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UNH hockey ready for challenge as Vermont visits Durham

The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team skated off the ice last Friday after a game at Massachusetts with a disappointing loss – and a lesson learned.

“I think it just speaks for the parity in the league,” said Coach Dick Umile, whose team lost in overtime, 2-1, to give the Minutemen their first Hockey East win in five tries. “Whether you’re in the bottom of this league or not, everybody’s good.”

It’s a good notion to keep in mind this weekend. No. 9 UNH takes on unranked Vermont (1-2-2) tonight at the Whittemore Center, and the Wildcats (5-1-1, 3-1-1) are preparing for the best shot from another team in the lower tier of the league.

“They’re coming off a win, their last win was a pretty good win against a good Providence team,” Umile said. “It’s UVM and UNH. It’ll be a battle.”

The coach’s message has worked its way down to his players.

“They’re a very hard-working team,” junior defenseman Eric Knodel said. “They love just going 110 percent all the time. It’s going to be a tough challenge.”

Umile described Vermont as a quick team that does well on special teams. The Catamounts also finally have some momentum following a 2-0 win over the Friars, but the Wildcats have the good vibes going again as well following a 4-0 win over Maine that helped make up for the loss to UMass and a scoreless tie with Northeastern the previous weekend.

“It was a crazy trip,” Umile said. “It’s not like we went on an eight-hour bus ride, but we’re just doing three-hour bus rides in four days. ... Overall, it worked out well, winning on Sunday afternoon.”

The rest from the road is a short one – tonight will be UNH’s last in Durham before the team plays at UMass-Lowell and Boston University and then goes to Colorado for a pair of games. As Umile said, the Wildcats are eager to leave the Whittemore Center on a good note.

“We’ve got to make it count,” he said.

Changing it up

The loss to UMass was only UNH’s first of the season, but Umile felt he had seen enough to make a change.

When the Wildcats took the ice against the Black Bears, they did so with a pair of glaring omissions. Nick Sorkin, the first-line left wing for each of the first six games, was out of the lineup completely. Joining him was Jeff Silengo, as the normal third-line center was also resigned to the bench for the game.

Umile downplayed the moves, but did say he’s trying to keep the competitive mood going.

“We’re trying to play everybody,” he said. “So I just made a couple of changes. Keep everybody on their toes. The good thing is we’ve got some of the younger players and it’s a good group. If you don’t have a good game, somebody else might be in the lineup.”

Sorkin had two goals and two assists over the first six games, while Silengo had totaled no goals and two assists. The two juniors weren’t the only ones affected by the change; John Henrion was moved from the third line to the first, Greg Burke was promoted from the second line and Collin MacDonald and Maxim Gaudreault went from the bench to the third line, while center Grayson Downing went from the first line to the second.

The switch followed a stretch in which UNH scored just once over the course of two overtime games. It worked right away, as the Wildcats offense came back to life with four goals against Maine.

“It was a good wake-up call,” senior defenseman and captain Connor Hardowa said. “A lot of people noticed it, and a lot of people in the room took value in it.”

DeSmith rolling

Casey DeSmith’s excellent October is over, but the sophomore goalie is off to another hot start in November.

The Rochester native has been outstanding over the past three games, shutting out Northeastern in a scoreless tie and blanking Maine, in addition to allowing two goals in the overtime loss to UMass. His Hockey East stats of a 1.17 goals against average and .962 save percentage rank first in the conference, and earned him three straight Defensive Player of the Week awards and Goaltender of the Month recognition for October.

“His numbers are pretty crazy right now,” Knodel said. “Having him playing this well is a little confidence booster that he can back you up if one of us messes up. He can make that big save and pick the team up.”

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