DURHAM, N.H. – Brian Foster (Pembroke, N.H.) stopped all 26 shots he faced to record his fifth career shutout and backbone the 10th-ranked University of New Hampshire men’s ice hockey team to Saturday night’s 1-0 Hockey East victory against Merrimack College at the Whittemore Center. The victory secured home ice for UNH, which has a league-best streak of 13th-straight home quarterfinals, in the Hockey East quarterfinals, which will be played March 13-15.
UNH won its fifth consecutive game to extend its unbeaten streak to six games (5-0-1) and improve to 18-9-5 overall, 14-7-4 Hockey East. Merrimack, which has been eliminated from postseason contention, is 8-20-4, 4-18-3.
Foster made 10 saves in both the first and second periods and six in the final frame for his third shutout of the season. Merrimack counterpart Joe Cannata was credited with 24 saves, including 11 in the third period.
Despite being held without a shot for the initial 10 minutes of the opening period, the Wildcats took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission. Greg Collins (Fairport, N.Y.) was denied twice at the top of the crease by Cannata, but Peter LeBlanc (Hamilton, Ontario) corralled the puck at the right post and jammed the puck into the net at 13:24 to mark the sixth consecutive game that the ‘Cats scored first. Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) was also credited with an assist on what proved to be the only goal of the game.
The Warriors, who generated a 10-6 shot advantage in the first period, nearly tied the score at 3:10 of the second stanza when J.C. Robitaille’s shot from the right faceoff dot caromed off the inner-right post. Merrimack maintained pressure in the offensive zone and Foster denied Joe Cucci’s shot from the slot and Karl Stollery’s bid from the left circle.
In the ninth minute, Robitaille generated a rush in which Ryan Flanigan’s close-range shot from the left wing was enveloped by Foster. One minute later, Chris Barton was alone in the slot, but Foster kept MC off the scoreboard with a lunging dive off the crease towards Barton.
Merrimack went on its third power-play of the game at 16:06 and generated a pair of dangerous scoring opportunities. Rob Ricci’s shot from the slot was knocked down by Foster and Jesse Todd, at the left doorstep, pushed the puck wide of the left post. Moments later, Foster foiled Stollery’s shot from the left circle. The rebound went to Barton in the slot, and his shot trickled wide right of the cage.
Near the end of that penalty kill, Collins intercepted a pass in the high slot and skated down the center of the ice flanked by a MC skater on each side. He entered the offensive zone, slowed and shifted to the left before firing a wrist shot that Cannata blocked aside.
Early in the third period, UNH had an abbreviated power play in which Thompson corralled a long pass behind the defense and fired a wrister that Cannata snared with his glove.
In the fifth minute, MC’s Cucci stickhandled from the left circle to the slot, where his shot was turned aside by Foster’s right leg pad.
Midway through the final frame, LeBlanc blocked a pass in the neutral zone and broke in alone on the left wing. He advanced towards the left post and was denied at the doorstep.
The Wildcats went on their sixth power play of the night at 8:57 and, near its conclusion, Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) fired wide from the left doorstep and the puck caromed to the low slot, where Danny Dries (Lake Orion, Mich.) was foiled by Cannata.
Merrimack pulled Cannata in favor of an extra skater with 1:21 to play, but the ‘Cats immediately worked the puck back into the offensive zone and, against three Warriors, backhanded a shot from the left circle that was blocked aside.
MC entered the offensive zone with 30 seconds on the clock but were pinned behind the net. Nick Krates (Palos Park, Ill.) won the puck up the boards out of the right corner and Dries chipped the puck out of the zone with 10 seconds left to secure the win.
This marked the final regular-season home game for the six-member Class of 2009. The six student-athletes, who were honored prior to opening faceoff, have made three NCAA tournament appearances, won back-to-back Hockey East regular-season titles and compiled an overall record of 89-43-17.
New Hampshire concludes the regular season March 6-7 at the University of Vermont.
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