MANCHESTER, N.H. – John Henrion (Holden, Mass.), Trevor van Riemsdyk (Middletown, N.J.) and Casey Thrush (Easton, Md.) tallied two points apiece and Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) recorded 31 saves to lead the 10th-ranked University of New Hampshire men's ice hockey team to Friday night's 5-2 victory against 12th-ranked University of Denver in an NCAA Northeast Region semifinal game at Verizon Wireless Arena.
UNH, which received an at-large bid to the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship and second seed of the region, improved to 20-11-7 overall. The Wildcats face off against University of Massachusetts Lowell, a 6-1 victor in the early semifinal against the University of Wisconsin, in the March 30 (6:30 p.m) Northeast Regional final. UNH has advanced to the region final game each of its last four NCAA tourney appearances (2009-10-11-13).
Denver, which lost 6-4 to UNH on home ice on Nov. 24, 2012, ends its season at 20-14-5.
DeSmith recorded 17 of his 31 saves in the first period. Henrion and van Riemsdyk both finished with a goal and an assist while Thrush matched his career highs in both goals and points with his two-goal effort. Dalton Speelman (San Jose, Calif.) scored UNH's other goal – the game-winning tally that gave the 'Cats a 3-2 lead with 22 seconds remaining in the second period.
Denver goaltender Juho Olkinuora made double digits saves in the first (13) and second (14) periods as part of a 36-save performance.
The Pioneers struck first at 2:24 of the first period. Larkin Jacobson centered a pass from behind the net and puck slid past Zac Larraza at the top of the crease but continued to the stick of the charging Daniel Doremus, who lifted a shot over DeSmith into the net.
UNH responded with the equalizer three minutes later. Brett Pesce (Tarrytown, N.Y.) fired a shot from the top of the right circle that popped out of Olkinuora's glove and Thrush was at the right doorstep to deposit the rebound into the upper-right corner at 5:39. van Riemsdyk was also credited with an assist.
At 6:40 of the opening stanza, Doremus' wraparound attempt at the left post was denied by DeSmith. Doremus jammed at the loose puck but it was frozen by DeSmith.
Midway through the period, Henrion blasted a shot from the right faceoff dot that was turned aside by Olkinuora. Thrush gathered the rebound in the left circle and his hard wrister ricocheted off a defender and Olkinuora knocked away the puck at the near post.
One minute later, Dan Correale (Prince George, British Columbia) curled behind the net to the right post and sent the puck to the front of the net , where Austin Block (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) had two whacks at the puck but couldn't get it past Olkinuora.
With four minutes left in the opening stanza, Pesce's entry pass found Henrion in the high slot, where his shot towards the left post was kicked aside by Olkinuora's right leg pad.
Denver regained the lead, 2-1, at 17:21. Nick Shore's initial blast from the high slot was stopped by DeSmith, but the puck slid past the stick of a UNH defenseman's clearing attempt at the top of the crease and Quentin Shore was in position to sweep a shot high inside the left side of the cage.
The 'Cats had a dangerous 2-on-1 rush with two minutes left. Kevin Goumas (Long Beach, N.Y.) entered the attack zone at the left point and his shot from the inner circle was enveloped by Olkinuora, who had advanced to the top of the crease to cut down the angle.
The Pioneers went on a power play at that point, but DeSmith stopped both shots he faced during the penalty kill to keep UNH within one goal.
New Hampshire nearly tied the game at 3:25 of the second stanza when Nick Sorkin (Rockville, Md.) fired a shot from the right faceoff dot that rang off the far post. Olkinuora covered the rebound, and then off the ensuing faceoff to his right Olkinuora enveloped Henrion's slap shot.
Nick Shore led a Denver rush down the slot and dropped a pass to the left wing for the trailing Scott Mayfield, whose hard drive was blocked aside by DeSmith. Three minutes later, as a Pioneers' power play was ending, a bouncing puck went to Nolan Zajac alone in the right circle but DeSmith slid across the crease to deny the scoring chance.
With 7:30 remaining in the second stanza, Jeff Silengo (Madison, Conn.) carried the puck deep on the right wing and his centering pass to the low slot found Henrion, whose quick wrister was blocked by Olkinuora.
UNH went on its second power play of the game at 12:54. One minute later, there was a scrum off the left post and the puck exited towards the slot, where Grayson Downing (Abbottsford, British Columbia) gained possession, sidestepped a defender to the right and snapped a shot that hit Olkinuora. Block swiped at the rebound in the crease and the Pioneers' goalie also kept that shot out of the net.
The Wildcats sustained pressure, however, and van Riemsdyk leveled the score, 2-2, with a power-play goal at 14:34. Downing swept the puck from behind the net along the boards to the right point, where Eric Knodel (West Chester, Pa.) chipped the puck to the slot and van Riemsdyk's screened slap shot went into the goal.
New Hampshire gained another power play at 17:38 and scored as it expired to take its first lead of the game, 3-2, at 19:38. Connor Hardowa (Edmonton, Alberta) initiated the scoring sequence from the right circle, where he swung a pass to the high slot. Olkinuora stopped the Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) slap shot but Dalton Speelman (San Jose, Calif.) got the rebound at the right doorstep and shoveled the puck into the open net.
Denver's Nick Shore was whistled for a five-minute major and game misconduct 50 seconds into the third period. UNH did not capitalize on the extended power play, however, as the 'Cats recorded two shots during that skater advantage.
UNH extended the advantage to 4-2 at 8:49 when Justin Agosta (East Meadow, N.Y.) gathered Sorkin's outlet pass to lead a 4-on-2 rush. Agosta skated into the left circle, allowed a teammate to skate in front and then slipped a pass across the slot to Henrion, who snapped a quick wrister from the right faceoff dot into the upper-right corner of the cage.
van Riemsdyk's long headman pass through the neutral zone sprung Block for a breakaway down the slot but his low, hard drive was stopped by Olkinuora.
Denver's third power play of the game started at 12:33 and one minute later Joey LaLeggia's shot from the high slot rang off the post. The Pioneers called time out at 14:00 when the 'Cats were whistled for another penalty to give them a two-skater advantage for 34 seconds.
DeSmith turned aside David Mankowski and then Chris Knowlton's one-timer from the slot to preserve New Hampshire's two-goal lead and the Wildcats' penalty kill did not allow a shot on the remaining 86 seconds of the Pioneers' power play.
Olkinuora was pulled in favor of an extra skater with just under three minutes remaining and Thrush corralled the puck off the right dashers and backhanded the puck into the empty net to give the Wildcats a 5-2 lead at 17:40. Henrion and Silengo earned assists on the tally.
Denver was whistled for a tripping penalty with 63 seconds remaining. The Pioneers once again pulled Olkinuora in the closing minute but could not sustain possession of the puck before time expired.