Season Lost, New Hampshire Can't Recover
by Cole Weinman/CHN Reporter
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. Notre Dame's loyal sons were indeed marching to victory Friday night at the World Arena in Colorado Springs.
Unfortunately for New Hampshire, it was the Wildcats that were trampled as Notre Dame marched its way closer to the Frozen Four.
For Notre Dame, the victory was a statement for a club looking to establish tradition.
But for the Wildcats, the postseason struggles continue for a team that's never won a national championship despite having some dominant regular-season teams — such as this one.
"Obviously it wasn't our best performance. This was a special team, and that's the disappointing part for me," New Hampshire coach Dick Umile said. "I feel for this team because they're a special group and things didn't happen at the end of the season for this team as I felt it should have."
Hopes were high for the Wildcats this season, after two tough losses at the end of last season; a 5-2 defeat at the hands of Boston College and a 2-1 loss to Miami in last year's NCAA tournament. But for the second straight year, it's an early exit despite being a No. 1 seed. All the talk about whether New Hampshire was sent to the correct regional, and if it should have to play Colorado College on its own ice, proved to be a moot point.
"Obviously it's disappointing; it was a special group of guys. I don't have much to say," Wildcats captain Matt Fornataro said, fighting back tears.
Fornataro's words held an uncomfortable amount of substance, as the 7-3 defeat was a disappointing end to an otherwise brilliant season for the Wildcats.
The Wildcats finished the season with a 25-9-3 record. With substantial early victories against Boston University, Colorado College, and Boston College, the Wildcats jumped into the national rankings, and continued to climb for the duration of the season.
Riding high for an entire season, cleaning up in the Hockey East regular season race, UNH ended the regular season with what seemed to be an inconsequential loss to Vermont. But all of a sudden the Wildcats were knocked off by BC in the conference semifinal — and couldn't recover in time to save the season.
When asked if the loss to Boston College set a precedent for the NCAA tournament, Umile said, "No, that's not it. We started out well in this game. No, we came out and played well the first period. They executed two (goals) on the power play, that was key for them."
Everything was set up perfectly for New Hampshire to make a run at the Frozen Four.
A Hobey Baker finalist in goal, two Hockey East first teamers, two Hockey East second teamers, the Hockey East Defenseman of the year, and a roster bursting at the seams with senior talent.
However, on this night, David would indeed slay Goliath.
The loss was the first defeat ever suffered to Notre Dame in program history. Previously, the Wildcats were 4-0 against the Irish.
Ironically, Notre Dame was in an opposite boat, floundering in the last couple months, losing two games at The Joe, and losing one of its best players to injury. It was the special teams play of Notre Dame that would propel it to its first win over the Wildcats.
"They obviously did a good job on their power play, they did a great job executing it, and they deserve credit for that," Umile said. "In the second period they played well and changed the momentum, but we didn't play as well as we should and could have."
Notre Dame scored three goals in the second period and never looked back.
"It was kind of up and down until the middle of the third, they got some breaks and were able to capitalize on them." Commented Fornataro. "We had a 5-on-3 chance and didn't get anything out of it. That really hurt us."
The loss will send shockwaves through the rest of the NCAA, as arguably one of the most talented teams in the field will be watching the Frozen Four from their couches.
"It was the closest team I've ever been a part of, and that's the disappointing thing, not playing as well as we should have and could have at the end of the year." Fornataro said. "For a group of players as talented as this to come up short ... it's disappointing."
The final game of the season for the Wildcats greatly reflected the way the season unfolded.
UNH jumped out to an early lead, hit a few bumps in the middle, and fell short at the end.
UNH started out on fire, came up short at the end of the season, and couldn't find a road to victory in Colorado Springs.
There's an old saying that goes, "there's always next year." But next year will look significantly different for the Wildcats.