MANCHESTER, N.H. - Matt Di Girolamo (Ambler, Pa.) stopped 36 of 38 shots for the 11th-ranked University of New Hampshire men's hockey team, but the ninth-ranked University of Notre Dame prevailed 2-1 in Saturday night's NCAA Northeast Region final game at the Verizon Wireless Arena.
UNH, which received an at-large berth out of Hockey East to extend the nation's second-longest active NCAA tournament appearance streak to 10 years, ends the 2011 season with an overall record of 22-11-6. The Wildcats have lost in an NCAA regional final each of the last three seasons.
Notre Dame, which defeated UNH in a 2008 west region semifinal and earned a 2011 NCAA tourney at-large bid out of the CCHA, will advance to their second-ever Frozen Four with a 25-13-5 record. The Fighting Irish will face off against the University of Minnesota Duluth in an April 7 national semifinal game in St. Paul, Minn.
Di Girolamo broke UNH's single-season saves record with his 31st save of the night in the third period. He ended the year with 1,145 saves to surpass the previous benchmark of 1,139 established by Mike Ayers in 2003.
Notre Dame goalie Mike Johnson stopped 37 shots, including 16 in the second period. He was named to the All-Region Team and was further feted as the Northeast Region MVP. Anders Lee, Billy Maday and Stephen Johns joined Johnson on the All-Region Team, as did UNH's Blake Kessel (Verona, Wis.) and Mike Sislo (Superior, Wis.).
ND skated to a 1-0 lead in the first period despite being outshot 13-7 in the opening 20 minutes. UNH controlled play the opening seven minutes to generate an 8-1 edge in shots. Johnson turned aside all eight shots he faced however, and moments later the Fighting Irish took a 1-0 lead.
Lee carried the puck into the offensive zone and from the right circle swung the puck back to Riley Sheahan at the right point. Sheahan quickly centered a pass to the high slot, where Johns blasted a slap shot that sailed into the upper-right hand corner.
Di Girolamo, who had 14 saves in the second period and 16 in the third, kept the 'Cats within one goal when he stoned Maday on a 2-on-1 rush from close range on the right wing with 5:15 remaining in the opening stanza.
The teams combined to record 31 second-period shots and Notre Dame scored on the last of the frame - with five seconds on the clock - to take a 2-0 lead into the second intermission. The Fighting Irish had a dangerous scoring opportunity in the fifth minute but Di Girolamo turned aside Jeff Costello's one-timer from the inner-right circle. One minute later at the other end of the ice, Stevie Moses (Leominster, Mass.) fired a one-timer from the slot that was stopped by Johnson.
With 7:45 off the clock in the second stanza, UNH's Jeff Silengo (Madison, Conn.) drew the puck off a faceoff in the right circle to the slot, where John Henrion (Holden, Mass.) quickly snapped a shot that Johnson enveloped.
One minute later, Moses once again had a dangerous scoring chance but his wrister from the top of the right circle towards the far post was blocked aside by Johnson's extended right leg pad.
With six minutes remaining in the middle stanza, UNH's Paul Thompson (Derry, N.H.) won the puck in the right corner and tucked a pass between two defenders to Sislo alone in the slot. Johnson once again kept the 'Cats at bay, however, by stopping Sislo's one-timer.
New Hampshire generated a rush in the closing minute in which Damon Kipp (Salmon Arm, British Columbia) carried the puck into the left circle and left a drop pass for Henrion, whose shot was snared by Johnson's glove.
Notre Dame extended its lead to 2-0 at 19:55 of the second period when Maday, on the left doorstep, lifted a backhander into the upper-left corner of the cage. Sheahan, with the pass across the low slot, was credited with an assist.
UNH pulled within 2-1 at 13:37 of the third period when Matt Campanale (Chester Springs, Pa.) carried the puck down the right wing, continued towards the net and swept a pass to Sislo in the slot and he wristed a shot inside the right post.
Johnson came up big again for the Fighting Irish with five minutes to play when he denied Thompson's backhander at the left doorstep.
The Wildcats went on their third power-play of the night at 15:57, but the ND defense limited the 'Cats to one shot during that two-minute span.
UNH was then whistled for a tripping penalty at 18:16 and, despite pulling Di Giralamo in favor of an extra skater with 37 seconds to go, was unable to get another shot on goal.
This game marked the last in a UNH uniform for the six-member senior class of Phil DeSimone (East Amherst, N.Y.), Mike Beck (Long Beach, Calif.), Greg Manz (Wayne, Pa.), Campanale, Sislo and Thompson.