|UNH's Blake Kessel (photo: Dan Hickling/New England Hockey Journal)|
MANCHESTER, N.H. — The seeding was irrelevant. New Hampshire’s home-ice advantage, perhaps slightly less so.
Even so, the fourth-seeded Wildcats parlayed their underdog standing, a very friendly Verizon Wireless Arena crowd and a pair of goals by freshman Kevin Goumas into a rousing 3-1 triumph over top seed Miami (Ohio) in an NCAA Northeast Regional semifinal.
Mike Sislo’s goal with 39 seconds gone in the third period proved to be the game-winner, and goalie Matt DiGirolamo’s 21-save performance (seven in each period) made it stand up.
The Wildcats (22-10-6), who are ranked 11th in the nation, will play Sunday in the regional championship against either second-seeded Merrimack or third-seeded Notre Dame and the right to advance to the Frozen Four in St. Paul, Minn.
“This ranks right up there with our best wins,” Sislo said. “But we’re focused on one thing right now. That’s the next step. We’re excited, but we’re also looking forward to tomorrow.
“You look forward to these opportunities, and I think we took advantage of our opportunity tonight.”
The RedHawks (23-10-6) came in on a 13-game unbeaten streak — tops in the nation — and ranked fourth in the country.
Yet, save for one 60-second stretch in the first period, Miami was unable to exert the upper hand.
The teams swapped scores within the opening 1:53, beginning with one by Bryon Paulazzo at 53 seconds. Paulazzo was stationed in the slot, where he took Carter Camper’s left-corner feed and swatted it past DiGirolamo.
Less than a minute later, Wildcats freshman Kevin Goumas tied the score at 1, when he scrapped Matt Campanale’s wide shot off the backboard and tucked it inside the right post.
UNH appeared to gain the lead at 6:29, after Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) rattled a wraparound off the skate of linemate Sislo. But after a review, the goal was wiped out, having been judged to have been kicked in.
The stalemate held until the first shift of the final period, when Sislo buzzed to the back post where Blake Kessel’s pinpoint rink-wide pass was waiting for him.
Sislo promptly parked it, giving UNH the lead for good.
“It was a great pass,” Sislo said. “As a forward, that’s what you dream about. The defense finding you open like that, back door. That play was the result of hard work that we were doing. It was a great play by him, and I was able to put it in.”
Goumas salted the win with an empty-netter with 1:25 to play.
Dan Hickling can be reached at email@example.com