It took 10 games and a lot of perseverance, but Northeastern broke into the win column on Saturday night when the Huskies rallied from a one-goal deficit to defeat New Hampshire, 2-1, at Matthews Arena.
“Obviously it’s the first win of the year and it has been a long time coming,” said coach Jim Madigan, whose team improved to 1-8-1 overall and 1-4-1 in Hockey East. “It’s something that we’ll build on.”
In contrast to Friday night’s game that had eight goals, the highlight of the rematch was the goaltending clinic put on by UNH freshman Adam Clark (31 saves) and NU senior Clay Witt (35 saves), particularly in the first 40 minutes.
Witt had to be sharp in the early going. At 3:21 of the first period, he turned away senior left wing Casey Thrush’s dangerous one-timer from the right circle.
Later in the period, it was Clark’s turn. NU sophomore center Dalen Hedges had a strong bid in front but Clark came up big. He did again at 11:49, when junior left wing Kevin Roy tested him on a wraparound at the right post.
The middle frame belonged to the Wildcats, who outshot the home team by a whopping 18-5 margin.
One critical save for Witt came during a two-on-one rush at 14:10, with the teams skating four a side. UNH senior right wing Matt Willows raced up the left side with Thrush. Willows elected to take the shot but Witt showed him no daylight.
Madigan said it was nice to see Witt get back into his rhythm after missing a month because of an injury.
“I thought he played well [Friday],” said Madigan. “You go back in goal and your timing is off a little bit in your spatial awareness in and around the net. I thought he did a real good job fighting through that [Friday], particularly after the first period. Today, he was more on top of the crease, he was more aggressive.
“When he’s on, he’s square to the puck, he’s moving quick from side to side, and I thought he was. He made some real good saves for us. I think we just fed off his confidence.”
UNH broke through early in the third. Willows skated into the left circle and dished a pass into the slot for junior center Kyle Smith, who backhanded it past Witt at 2:02.
Just 1:20 later, the Huskies pulled even. Sophomore center John Stevens took the initial shot that Clark kicked out, but sophomore right wing Ryan Rosenthal was there for the rebound and it was all square at 3:22.
NU freshman left wing Nolan Stevens picked an opportune time to score his first goal when he took a pass from his brother John and beat Clark at 8:21, giving NU the lead.
“It’s disappointing, I thought we played a pretty good road game tonight,” said UNH coach Dick Umile, whose team dipped to 4-6-0 and 1-3-0. “It was frustrating. I told the team, ‘If we’re going to be a team here in this league, you’ve got to win those games.’ We were ahead, 1-0, on the road playing well and had an opportunity to win it, and gave it away.”
For NU, it was a much-needed confidence boost. Madigan said that despite what some people outside the program may think, the Huskies are an enthusiastic, confident group.
“[Friday night] we played a strong second half and we needed to capitalize today,” said Madigan. “We needed to win in this building. The monkey is off the back, absolutely. They’re good kids and good hockey players. They have confidence. They work hard, they come to practice every day, they’re upbeat. They’re a good group to coach.
“Obviously, I want to be more on the plus side in the wins but they work hard. We’re still a young team. That youthfulness is good and the exuberance and enthusiasm, they bring it every day. They believe in themselves, which is positive.”Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Elle1027.