Junior forward Matt Willows scores hat trick for Wildcats

Junior forward Matt Willows scored a hat trick for the Wildcats

DURHAM, N.H. - Matt Willows (Congers, N.Y.) scored three goals to lead the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team to Saturday night's 5-2 non-conference victory against 19th-ranked University of Nebraska Omaha at the Whittemore Center.

UNH, which completed the weekend sweep of the Mavericks following Friday's 6-3 victory, extended its win streak to three games to improve to 12-10-1. Omaha, winless in four straight games (0-3-1) is now 8-9-1.

In addition to Willows, Nick Sorkin (Rockville, Md.; one goal, two assists), Kevin Goumas (Long Beach, N.Y.; three assists) and Eric Knodel (West Chester, Pa.; two assists) also recorded multiple points. UNH goalie Casey DeSmith (Rochester, N.H.) made 14 of his 27 saves in the second period, when he held the visitors scoreless.

Kirk Thompson was credited with 31 saves, including 12 in the second period and 13 in the third. Josh Archibald finished with a goal and an assist.

UNH stormed back to score four goals spanning 4:30 to build a 5-2 advantage. Willows netted a power-play goal at 13:46 to tie the score and ignite the rally. He struck again at 15:28 to give the 'Cats their first lead of the game. Sorkin's power-play goal extended the advantage to 4-2 at 17:06.

Omaha pulled Thompson in favor of an extra skater with two minutes remaining and called time out three seconds later. The Mavericks couldn't sustain pressure, however, and Goumas intercepted an attempted entry pass at the blue line and his pass through the neutral zone found Willows, who shot a 40-foot shot into the empty net to complete the hat trick.

Omaha skated to a 1-0 lead through the first period, during which the shots were even 6-6. Dominic Zombo initiated the scoring sequence with a pass from the left wing in the neutral zone to Josh Archibald cutting down the middle. Archibald's shot sailed high but Ryan Walters gained possession in the left corner and moved the puck behind the net to Archibald. As he curled behind the net toward the right post, Archibald lifted a shot into the crease and a UNH defender inadvertently gloved the puck over DeSmith's right shoulder into the cage.

With one minute remaining in the opening stanza, DeSmith stoned both Zombo and Austin Ortega. Zombo's initial shot from the low slot was blocked down by the UNH goalie. Ortega corralled the puck at the doorstep and shoveled a shot toward net that DeSmith smothered.

The visitors recorded a 14-13 shot advantage in the second period, but New Hampshire netted the lone goal to tie the score, 1-1. Casey Thrush (Easton, Md.) netted his second goal in as many games when he scored from the low slot at 1:52. The initial slap shot from the left point by Matias Cleland (Longmont, Colo.) was deflected in the slot by Collin Bourque (Goffstown, N.H.) to Thrush.

UNH went on the power play 10 seconds later and Kevin Goumas (Long Beach, N.Y.) was denied by Thompson on a one-timer at the right doorstep. The 'Cats went on its second power play at 4:54, but this time Omaha generated a scoring opportunity in the sixth minute when Justin Parizek raced down the left wing and fired a shot from 20 feet that DeSmith steered aside.

Three minutes later, it was the 'Cats who threatened while shorthanded as Grayson Downing (Abbottsford, British Columbia) led a rush down the left wing and he was stopped by Thompson, who also stoned Downing off the rebound with a glove save.

The Wildcats were whistled for three penalties in the last 32 seconds of the middle stanza. A pair of skaters were sent to the penalty box at 19:28. UNH didn't allow a shot in the closing 32 seconds, but then another 'Cat was called for slashing at the end of the period to give Omaha an extended power-play opportunity at the outset of the final frame.

Omaha did not score the remaining 5-on-3 advantage the initial 88 seconds of the third period. The Mavericks earned another two-skater edge on the power play when another 'Cat was sent to the box at 1:37, but then it was reduced to 4-on-3 on the ice when Omaha was whistled for interference at 2:10.

The visitors broke through on that power play opportunity on Ryan Walters' fifth goal of the season to regain the lead, 2-1, at 3:21.

New Hampshire returns to action Jan. 11 in the Battle for the Riverston XIII against intrastate rival Dartmouth College. Game time a Verizon Wireless Arena (Manchester, N.H.) is 5 p.m. The Wildcats' next game at the Whittemore Center is Jan. 17 (7:30 p.m.) in the first of a two-game home series against Union College.