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Downing, Tirone Lead UNH Past Providence

UNH junior defenseman Brett Pesce
UNH junior defenseman Brett Pesce
Gil Talbot

DURHAM, NH -- Grayson Downing scored two first period goals and Danny Tirone stopped 30 shots in just his second career start to guide the University of New Hampshire past Providence College, 2-1, in a Hockey East game at the Whittemore Center on Tuesday evening.

"Obviously we're pleased with the outcome," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "As I told the team in the locker room that was an important win for us. We played hard, smart and together."

"It's huge for our team. It's been a while since we've actually played a Hockey East opponent," added Downing. "A team like Providence is a good team that is up there in the standings. You have to win games like this. The one goal games are what's going to matter most at the end of the season."

Just over four minutes into the game UNH sophomore Tyler Kelleher picked up a loose puck in the neutral zone and used his speed to gain separation. He patiently held onto the puck as he streaked into the zone down the left side before sliding a pass right on the tape of Downing who lifted it into the back of the net.

"That pass was great. It was right on my tape. It made it pretty easy for myself," said Downing. "We seem to find each other really easily."

Downing, who has scored the last four Wildcat goals, was the beneficiary of some good fortune with 7:43 to play in the opening period. He wheeled around from the right corner, firing what appeared to be a harmless shot on net, but the puck deflected up and over Providence goaltender Jon Gillies.

"It took a little bit of work to get it to cross the line, but it went in," commented Downing. "I just kinda threw up a prayer and it worked out. I honestly have no idea what really happened there."

Providence capitalized on its second power play of the opening period to cut the UNH lead to 2-1 before the first intermission. Noel Acciari redirected John Gilmour's point shot above the blocker of Tirone at 14:28.

That was all the scoring in the game as both goaltenders shut the door from there on out.

"I thought Tirone came up with some big saves. Jonny kept us in the game and gave us a chance," said Providence coach Nate Leaman.

"I thought he looked really good. He came up with some real big saves early in the game. We got down 2-0 and the second half of the first period we really played well. We had a lot of good chances. We were able to get one, but [Mark Jankowski] had one all alone on the back door. He got the pad out. That was a heck of a save. He made some great saves," added Leaman of his team's opposing goaltender.

Downing Riding High

Downing, who scored two goals Tuesday after lighting the lamp twice against Dartmouth, has eight goals in the last five games.

"Grayson Downing is playing as well as he'd play. That's his third game in a row where he's popped a couple. He's doing a lot of things well," commented Umile.

"Things are going our way. At the beginning of the year, we were working hard, but those bounces weren't going our way. That second goal wouldn't have gone in back in November," explained Downing.

New kid on the block

Tirone was expected to matriculate next fall, but his arrival was pushed up to December when it was learned that Casey DeSmith would not be returning to the program. The Trumbull, Conn. native and Loomis Chaffee alum has won both of his starts since joining the team the day after Christmas.

"Tirone stood tall in there. He's good. He's a competitor. He looks really comfortable in net. It was his first time at 'The Whitt' and obviously he did a great job," said Umile.

"I felt really good. I'm getting more comfortable each day. The team is helping me learn the ropes," said Tirone, who made several very nice saves with his pads, kicking out some tough low shots from the Friars.

"I try to use my speed out there and take away the low part of the ice," said Tirone, who spent the first half of the season playing for the Junior Bruins in the USPHL after having spent last year and the preseason with the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders in the USHL.

Fourth line buzzing

The fourth line, centered by Maxim Gaudreault, didn't factor in the scoring, but came through with some key shifts. With Jamie Hill on the left wing and Jay Camper on the right side, the line did a nice job of using its speed to create some energy and change momentum a few times when the Friars were gaining a territorial edge on the Wildcats.

"They did a really good job. We used them in some key situations," said Umile of his fourth line, noting the line's overall speed.

Lackadaisical Friars

For a fourth consecutive game, Providence fell behind early. It's somewhat of a microcosm of how the season has gone for Leaman's team. The Friars have plenty of talent and can beat any team in the nation when playing their best, but there has been difficulty playing a full 60 minutes consistently.

"I thought UNH was the better team tonight. They had a lot more jump," commented Leaman. "I'm more frustrated in our starts and our urgency to play. We're getting behind. Today we ran out of gas."

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Jeff Cox covers college, junior and high school hockey, NCAA recruiting and NHL Draft prospects. Follow him on Twitter @JeffCoxSports.