 into the third period. Senior Darren Haydar (Milton, ONT) won the face off and fed Colin Hemingway (Surrey, BC), who passed back to the center blue line to set up Collins’ slapper, his 18th tally of the season.
Steve Saviano (Reading, MA) added insurance with just 3:48 remaining in regulation, as he skated in between the circles and beat Yeats high to the glove side for the 3-1 UNH lead.
New Hampshire opened the scoring when junior Jim Abbott’s (Mars, PA) slapshot from the left point deflected off Maine defenseman Peter Metcalf (Pembroke, MA) and past Ayers at 8:16 of the first. Both teams had seven shots on net in the stanza.
The Black Bears tied it at 1-1 on a power play with 1:16 remaining in the second period. Sophomore winger Colin Shields (Glasgow, Scotland) took a slapper from the left blue line that eluded traffic in front and beat a screened Ayers and notched the power play equalizer. Maine had a 19-17 advantage in shots after two periods.
Haydar, who had two assists on the night, was named the Tournament Most Valuable Player. He was joined on the all-tourney team by forwards Hemingway of UNH, UMass Lowell’s Marc Concannon (Hull, MA), Maine defenseman Metcalf, UNH defenseman Garrett Stafford (Los Angeles, CA) and Maine goaltender Yeats.