When the fifth-ranked University of New Hampshire hockey team traveled to No. 11 Boston University for a Sunday matinee, the Wildcats were 92 seconds of scoreless play away from a school record.
After three consecutive shutouts, sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith didn’t surrender a goal until the 4:40 mark of the second period as he staked UNH to a 3-1 victory over the Terriers at Agganis Arena.
It was the first goal the team had given up since 3:08 of overtime against UMass on Nov. 2, a span of 204 minutes, 40 seconds.
New Hampshire has emerged as a defensive juggernaut, tops in the nation after giving up an average of 1.20 goals per game over a 10-game span.
DeSmith, who had 45 saves against BU, is second in the country in save percentage (.961) and goals-against average (1.19).
“We’re pleased with the outcome and I thought our penalty kill was excellent [nullifying all seven BU power plays],’’ said UNH coach Dick Umile. “Obviously it needed to be, especially in the second period. The guys did a great job. It was a good win for us.’’
The Wildcats (8-1-1) generated all the offense they would need in the opening period. Junior center Kevin Goumas took advantage of a turnover by senior right wing Ryan Santana and beat freshman goaltender Matt O’Connor from the slot at 11:34 to go ahead, 1-0.
Freshman right wing Maxim Gaudreault made it a two-goal lead on his first collegiate goal at 14:10, which he scored on a rebound.
BU played a much better middle period, particularly because of the five power plays the Terriers had, and cut the deficit in half at that 4:40 mark on freshman center Danny O’Regan’s tally from just outside the left post.
BU outshot UNH, 17-4, in the period.
The visitors sealed it on an empty-net goal by Goumas with one second remaining.
UNH has won four in a row as the team continues to frustrate the opposition. Next weekend, the Wildcats will be at Colorado College and Denver.
“Any time you can win two games in Hockey East, it’s a huge weekend,’’ said Umile. “Especially coming down here, we always have great games with BU and those are the kind of battles that we’ve had over the years. We expected them to come back, they’ve done it before, and I like the way we responded in the third period.’’
DeSmith and the rest of the defense have been the backbones of the squad this season, notably seniors Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky.
“I am taking nothing away from Casey DeSmith, believe me, he’s playing terrific,’’ said Umile. “But the defensive group in front of him are as good as we’ve had and they’ve made a difference. We can give up zone time and maybe give up the first shot, but they’ll break it down and clear it and not get second and third shots and they typically get us out of the zone on that first pass and that’s been a big difference. That’s maturity led by [Hardowa and Kostolansky.] And [freshman Brett] Pesce is playing great, he’s playing like a junior right now.’’
On the other hand, BU coach Jack Parker wasn’t overly pleased with his team’s performance. The Terriers were turnover prone, particularly in the opening period.
“I thought UNH was the much better team,’’ said Parker. “Even though the shots are in our favor [46-35], and there were some territory advantages at times for us, I thought [UNH] played great defensively. We got 46 shots, but those were very deceptive. They really did a good job in front of their net. We didn’t get a lot of great chances.
“We played BC [Nov. 11], and obviously BC is the No. 1 team in the nation. I thought we played very well against BC. We didn’t play that well against this team. This is the other best team we’ve played in our league. UNH and BC are without question the two best teams I’ve seen in our league.’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at email@example.com.