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UNH hockey: Wildcats face final chance to gain ground in national picture

Dick Umile wants it to be clear: the ever-evolving Hockey East picture remains the University of New Hampshire hockey team’s No. 1 concern.

But the team’s volatile national picture hopes? They’re on the Wildcats’ minds as well.

UNH (14-13-1, 6-6-0) is ranked 22nd in the PairWise rankings, meaning it would be out of the 16-team NCAA tournament if it started today, and the Wildcats don’t have to many chances left to score the kinds of quality wins that could improve their standing. There’s this weekend’s series against No. 14 Notre Dame, next weekend’s against No. 19 Vermont – and that’s about it.

So if the Wildcats are going to make their move, this is the chance, quite possibly the last one. And they know it.

“This is a big weekend for points,” Umile said. “This weekend and next weekend. Not only for points, but it could help us in the PairWise. … These are the two weekends to get points we’re going to need.”

Having the country’s fourth hardest schedule has helped the Wildcats so far, as it’s lessened the penalty for losses and ties and kept UNH’s odds as good as they are. But the time for splits and moral victories is done. The Wildcats need wins, badly, in the next few games.

“It’s definitely what we need. We can’t take many more losses,” senior defenseman and captain Eric Knodel said. “At the end of the year, you want to be able to win games, win tight games, and have the confidence on your side.”

The message has circulated throughout the defensive corps, with senior Justin Agosta echoing the point.

“We have to win a good majority of these games right now,” he said. “Our motto is the same as it’s been for a couple of weeks. Playoff hockey.”

(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at abonifant@cmonitor.com or via Twitter @dbonifant.)

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