Sophomore Blake Kessel notches four assists for Wildcats

Blake Kessel had four assists for the Wildcats

MANCHESTER, N.H. - Led by co-MVPs Blake Kessel (Verona, Wis.) and Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.), the 20th-ranked University of New Hampshire men's hockey team upended intrastate rival Dartmouth College, 5-2, in Saturday night's Battle for the RiverStone Cup IX at the Verizon Wireless Arena.

UNH, which went 3-for-4 on the power play and 4 of 4 on the penalty kill, improved to 10-7-4 while Dartmouth fell to 4-12-0. The Wildcats defeated the Big Green for the second consecutive year to improve to 6-2-1 in the RiverStone Cup series.

Kessel finished with a career-high four assists and the four points also marked a personal best, while Thompson tallied two goals and an assist to lead the offense. Phil DeSimone (East Amherst, N.Y.) also had a multiple-point game with a goal and an assist.

Brian Foster (Pembroke, N.H.) recorded double-digit saves in the first period (10) and third (11), and stopped 24 shots overall. Dartmouth counterpart Jody O'Neill made 33 saves, including 14 in the final frame.

The teams skated to a 2-2 tie through one period of play. UNH took an early 1-0 lead at 3:11. Kessel initiated the scoring sequence when he dumped a pass into the corner from the right point. Thompson corralled the puck, skated behind the net and from the left doorstep fed a pass across the crease to DeSimone, who redirected a high shot into the net.

The Big Green responded with goals at 7:22 and 14:28 to take a one-goal advantage. Dan Markowitz won the puck in the neutral zone along the right dashers and threw a pass across the ice off the far dashers. Nick Walsh gained possession and drove into the left circle, where he snapped a wrist shot inside the upper-far corner to tie the score.

Dartmouth went in front, 2-1, when Matt Reber scored off a rebound. Foster stopped Doug Jones' initial shot from the right circle with his left leg pad, but Reber was at the right doorstep and swept a shot behind Foster into the open net. Adam Estoclet also had an assist on the play.

UNH leveled the score at 2 with 40 seconds remaining in the opening stanza. DC cleared the puck the length of the ice just short of an icing infraction and Kessel gained possession in the corner. He quickly advanced the puck along the left dasher to Thompson at mid-ice. Thompson was denied by O'Neill on a shot from the left circle, but he followed the rebound to the slot and swept a low shot inside the right post.

The Wildcats began to sustain pressure midway through the second period and gained a 5-on-3 power play for 93 seconds at 11:57. The 'Cats made the most of that opportunity by scoring power-play goals 45 seconds apart - at 12:39 and 13:24 - to build a 4-2 lead.

Bobby Butler (Marlboro, Mass.) put UNH back in front on a series of quick passes from Kessel at the left point to DeSimone in the right faceoff dot across to Butler at the left post. New Hampshire struck again when Butler snapped a wrist shot from the right faceoff circle off O'Neill's glove into the net. Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.) and Matt Campanale (Chester Springs, Pa.) were credited with assists.

Trailing 4-2, Dartmouth generated a couple of dangerous scoring opportunities early in the third period. In the second minute, Andrew Owsiak had a breakaway down the slot but was denied by Foster. One minute later, Rob Smith's wraparound bid at the right post was also denied by Foster.

UNH netted its third power-play goal of the game at 10:59 of the final frame to extend the lead to 5-2. Kessel carried the puck through the left circle and slid a pass back to Thompson in the slot. Thompson gathered his balance and rifled a shot into the upper-right corner. Brett Kostolansky (Denver, Colo.) was also credited with an assist.

New Hampshire returns to action Jan. 22 (7 p.m.) at Providence College. The Wildcats' next home game is Jan. 30 vs. Merrimack. Game time at the Whittemore Center is 7 p.m.