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Inspired Wildcats Knock Off Denver

Manchester — It looked like more of the same from the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team. Another sluggish start and another early deficit, and the Wildcats had started their NCAA tournament run by taking a quick step toward elimination.

Then things changed, and the Wildcats answered with two periods of their most impressive and fulfilling hockey of the season.

UNH sent a message in its first game of the NCAA tournament, rallying for a 5-2 win over Denver and setting up a regional final appearance against Hockey East champion UMass-Lowell.

“That’s how we wanted to play,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We don’t score the first goal too often, so I think the team has great character and doesn’t panic, (they) stayed with it and came out in the second and slowly started to take the game away.”

Like they did in their November victory over Denver, the Wildcats showed resolve in coming back from an early deficit. But unlike that earlier game, a wild 6-4 victory in which UNH erased two multi-goal deficits, this wasn’t a case of a miracle escape. Instead, the Wildcats just found their rhythm, and didn’t let up until the last second ticked away.

“That’s the way that we played, definitely in the first half and inconsistently in the second half of the season,” Umile said. “We’re very capable of playing like that. We got into it in the second period and hopefully we’ll continue to do that tomorrow.”

UNH went down 1-0 on a Daniel Doremus goal only 2:24 into the game, and after Casey Thrush evened the game at one on a shot from the right circle, Denver’s Quentin Shore knocked home a rebound to make it 2-1 Pioneers going into the second period.

It looked like several frustrating UNH losses and ties did down the stretch, but the players kept their poise.

“We’ve got some great leadership in the (locker) room,” sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk said. “We had a really positive vibe in the locker room. We just knew we had to get a little bit better.”

They got a lot better. The Wildcats outshot the third-best scoring team in the country 27-14 the rest of the way, and quickly went to work cashing in on opportunities. When Denver’s Larkin Jacobson went to the box for cross-checking, UNH was able to convert when a broken stick set up a de facto 5-on-3, and van Riemsdyk’s shot from the point sailed through a screen and knotted the score with 5:26 left.

The winning goal wasn’t on the power play, but the special teams set it up. Brett Kostolansky got the puck in space at the point and put a shot on goal, and the rebound kicked to Dalton Speelman in front of the right circle. The junior forward knocked it home in the first second of even strength, putting UNH up 3-2.

UNH didn’t slow down in the third, even when a blown five-minute major power play gave Denver a hint of momentum. The Wildcats bounced back from the missed chance on a beautifully executed play, as Nick Sorkin slipped a pass backward to Justin Agosta on the rush, who found John Henrion in the slot for the goal with 11:11 to play.

Thrush scored an empty-netter with 2:20 to go to round out the scoring for the Wildcats, who also got 31 saves from Casey DeSmith and killed a 5-on-3 power play late to close out the Pioneers.

Yale 3, Minnesota 2 (ot)

Grand Rapids, Mich. (ap) — Jesse Root scored 9 seconds into overtime to give fourth-seeded Yale a victory over top-seeded Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional semifinals Friday.

Kenny Agostino intercepted Minnesota defenseman Ben Marshall’s pass behind the net and feed Root for his 10th goal of the season. Yale (19-12-3) will play North Dakota in the regional final today for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.

Minnesota, the No. 2 overall seed in the 16-team tournament, finished the season 26-9-5.

North Dakota 2, Niagara 1

Grand Rapids, Mich. (ap) — Andrew MacWilliams and Danny Kristo scored in a 57-second span early in the third period in North Dakota’s comeback victory over Niagara in the NCAA West Regional semifinals.

Second-seeded North Dakota (22-12-7) will play Yale today in the regional final for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh. Third-seeded Niagara finished the season 23-10-5.

UMass-Lowell 6, Wisconsin 1

Manchester (ap) — Connor Hellebuyck stopped a first-period penalty shot and finished with 31 saves to help UMass-Lowell rout Wisconsin in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals.

Joseph Pendaza, Christian Folin, Shayne Thompson, Derek Arnold, Adam Chapie and Ryan McGrath scored for the top-seeded River Hawks (27-10-2).

They will play New Hampshire tonight for a spot in the Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.

Nic Kerdiles scored for fourth-seeded Wisconsin (22-13-7) in the third period, ending Hellebuyck’s shutout streak at 165 minutes, 20 seconds.