STORRS, Conn. -- Mari Pehkonen (Tampere, Finland) scored twice in the first period to propel the Providence College women's hockey team to a 5-1 win over the University of Connecticut in the Hockey East semifinals on Saturday afternoon at UConn's Mark Edward Freitas Ice Forum.
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Third-seeded Providence ups its mark to 16-15-4 on the season and will face top-seeded New Hampshire on Sunday for the Women’s Hockey East Championship.
PC won each of the first three league titles (2003-05) and was the 2007 runner-up while UNH is the two-time defending champion and took the season series against PC 2-0-1. The Huskies, ranked 10th nationally and seeded second, wrap up their 2007-08 campaign with a 22-8-5 record, establishing a high-water mark for the program in both overall seasonal wins and Hockey East wins, going 13-5-3 on their regular-season league slate.
Earlier today, UNH cruised past Boston University 8-0 in the tournament's first semifinal. This year will mark the fourth UNH-PC final in the six years of WHEA play with PC holding a 2-1 edge in the pervious three Friar-Wildcat championship matchups.
The Friars held a 23-16 edge in shots on goal and killed each of UConn's first five power plays. The Huskies went 1-for-6 on the power play while the Friars converted on three of their six chances with a man advantage.
Early lack of discipline by the Huskies gave the Friars a 5-on-3 power play for 54 seconds and Providence took advantage, opening the game's scoring just 5:56 into the contest when Pehkonen snuck a 15-foot shot past a screened Brittany Wilson (Nepean, Ont.) along the ice. Meanwhile, several other challenging saves by Wilson just before and after the goal kept UConn's early deficit from expanding. Wilson did not have an answer though on a power play at 13:12 when play broke down in front of the Husky net and Pehkonen collected the bouncing puck at the side of the cage and stuffed it home for her ninth goal of the year, second of the period, and a 2-0 Friar edge. Amber Yung (Rockville, Va.) had a hand in setting up each of Pehkonen's tallies. PC held a 7-5 edge in shots on goal during the opening stanza and, on the road, played even better than that margin would indicate.
The second period began with PC killing a pair of Husky power plays. UConn kept up the pressure, even shorthanded, moments later but PC netminder Danielle Ciarletta (Blaine, Minn.) denied Brittany Murphy's (Tewksbury, Mass.) scoring bid on a partial break-away. The Friars also had a pair of power play opportunities in the penalty-laden opening 10 minutes of the middle stanza but were more successful, converting on their second try. After a good period of possession time, Friar blueliner Kathleen Smith (Waterloo, Ont.) found the back of the net at 9:40 with a low shot from the right point to put PC on top by a 3-0 count.
PC made it a 4-0 game as time expired in the second period when Cherie Hendrickson (Boxford, Mass.) beat Wilson with a long desperation wrist shot for a goal at 19:59. The green light came on indicating the end of the second period negating the red goal light but officials ruled that the puck crossed the goal line before time expired. In all, the Friars killed four penalties in the period and outshot the Huskies 5-4.
The only suspense of the final period was whether the shutout would remain intact and Ciarletti took a big step towards securing a clean sheet for the Friars when she denied a streaking Amy Hollstein (Pembroke, Mass.) on a break-away with 14:55 remaining in the game. UConn would hit a pair of pipes during the period before finally breaking through with 2:26 to play when, on a power play, Michelle Binning (Oshawa, Ont.) snapped a shot up and over Ciarletti. With 25.6 seconds to play, PC's Erin Normore (Cambridge, Ont.) found the empty UConn net to account for the 5-1 final score.
Providence advances to face top-seeded and two-time defending champion New Hampshire for the Hockey East Championship on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. in Storrs. The game will be broadcast on NESN at 6:00 p.m. Sunday evening following the conclusion of the network's coverage of the Boston Bruins' 3:00 p.m. matchup with the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden.