There's Always Next Year
New Hampshire One Game Short of Frozen Four Again
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
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MANCHESTER, N.H. In its last three NCAA tournament appearances, New Hampshire has won a first round game but failed to advance to the Frozen Four. Friday night, the Wildcats defeated Denver in the first round and advanced fourth straight time.
Unfortunately for UNH, the end result was the same — no Frozen Fours since 2003, and more bitter disappointment for a program that still longs for its first national title.
“The second game is the hardest one to win,” said senior forward Austin Block. “The guys battled, it never feels good losing but I guess it is what it is. Everyone played well and hard for us.”
The bigger disappointment on this night was that the Wildcats were in their own backyard, in the regional they hosted. For three out of the four years that UNH lost in the regional final, the regional was in Manchester and the Wildcats hypothetically had the advantage. Tonight, 8,352 fans were in Verizon Wireless Arena, not all of them UNH fans, but a good number.
Again, they went home with a painful loss.
“You guys saw the turnout tonight it was nuts,” said Block. “It is an atmosphere I have never seen before. I am sure all the guys got goosebumps when the fans were yelling and cheering. It’s the best venue I have played in so far. It is kind of disappointing being so close to Durham, but it was a close game.”
The cruelest part was how close it was again. The Wildcats hung around, as they usually, but instead, especially with injuries to centers Kevin Goumas and Grayson Downing, UNH had the same kind of problems scoring it had most of the year. In three Regional losses in Manchester, the Wildcats have combined to score two goals.
Credit the River Hawks on this night, as they played a perfect defensive game in a 2-0 shutout win. But UNH just struggled to get offense going.
“They have two or three guys on the puck at all times,” Block said. “You have to move the puck quick, especially on the small sheet. Sometimes we did and sometimes we didn't but we had some scoring chances. They played well and they stuck to what they are good at and shut us down.”
Said senior forward John Henrion, “Playoff hockey, it’s funny, the last two times we have been here in the regional final, it was a goal at the end of the period and that was all they needed.”
Last season, UNH missed the tournament for the first time in 11 seasons. The re-entrance into the NCAA tournament was a welcome one, though, and something that UNH didn't take for granted.
“We definitely shocked some people yesterday beating Denver,” said Block. “Hockey East is a premier league in the country and I am happy for UMass-Lowell and I think they will do well. I wish it was us, but if it’s not us, I hope that a hockey East team can represent the league as a whole.”
For a program that has made the NCAA tournament a lot over the last two decades, the lack of a national title is deflating. But it tried to keep things in perspective.
“I have been here one too many times in this situation getting to the second game and losing,” said captain Connor Hardowa. “But it is better than last year losing in the Hockey East playoffs.”
Call it not peaking at the right time, call it struggling in crucial moments, or call it the inability to score the “big goal” to send them to the Frozen Four — or call it luck of the draw. That is the mantra UNH has gained over the past five seasons, it was also the mantra UNH’s senior class lived with coming into this night as they were around for two of three of those, now three of four.
“I think we are all honored to be playing as far as we did,” said Block. “We came in with the goal to win a national championship and we didn’t do it. That is where the disappointment comes in and only one team is going to win it all. It is a tough sport and we love playing it but losing comes with it. Not everyone can win.”