DURHAM, N.H. – Craig Switzer (Peachland, B.C.) tallied a goal and an assist to lift the No. 2 University of New Hampshire men’s ice hockey team to Friday night’s 2-1 Hockey East victory against Merrimack College at the Whittemore Center.
UNH, which has already clinched the top seed in the Hockey East tournament as the regular-season champions for the second consecutive season, improved to 22-7-2 overall and 18-4-2 in the league. It marked the Wildcats’ fourth consecutive win and extended the team’s unbeaten streak to a season-high 10 games (9-0-1). Merrimack, which lost 1-0 to the ‘Cats at home Jan. 4, is now 12-16-3, 6-16-2.
Kevin Regan (South Boston Mass.) finished with 29 saves, including 11 in the first period and 10 in the second, as well as three in the closing 1:16 of the final frame with the Warriors playing with an empty net; in the waning seconds, MC threw the puck in front of the net but Regan denied Matt Jones’ bid. Merrimack goalie Andrew Braithwaite was credited with 37 saves, 18 of which came in the last 20 minutes.
The teams entered the third period tied, 1-1, and the Wildcats carried a majority of play before finally taking a 2-1 lead on a goal by Danny Dries (Lake Orion, Mich.) at 14:54 on UNH’s eighth power-play opportunity of the night. Mike Radja (Yorkville, Ill.) made a centering pass from the left dashers and Dries redirected the puck into the net. Switzer was also credited with an assist.
UNH struck first at 12:16 of the first period on Switzer’s sixth goal of the season. Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) won control of the puck along the left half-boards and moved it to James vanRiemsdyk (Middletown, N.J.) in the corner. van Riemsdyk carried the puck behind the net to the right endline and threw the puck in front to Switzer, who had charged in from his position at the blue line.
The Warriors almost pulled even at 13:30 when Regan stopped Chris Braton’s initial shot from the right circle, then slid across the crease to make a leg-pad save against J.C. Robitaille at the left post.
MC did even the score just 28 seconds later, at 13:58, when Francois Ouimet collected the loose puck in the neutral zone and broke in alone down the slot. Ouimet pulled the puck to the right but Regan shadowed him and turned aside that shot. Matt Jones was trailing down the slot, however, and muscled the rebound into the net.
In the 17th minute, Braithwaite was caught out of position but scurried back in time to deny UNH’s Peter LeBlanc (Hamilton, Ontario) from the right circle. The rebound went directly back to LeBlanc, who fired a shot wide of the near post.
With the Wildcats on the power play in the closing minute of the opening stanza, Butler collected a long outlet pass behind the Warriors’ defense on the left wing. He angled towards the net from the circle but was stopped by Braithwaite.
Merrimack was whistled for two penalties at 17:42 of the second period to give UNH a 5x3 advantage. The Wildcats did not capitalized on the two-skater advantage, however, as they were limited to three shots on goal in that two-minute span.
UNH generated a lethora of quality scoring chances throughout the third period, outshooting the Warriors 19-8 in the final stanza. In the opening minutes, Jerry Pollastrone (Revere, Mass.) rushed down the slot but was denied by Braithwaite, and the puck was cleared out of the goal mouth before a charging Butler could get there.
In the 12th minute, a UNH flurry generated a Pollastrone bid in front and a van Riemsdyk shot from the right circle that Braithewaite had to scramble back to the net to make a diving glove save.
With UNH shorthanded, Radja’s pokecheck at the blue line sent him on a breakaway between two defenders, who hindered his ability to get a quality shot in the slot. The rebound came back out to the slot but MC knocked the net off before Matt Fornataro (Calgary, Alberta) fired the puck into the cage. That play resulted in the Warriors’ penalty (at 13:29) that led to Dries’ game-winning goal.
New Hampshire and Merrimack conclude the home-and-home series March 1 (7 p.m.) at Thom Lawler Arena. The Wildcats, who are now 12-0-1 in its last 13 against league foes, conclude the regular season at home next weekend, March 7-8, with a two-game series vs. the University of Vermont. Friday’s game begins at 8 p.m. and Saturday’s Senior Day game has a seven o’clock start time.