Junior forward Brittany Esposito scores hat trick for Huskies

Junior forward Brittany Esposito scored a hat trick for the Huskies

DURHAM, N.H. - Senior forwards Nicole Gifford (Ennismore, Onatario) and Jessica Hitchcock (LaSalle, Ontario) both recorded an assist on Senior Day, but the University of New Hampshire women's ice hockey team was defeated 4-2 by Northeastern University at the Whittemore Center on Sunday afternoon.

UNH ends the regular season at 9-22-2 overall and 4-15-12 in Hockey East. The eighth-seeded Wildcats play top-seeded Boston College in a Feb. 28 quarterfinal matchup; game time to be announced.

Northeastern earned the No. 3 seed by improving to 13-6-2 in Hockey East and 18-13-2 overall. The Huskies play host to sixth-seeded UConn next weekend.

Jenna Lascelle (Cornwall, Ontario) scored her second goal in as many days against NU and Megan Armstrong (Edina, Minn.) netted her first goal of the season to account for UNH's scoring. Vilma Vaattovaara (Veikkola, Finland) made 11 of her 22 saves in the second period.

NU was led offensively by Brittany Esposito's hat trick and two assists from Claire Santostefano. Chloe Desjardins was credited with 28 saves, including 11 in the second stanza.

The Huskies took an early 1-0 lead at 5:05 of the first period when Maggie Brennolt's outlet pass from the defensive zone found Santostefano in the neutral zone. Santostefano advanced the puck to Esposito, who skated into the left circle and curled behind the defender to the low slot. She then deked Vaaattovaara before tucking the puck inside the right post.

New Hampshire responded to tie the score, 1-1, at 6:39. Alexis Crossley (Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia) initiated the sequence with a pass from the right point across the high slot to Jess Ryan (Cloquet, Minn.), whose booming shot was deflected at the top of the crease. Heather Kashman (Edmonton, Alberta) corralled the puck and slipped a pass to the slot, where Lascelle spun and wristed a shot into the cage.

With exactly 11 minutes on the clock, Hannah Armstrong (Keswick, Ontario) exited the penalty box and gained possession of a loose puck at mid-ice. She charged to the slot and fired a shot that ricocheted off the right post.

NU went on its second power play at 16:09 of the first period and, one minute later, Hayley Scamurra led a rush into the left wing and wristed a low, screened shot that Vaattovaara snared with her glove.

After the 'Cats returned to full strength, Vaattovaara also turned aside shots by Esposito and MacSorley. In the waning seconds, Hannah Armstrong charged down the ice on the left wing and through the left circle. Desjardins stopped her initial shot from point-blank range and also blocked aside the rebound to end the period.

Northeastern regained the lead, 2-1, on a 2-on-none breakaway at 4:30 of the second stanza. Santostefano blocked UNH's attempted entry pass at the blue line and, shortly after entering the offensive zone at the left point, centered the puck to Esposito. In the low slot, Esposito once again shifted to the right post to beat Vaattoaara.

UNH was whistled for roughing at 5:20 and NU capitalized on the skater advantage to extend the lead to 3-1 at 6:47. Hayley Scamurra's initial shot from deep in the right circle was stopped by Vaattovaara. With both Hayley Masters and Esposito falling into the crease, Masters tapped the puck to Esposito and she pushed a shot into the open left side.

In the 17th minute, Kayla Mork (Victoria, Minn.) led a UNH 2-on-1 rush into the left wing. She stopped and saucered a centering pass for Haley Breedlove (Plano, Texas), who was speeding down the slot and wristed a shot that Desjardins blocked away.

The Wildcats pulled within 3-2 at 5:39 of the third period. Hitchcock kept the puck in the zone at the right point and fired a shot wide of the left post. Gifford then gained possession on the left-half boards and attacked toward the near post. She slipped a pass to Megan Armstrong in the slot and her blast sailed into the cage.

The Huskies reestablished a two-goal lead of 4-2 at 10:12. From the right faceoff dot, Kelly Wallace executed a diagonal pass to Colleen Murphy at the left point. Her shot was redirected on goal by Paige Savage, who then deposited the rebound into the left side of the net.

UNH started an abbreviated power play at 12:12 and tested Desjardins three times, but she denied the bids by Sara Carlson (Hutchinson, Minn.), Arielle O'Neill (St. Catharines, Ontario) and Gifford.

The 'Cats recorded two shots the last five minutes of regulation - in comparison the the Huskies' one - but could get no closer.

In addition to Gifford and Hitchcock, O'Neill also played in her final home game at the Whitt. All three seniors were honored in a pre-game ceremony.