DURHAM, N.H. - Sadie Wright-Ward (Durham, N.H.) scored at 2:40 of overtime to lift the second-ranked University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team to Saturday afternoon's 3-2 victory against St. Lawrence University in a 2008 NCAA Women's Ice Hockey Tournament semifinal game at the Whittemore Center.
UNH, which gained one of the three automatic berths to the NCAAs by capturing the Hockey East tournament title for a third consecutive year, extended its winning streak to 13 games and unbeaten streak to 19 games (18-0-1) to improve to 33-3-1 and advance to the Frozen Four. The Wildcats will play Minnesota-Duluth, a 5-4 winner vs. Mercyhurst College, at the DECC in Duluth, Minn. on March 20 (8 p.m.).
St. Lawrence, which received one of five at-large bids as the ECAC runner-up in both the regular season and tournament, ends its season at 28-10-1.
Jennifer Hitchcock (LaSalle, Ontario) won possession in the right corner with an assertive forecheck and pushed the puck out to Wright-Ward in the near circle. Wright-Ward quickly lifted a shot - the only one recorded in the extra session - into the upper-right corner to send the 'Cats to their second Frozen Four in three years.
UNH goaltender Kayley Herman (Weyburn, Sask.) finished with 20 saves, including 10 in the second period. SLU goalie Meaghan Guckian stopped 10 shots each of the three regulation periods to finish with 30.
The Saints, who were 6-2 victors against UNH in last year's NCAA quarterfinal matchup at the Whittemore Center, took a 1-0 lead at 4:39 of the opening stanza when Sabrina Harbec's shot from the right circle deflected off a UNH defenseman's skate to an unmarked Carson Duggan, who deposited the puck into an open net.
Midway through the first period, Guckian stopped Kelly Paton (Woodstock, Ontario) on the right circle, then slid across the crease to turn aside Jenn Wakefield's (Pickering, Ontario) bid from the opposite circle.
Minutes later, a UNH turnover behind its own net created Duggan's wraparound shot, but Herman maintained her position on the post for the save. With UNH on the power play at 14:20, Guckian stopped Hitchcock on a redirection in the slot and Sam Faber (Mt. Sinai, N.Y.) off the rebound from point-blank range.
In the opening minutes of the second period, Marianna Locke maneuvered through the slot only to be denied by Herman and at the other end of the ice, an SLU turnover gave Steph Holmes (Rye, N.Y.) a chance a the top of the crease, but Guckian made the stop. The Saints quickly moved the puck up the ice and Herman denied Karell Emard from close range.
Courtney Birchard (Mississauga, Ontario) pulled New Hampshire even, 1-1, at 6:28 with a strong individual effort. Just outside the offensive zone, Hitchcock swept the puck off the boards to Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.) and she pushed the puck forward. Birchard then chipped the puck forward down the slot, skated around a defender at the high slot, touched the puck forward while avoiding another defenseman and regained her balance to bury her shot in the low slot.
One minute later, SLU nearly regained the lead. Herman stopped Duggan at the right doorstep, then slid across the crease in time to deny Harbec at the left post.
St. Lawrence regained the lead, 2-1, on Harbec's power-play goal at 9:36. The Saints' eluded UNH's neutral-zone pressure to generate a 3-on-2 rush in which Duggan passed the puck off the right half-boards to Harbec, whose shot from the right circle sailed inside the far post.
The 'Cats generated three more dangerous scoring opportunities the rest of the stanza. At 12:45, Leah Craig (Seaforth, Ontario) gathered a pass from behind the net and quickly fired a backhander into Guckian. Then at 15:30, Wakefield shifted from the right circle across the slot, but she lost balance and possession of the puck before she could direct a shot towards the open net. In the closing minute, Wakefield again carried along the right dasher, and this time a centering pass was one-timed by Holmes in the slot.
SLU carried a 2-1 lead into the third period and gained power plays at 3:37 and 6:49, but the Wildcats penalty kill - ranked No. 1 in the nation - allowed just a total of two shots while shorthanded for that four-minute span.
In the 12th minute on the UNH power play, a screened shot from the high slot by Martine Garland (Toronto, Ontario) was stopped by Guckian, then the goalie denied Faber at the top of the crease off the rebound. Moments later, Guckian also denied Wright-Ward in the low slot and Birchard from the right point.
New Hampshire leveled the score, 2-2, on Wakefield's power-play goal at 13:27. Paton initiated the scoring sequence with a pass from the right circle to the slot, where Bellamy quickly moved the puck to Wakefield in the left circle and she blasted a shot into the net.
The Wildcats had one last rush in the closing seconds of regulation and Paton's backhander from the right circle was turned aside by Guckian.
UNH is now unbeaten in its last 11 overtime games at 4-0-7; the 'Cats are 2-0-1 in OT this season. This marked the Wildcats' first OT game in four NCAA tourney games and the team's first postseason overtime game since the 2005 Hockey East semifinals.
The 33 victories ties the program benchmark for single-season wins that was established by the 2006 Wildcats.