In a tightly contested game in Alfond Arena on Saturday, the University of Maine women’s ice hockey team fell to the University of New Hampshire Wildcats 2-1 in the rivals’ first matchup of the season.
The Black Bears’ record slips to 2-8-1, 1-6-0 in Hockey East. The win improves UNH’s record to 5-7-1 overall, 3-2-1 in Hockey East.
Questionable officiating marred the victory for the Wildcats, who entered Saturday’s game as the Women’s Hockey East Association Team of Week after upsetting Boston University and skating to a draw with conference-leading Providence College on the road last Sunday.
UMaine was hindered by an 8-3 disparity in penalties. Head coach Maria Lewis said she spoke to the referees during the first period in an effort to the game from getting out of hand, but she was disappointed with what appeared to be a lack of consistency in the officiating.
“Some of them we deserved, but it’s the others [that aren’t called] that are frustrating,” she said. “We’re putting some pressure on them, we’re trying to score a goal, we’re trying to tie the game up, we’re playing hockey. We’re just playing hockey, and they take that right away from us.
“It’s just really frustrating because [the officials] just don’t have a feel for the game,” Lewis added.
The action was back and forth for much of the first period before the Black Bears’ penalty trouble ensued.
UMaine senior goaltender Brittany Ott had some big saves in the opening frame before UNH was given their first chance on the power play.
Freshman defender Megan Armstrong, the reigning Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week, continued with her hot hand after picking up a pair of assists in the win over BU and a goal in the draw with Providence.
Armstrong’s shot from the point beat Ott, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead with just over 7 minutes remaining in the opening period. Junior forward Nicole Gifford and senior defender Kailey Chappell were credited with assists on the play.
UNH would finish 1-7 with 13 shots on the power play in the contest, while UMaine was able to muster four shots in a 1-3 effort with the extra skater.
The lead would stretch to two on an even strength goal less, than 3 minutes later. Freshman forward Brittany Redlick found the puck on her stick, after a scramble in front of the Black Bear crease, and slid it home to make it 2-0. Sophomore forward Jenna Lascelle earned a helper on Redlick’s eventual game-winner.
Although the game was much more competitive than the box score would show, the Wildcats outshot UMaine 16-5 in the opening 20 minutes and 40-23 overall. UMaine will need to make adjustments in practice this week to try and get back on track. Lewis said her team’s tendency to put themselves in a hole during the early stages of a game needs to be fixed in order for the Black Bears to find success this season.
“We come out sluggish a lot, we come out slow a lot,” she said. “We’re just really not transferring some of the things we do in practice into the game, and it starts with that.…In a way, it starts with them taking a step back and concentrating on doing the little things they need to do to be successful.”
Ott, who is coming off two solid performances against Bemidji State last weekend that earned her WHEA Defensive Player of the Week honors, was busy throughout, producing 38 saves in the loss. Sophomore goaltender for UNH Jenn Gilligan went largely untested in the first period. Gilligan saved 22 of the 23 shots she faced against the Black Bears to earn the win.
The Wildcats had the better of the scoring chances and dominated possession in spurts, but could not solve Ott in the second frame.
The Black Bears earned a power-play opportunity in the opening moments and did not waste it.
Sophomore forward Jennifer More and freshman forward Abbey Cook assisted on sophomore forward Tori Pasquariello’s goal with just under 3 minutes gone that cut the deficit to one. More’s initial shot from the point was saved by Gilligan, but Pasquariello was there for the put-back to make it 2-1.
UNH had a 5-on-3 advantage with less than 2 minutes remaining in the second when senior forward Brittany Dougherty joined senior defender Chloe Tinkler in the box, but could not find the back of the net.
No goals were scored in a penalty-filled final stanza. UMaine upped the pressure on the forecheck and dominated play in the third, which culminated in a 10-5 shot advantage, but could not even the score.
The Black Bears’ best chance came after junior defender Kelly McDonald exited the box with a little over 1 a minute remaining in regulation. She won the puck in the neutral zone and wheeled between two defenders in the Wildcat zone before her wrister was saved by Gilligan.
UMaine pulled Ott in favor of the extra attacker after calling timeout with 52 seconds left. However, the game would end in a 2-1 UNH victory.
Lewis says there are many parallels between this current UNH squad and her team from one year ago.
“They remind me a lot of us last year, where top to bottom, other teams [have] a lot more depth and talent but you play together and you play opportunistic and you’re able to knock off some teams that – on paper – people think you shouldn’t knock off,” she said, adding, “We can beat them. I realize we keep getting out shot but I do think if we can put all the pieces together, if we can put a few more, better minutes together I think it would be a different outcome.”
The third-year head coach hopes the results will be different when the rivals meet again in February.
“I think they’ll be a little different team. We better be a different team,” Lewis said. “We’re a much different team than we were two months ago, we need to be a different team again in another two months.”
The win improves UNH’s all-time record against the Black Bears to 35-6-3 after being swept by UMaine in their three matchups last season.
Freshman defender Brooklyn Langlois and junior forward Brianne Kilgour were unable to suit up for the Black Bears on Saturday.
Langlois is recovering from a head injury she suffered in game two against Bemidji State last weekend. Kilgour missed her fourth straight game due to a muscle contusion in her back that came against Providence on Nov. 2.
UMaine takes the ice again in a Thanksgiving exhibition contest against the Russian National Team in Lewiston, Maine on Nov. 22. Game time is scheduled for 7 p.m. They travel to Boston College to take on the Eagles in a two-game set on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
UNH hosts Quinnipiac University in a 7 p.m. game on Nov. 20.