The Lobos kicked off the ACHA National Championships with the thrill of an overtime victory on Tuesday, but the New Mexico hockey team felt the other end of the spectrum in a lop-sided loss just one day later.
After one day of play, New Mexico and Quinnipiac sat atop the standings in Pool B after the Lobos pulled out a 5-4 overtime win over Central Florida and the Braves notched a 3-2 upset victory over No. 1 Michigan State.
On Wednesday, Quinnipiac proved Tuesday's win over the prohibitive favorite was no fluke — skating to an 11-3 win over New Mexico.
The Lobos actually struck first in Wednesday's matchup against Quinnipiac, lighting the lamp for a goal just over five and half minutes into the game. UNM center Nate Taglialegami was able to finish off a power play with a goal, beating Matthew King to make it 1-0.
Taglialegami and company had a couple of other good looks at the net, but were unable to collect a second score to really put some pressure on their opponent. Instead, Quinnipiac was able to even things up after Anthony Cuccich got a point-blank look at the goal and fired a shot past UNM goalie James Bostian.
The score remained 1-1 at the end of the first period of play. Taglialegami said the late goal surrendered toward the end of first was kind of a fluke play and remembered thinking at the first intermission that there really wasn't much separation between the two teams.
He said even though the end result didn't show it, many of the statistical categories were essentially a wash and the teams were pretty even. But New Mexico endured a nightmare of a second period, one in which Taglialegami said he still wasn't really sure what happened.
Quinnipiac's James Stanger got an open shot on goal just over two minutes into the second half to take a 2-1 lead and the Braves scored another even-strength goal moments later to take a 3-1 advantage.
New Mexico tried to regroup and fired off some hard shots on goal, but King made a couple of solid saves to protect the lead. Then the Braves were able to notch a power play goal, cleaning up a loose puck off a long shot to make it 4-1.
It was the first time power-play goal the Lobos had given up at nationals — successfully killing the previous 11 penalties — but it wouldn't be the last.
The Lobos' chances were dealt a serious blow when forward Isaac Dunwoody was whistled for boarding, resulting in his ejection and a five-minute major that proved to have major consequences.
Unlike other penalties, a goal in that instance does not end a power play and return things to full strength. New Mexico made it about halfway through the major, but surrendered a goal while getting called for another penalty.
Quinnipiac took full advantage, scoring seconds later with a 5-on-3 advantage to make it 6-1. The goal ended the night for Bostian as head coach Grant Harvey lifted the usually-reliable goalie for Antonio Santiago.
The Braves blasted their third goal during the finals seconds of the major power play advantage, placing another score — this time past the new net-minder, Santiago.
New Mexico rallied to score back-to-back goals in less than a minute to draw within 7-3 and Taglialegami said he and his teammates felt like they were filling some energy with more than a full period of hockey still to play.
But Quinnipiac delivered a gut punch inside of three minutes remaining in the second period, collecting its seventh goal of the fame to go up 8-3. That goal likely quelled any momentum the UNM had generated and the Lobo center said it felt like the dagger had been delivered.
Harvey eventually ended up making another change at goal keeper, but the Braves still got some more insurance in the final period, adding three more goals to its final total to coast to an 11-3 victory over the Lobos.
That, coupled with Michigan State's 9-5 win over Central Florida later that night, resulted in the Braves punching their ticket to the 2018 ACHA National Championship semifinal round as Quinnipiac would hold the tiebreaker over New Mexico and Michigan State — having beaten both schools head-to-head.
Harvey said his team has been on the other end of games like that often this season, and lamented the fact that New Mexico didn't get the performance it wanted. Protecting the net was especially problematic as the Lobos gave up 11 goals on just 37 shot attempts.
"We were never let down in goal tending all year except for today," the head coach said. "If that's how rare we get let down — then I guess we were due, but I don't think it'll be like that tomorrow."
Harvey gave credit to Quinnipiac, saying the Braves' seeding was not indicative of how talented a team the Lobs faced on Wednesday. He said he beats himself up probably more than most, especially when dealing with a loss as tough as that.
But he and the rest of the Lobos won't get much time to lick their wounds, as the team will have to take the ice against what many considered to be the best team in the draw, Michigan State.
"We (didn't) want to relish in the previous win too long and we don't want to dwell on the previous loss," he said. "We don't have a negative sentiment about how we will do tomorrow. We're just a little bit mad and I think we can use that as fuel and expect a different outcome."
Harvey said he hopes the Lobos can get out of the tournament with a 2-1 record against a deeply talented pool — saying taking down the No. 1 team in the country would be good for the program and for the players on the team.
Regardless of the outcome on Thursday, he said he already considers what his team has accomplished to be a success. And though his team will not get a chance to advance to the semifinal round, there is still one more game in which there is room to achieve even more.
New Mexico and Michigan State will take the ice Thursday, March 15 at 6:30 p.m., while Quinnipiac will finish pool play against Central Florida before it advances to the semis where it will take on the Oakland Golden Bears.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter@Robert_Maler.