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Women’s hockey comes out strong in conference opener

Another chapter of the Border Battle unfolded on Friday, Oct. 7 at the Alfond Arena, as the University of Maine and the University of New Hampshire faced off in the first game of a doubleheader to open Hockey East play. After a hard-fought and physical contest, Black Bears fans went home happy with a narrow 3-2 win. 

Entering the doubleheader, UMaine came in at 1-2. After being swept at home against No. 8 Quinnipiac, the Black Bears rebounded on the road against St. Anselm with a 6-3 win. New Hampshire entered the contest at 1-2 as well, after splitting a doubleheader with Union and losing a single road game to Quinnipiac.

The Black Bears got off to a fast start at home, as fifth-year forward Grace Heiting lit the lamp just a minute into the first period. First-year forward Luisa Welcke was credited with her first of two assists on the day. The score remained 1-0 until midway through the second period. The Wildcats struck back on the power play when UMaine third-year goaltender Jorden Mattison allowed a rebound which was swallowed up and buried with a backhand shot by UNH third-year defenseman Kyla Bent. 

After grinding out the first two periods in a 1-1 slugfest, each team got their offense rolling in the final frame. UMaine started the scoring when second-year forward Alyssa Wruble capitalized on a bad UNH turnover and snuck the puck past goaltender, captain, grad student Ava Boutillier. 

UNH responded with another power-play goal when second-year forward Shea Verrier grabbed the loose puck after a blocked shot and hammered it past Mattison, who had lost sight of it. Fourth-year forward Ida Kuppola netted the game-winner for Maine with a little over seven to go after receiving a sweet cross-ice pass from Welcke on the left wing, for her second assist. 

Mattison finished with 16 saves and the win. Boutilier picked up a frustrating loss despite making 32 saves. 

The following day, the two teams rematched at the Alfond for the second game of the conference doubleheader. UMaine handily completed the weekend sweep with a 4-0 win. Standouts included first-year forward Lilli Welcke and Heiting, who scored a goal and an assist apiece. 

First-year UMaine goaltender Brooklyn Oakes was the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week, tallying 23 saves, a win and a shutout in her first collegiate start. Boutillier, who is usually very solid between the pipes for UNH, was relieved in the third period after allowing a fourth goal. 

Aside from earning local residents a discount at participating Buffalo Wild Wings, this chapter of the Border Battle was a significant win for the Black Bears, who were ranked 7th out of 10 teams in the Hockey East preseason poll. More series sweeps like this one could help silence doubters who claim a young team like UMaine with a first-year coach in Molly Engstrom can’t get the job done. 

UMaine, who now sit at 3-2, (2-0 in-conference) will have a bit of a homestand for the next couple of weeks, including a matchup with conference favorites Northeastern at the Alfond on the 21 and 22.

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