DURHAM, N.H. – Jennifer Hitchcock (LaSalle, Ontario) and Sadie Wright-Ward (Durham, N.H.) both recorded a goal and an assist and Melissa Bourdon (Ile Bizard, Quebec) recorded her 30th career shutout to propel the fourth-ranked University of New Hampshire women’s ice hockey team to a 2-0 victory against University of Connecticut in Saturday afternoon’s Hockey East semifinal game at the Whittemore Center.
UNH, the tourney’s defending champion and top seed with an 18-1-2 league record, improved to 27-3-5 by extending its season-best unbeaten streak to 12 games (10-0-2). Fourth-seeded UConn ends the season at 17-15-3. UNH advances to play the winner of the second semifinal (Boston College vs. Providence College) in Sunday’s championship game. Opening faceoff is 12:35 p.m.
“You can’t force it with that team (UConn) because they play inside-out defense, they are well coached. I knew it was going to be a hard fought game and I knew were going to have to earn every goal we got”, said UNH head coach Brian McCloskey. “Heather’s team is really well coached and defensively they play as well as any team in our league. You’re just not going to get a lot of easy goals against them. We didn’t get a lot of shots on them and I think that’s a credit to her and they played very, very strong.”
Bourdon, with her third consecutive shutout in Hockey East Championship play, recorded nine saves, including five in the first period, for her ninth shutout of the season. Her 30 career shutouts and 85 career victories are both NCAA and UNH records.
In an evenly played first period, Wright-Ward netted a power-play goal with 48 seconds remaining to give the Wildcats a 1-0 lead. Martine Garland (Toronto, Ontario) battled to keep the puck in the offensive zone at the right point and moved the puck forward to Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.) in the near circle. Bellamy spun around and slid the puck to the slot, where Hitchcock fired a shot on net. UConn netminder Brittany Wilson (26 saves) made the save but Wright-Ward, alone at the left post, lifted the puck into the open net.
“Kacey and Hitch both did a great job getting it up to the net and I was just there. It was a great team effort the whole game and everyone was working hard. All four lines were really contributing defensively and offensively”, said Wright-Ward of her game-winning goal.
The Wildcats controlled play through most of the second stanza and increased the advantage to 2-0 with 1.8 seconds remaining on the clock. With 12 seconds to play, Wright-Ward won control of the puck off the faceoff to Wilson’s left. Craig then skated out of the right corner and fired a point-blank shot. Hitchcock charged the net and scored off the rebound at the right post before time expired.
New Hampshire again controlled possession through most of the third period. UConn pulled Wilson with 2:10 to play and UNH called time out following an icing call eight seconds later. The Huskies kept offensive pressure in the zone but failed to produce shots on goal until UNH cleared the puck with 50 seconds to play and prevented UConn from entering the offensive zone the rest of the way.
One of Bourdon’s biggest saves in the game occurred off a UNH turnover in its defensive zone when Amy Hollstein broke in alone from the right circle and was denied from close range six minutes into the second period.
“I thought it was a great game, it was obviously up and down but we love to play UNH because it’s a discipline game and you know that it’s going to come down to one or two power plays,” said UConn head coach Heather Linstad. “We had some scoring opportunities within the first five minutes that could have changed the game. They have a lot of depth on the forwards so we were trying to isolate the defenseman.”