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UNH hockey team shuts out Northeastern, 3-0, for fourth straight win

BOSTON – Dick Umile doesn’t buy the notion of a sudden and drastic turnaround that has benefitted the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team. In the coach’s eyes, the subtle things have changed. The bounce of a puck, for instance. The timing of a shot. Or seeing an open teammate streaking down the ice a split-second earlier.

Whatever the cause, something’s changed for the Wildcats. Four straight wins are a sign of that – none more so than the latest one, a 3-0 victory over No. 18 Northeastern at Matthews Arena last night in which the UNH offense clicked and hummed and the defense and goalie Casey DeSmith shut down an offense that had been lighting up opponents at a rate comparable to the top teams in the country.

“I think we came up from the start and played a solid 60-minute game,” Umile said. “We moved the puck well, played well defensively. I was pleased with the way the team played, in all phases.”

Umile didn’t have too many opportunities to speak such praise during a brutal 1-5-1 start, but the Wildcats (5-5-1 overall, 3-2 Hockey East) started to take on a new look while outscoring their opponents 17-3 over a three-game winning streak entering last night’s game.

“It’s a fine line between winning and losing at this level of hockey. I thought we played well, even while we were losing,” he said. “We had opportunities to win. I think right now, the pucks are going in for Nick (Sorkin), the pucks are going in for Grayson (Downing).”

And they continued to last night, highlighting a tweak Umile made that’s paid dividends so far. The coach altered his unproductive lines shortly before the winning streak, putting Kevin Goumas on the second line with Sorkin and Matt Willows and moving Dalton Speelman up to the first line with Downing and Tyler Kelleher.

Whether it was due to the reformatted lines, the chemistry was apparent last night. The Wildcats were flying around the ice, sliding crisp passes across the surface and connecting on several set-ups that had Huskies goalie Clay Witt (36 saves) and his defense busy from the opening faceoff.

It took less than five minutes for the Wildcats to cash in. Goumas skated across the net and fired a shot that hit the side of the net, but Sorkin, a senior, was on hand nearby to put in the loose puck and give UNH a 1-0 lead 4:26 into the game.

“Hard work pays off,” said Sorkin, whose goal gave him six in 11 games after an injury-plagued junior year. “(Umile) does a great job with me, telling me to shoot the puck, and I think that’s definitely helped me.”

Northeastern got a chance to rally, going on back-to-back power plays in the second period, but that opportunity led quickly to disaster. UNH’s Dan Correale took the puck near the red line and found third-line forward Jeff Silengo racing into the slot, and the senior beat Witt over his left shoulder for a shorthanded goal and 2-0 lead 6:45 into the period.

“If we can get an offensive play off of our shorthand, we try to do that as best we can,” Silengo said. “If we got a shorthanded goal scored against us, we’d feel let down a little bit, so it was nice to get that for us.”

UNH rounded out the scoring 8:15 into the third period, when Trevor van Riemsdyk zipped a pass across the ice to Kyle Smith, another third-liner, in the left circle, and the sophomore’s shot got just under Witt’s pads for a 3-0 lead.

The goal saw the Wildcats convert on the kinds of plays they had thrown at Northeastern all night – good reads, followed by accurate passes, coming from each of the top three lines.

“I think the third line’s playing well,” Umile said. “Jeff Silengo’s playing as well as anyone right now.”

While the offense has been the star in recent weeks, the defense had as much of a right to accolades yesterday. Northeastern entered the game with a 4.33 goals per game average, good for third in the nation, and a pair of outstanding forwards in sophomore Kevin Roy and freshman Mike Szmatula, but DeSmith (22 saves) and the top defensive pairing of Eric Knodel and van Riemsdyk helped hand the Huskies their first shutout of the season.

Northeastern did have its moments, particularly the final five minutes of the second period in which it hit a post and battered DeSmith with several shots up close, but the junior – who’s had shutouts in two of his last three games at Matthews and has a career .990 save percentage in the 103-year-old building – held firm.

“There were some shots there, a lot of traffic at the crease,” Umile said. “Casey made the big saves. It was a difference in the game.”

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

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