If years past have taught us anything, it’s that the final week of the season can be the source of the most excitement in Hockey East. With UNH’s 4-1 win over Merrimack College on Friday night, the Wildcats jumped into sole possession of the No. 8 spot in the conference, which would give them a home playoff series if the season ended that day.
But it doesn’t. One more day of action remains, and hardly anything has been finalized. Boston University has clinched the top seed with 29 points on the year. Seeds 2-5 are all up in the air between Boston College, UMass Lowell, Providence and Notre Dame, while Northeastern and Vermont are still nipping at their heels fighting for No. 4-7.
As for UNH’s chances, if they win their matchup against Merrimack, they clinch the No. 8 seed no matter what. It’s what happens if they don’t win that puts them in a precarious position. With a tie and a Maine win, UNH drops to No. 9 and will play Maine on the road. If Maine loses, they slip to No. 10 because of losing the season series to UConn, who would jump them into a match up with New Hampshire because of the tie break. Merrimack and UMass-Amherst round out the No. 11 and 12 seeds, respectively.
The simple message from captain Matt Willows? Stick to the gameplan.
“[The win’s] great. Coming into this weekend, we knew we had our destiny in our control,” Willows said. “We knew we had to get a win tonight … and if we play a full 60 minutes like we’re capable, we’ll get home ice and come back [to the Whitt] for a couple more.”
Andrew Poturalski got the scoring started in the first period on the team’s third powerplay chance of the period. Merrimack tried to break the puck out of the zone, but defenseman Matias Cleland stepped up and kept it away from the Warriors. With two Merrimack players breaking out, Poturalski got the puck in a 3-on-2 chance at the top of the slot. Wasting no time from the middle of the ice, Poturalski wound up a slap shot that blistered past Tirronen’s blocker.
Willows potted a goal in the second period with 6:41 to go in the frame, which about 8 minutes after Merrimack had tied the game at one apiece. UNH had a lengthy possession in the offensive zone during a powerplay after Merrimack defenseman Aaron Titcomb was called for Interference. Merrimack was able to kill the penalty, but UNH kept the puck in the zone and worked it to its defense. Cameron Marks unleashed a slap shot from the blue line that Willows was able to deflect and beat netminder Rasmus Tirronen on his blocker side.
“We got a lot of good looks on the powerplay and wound up having a long shift,” Willows said. “A little longer than we would’ve liked … but we just kept working and kept control of the puck. Marksy was able to take a good shot and I was able to tip it into the net.”
While the Willows score ended up being the eventual game-winner, the ‘Cats weren’t satisfied and Jay Camper extended the lead to 3-1 less than two minutes later. Warren Foegele worked the puck to the net and put a shot on net that was blocked aside by Tirronen. Camper found it in space, however, and scored his third goal of the year, all of which have come in the last four games.
“Camper’s playing great for us and it’s great to see him [succeed],” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “That [third] line of Camper, Foegele and Eiserman played great tonight, we put them out there in key situations. Jay’s a smart player and I’m real happy for him to have the puck go in.”
UNH’s final tally came on a penalty call, as Casey Thrush carried the puck into the Merrimack zone with an empty net and under 30 seconds to play. Dan Kolomatis dragged Thursh down from behind, preventing him from getting a shot off, but the referee signaled for a goal and the game came to it’s final of 4-1.
“It was much closer than the score indicated … but I felt we missed a few opportunities early in the game to break it wide open,” Umile said.
UNH finishes its season tomorrow at 5 p.m. in the Whittemore Center. The team will honor its five seniors, Willows, Thrush, Camper, Grayson Downing and Ryan Randall.