MANCHESTER, N.H. — Hockey East will have a representative at the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh after the University of New Hampshire rallied for a 5-2 victory over Denver in the semifinals of the Northeast Regional Friday night at Verizon Wireless Arena.
The victory, which proved costly when UNH had two of its top three scorers go down with injuries, set a matchup against top-seeded UMass-Lowell in the regional final Saturday night on the Wildcats’ home-away-from-home ice.
“It’s exciting,’’ said senior winger John Henrion, of Holden, Mass., who gave UNH a 4-2 lead at 8:49 of the third period. “We’re lucky enough to be here on home ice, in a sense, but they’re right down the road, too, so they’re going to have a big fan base. It should make for a really good hockey game. It’s going to be a tough test, but any game now is kind of gritty up and down the ice.’’
UNH’s triumph was tempered, however, by the loss of Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas, both of whom had a hat trick in a 6-4 rout at Denver on Nov. 24. Downing left midway through the second period and did not return because he was dinged up, and Goumas, UNH’s leading scorer, departed after he was blindsided 50 seconds into the third period by Denver’s Nick Shore, who lowered his shoulder and leveled Goumas at center ice.
Goumas was motionless, face-down on the ice. He struggled to get up and had to be helped off.
UNH coach Dick Umile said both players would likely be game-time decisions.
“I’m going to say that I don’t think he was targeted,’’ Umile said. “We’ll know more [of Goumas’s condition] in the morning after the doctors and trainers look at him. But we’ll worry about that then.’’
UNH’s power play presented plenty of problems for the Pioneers (0 for 4, including a 5-on-3 in the third period). The Wildcats rallied from a 2-1 first-period deficit by erupting for power-play tallies in the second period by Trevor van Riemsdyk at 14:34 and Dalton Speelman at 19:38.
“Our power play, I don’t know what we were, but we didn’t score throughout the game, including the 5-on-3, and theirs scored twice,’’ said Denver coach George Gwozdecky. “That was a huge, huge swing in their favor. To their credit, they’re moving in a big way because of their special teams.’’
Denver broke a first-period stalemate when brothers Nick and Quentin Shore combined to give the Pioneers a 2-1 lead at 17:21.
Nick Shore, a junior centerman on Denver’s top line, ripped a blue-line blast that UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith (31 saves) stopped. However, DeSmith allowed the rebound to hover in the slot, which invited Quentin Shore, a freshman left winger, to pounce. He lofted it over DeSmith’s left shoulder, beating the UNH netminder on the glove side for his 10th goal of the season.
After failing to convert on their first two power-play opportunities, the Wildcats capitalized when Denver’s Larkin Jacobson was sent off for cross-checking at 12:54. The advantage was further enhanced when Denver’s Matt Tabrum lost his stick, allowing van Riemsdyk to tee it up from the top of the slot, the shot threading through heavy traffic to give UNH the equalizer at 14:34.
David Makowski’s tripping minor at 17:38 gave UNH one last power play before the end of the period. The Wildcats waited for the man advantage to expire before striking for a goal against Juho Olkinuora, who allowed Speelman to tally the go-ahead goal at 19:38.
Casey Thrush, who was camped out in front of the net, redirected Brett Kostolansky’s blue-line blast, sending it to the right side where Speelman tallied from a harsh angle near the goal line, allowing the Wildcats to take a 3-2 lead after two periods.
UNH absorbed a harsh blow when Goumas was blindsided by Shore, who drew a five-minute major and game misconduct. Although the Wildcats were unable to capitalize, Henrion made Denver pay when he crashed the net from the right wing to beat Olkinuora at 8:49.
Thrush, who tallied UNH’s first goal to tie it, 1-1, at 5:39 of the first period, punctuated the triumph with his empty-netter at 17:40.
Next up for UNH: a date against UMass-Lowell, a team the Wildcats defeated thrice during the regular season by a combined 13-4.
“They’re always a tough team to play against, they’re really hard-nosed, their forwards are skilled and they’ve got some big strong defensemen,’’ Henrion said of the River Hawks. “But I think when you got to come back and you know you’re playing a big game to go to the Frozen Four, it speaks for itself.
“The challenge is in front of us and everyone is excited.’’Michael Vega can be reached at email@example.com.