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UNH hockey team sweeps weekend series from Northeastern with 4-1 win

DURHAM – Coach Dick Umile sat down for the postgame press conference and brought a smile with him. Goalie Casey DeSmith spoke with a relaxed tone. Forward Casey Thrush made no effort to hide his elation.

It’s five straight wins now for the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team, and spirits in Durham are high following the latest triumph, a 4-1 victory over No. 18 Northeastern last night in which the Wildcats had shot and power play numbers go against them for much of the game, but were as opportunistic and efficient as they’ve been all year.

“Things are going our way a little bit, and it’s just building and building,” said Thrush, who scored the game-winning goal. “We’ve got a pretty happy locker room right now.

“I’m such a happier person after these 10 days.”

Those 10 days have seen the Wildcats (6-5-1, 4-2) reverse nearly everything that haunted them during a 1-5-1 start to the season that saw them plummet from the polls. Now, UNH is scoring, the defense has been airtight and DeSmith (31 saves) has shown the form he put on display when he was one of Hockey East’s hottest goalies at the start of last year.

“I think the team is playing really good defensive hockey,” DeSmith said. “I can give a lot of credit to my whole team, and their defensive effort.”

If one area was still lagging behind it was special teams, but now the Wildcats can even cross that off the to-do list. The Wildcats took advantage whenever they got a break, going 3-for-4 on the power play (failing to convert only when one was called with 30 seconds to play), and they also killed six of the seven power plays they yielded to the Huskies.

“Good job on the power play, and you know, we did a good job on the penalty kill,” Umile said. “I know we gave one up, but overall, the penalty kill was solid.”

UNH had to deal with a Northeastern team that came out aggressive in its determination to salvage two points from the weekend. The Huskies (6-5, 1-4) outshot the Wildcats 12-6 in the first, but UNH put the Huskies back on their heels with a 40-second counterpunch in the second. On the Wildcats’ first power play, Trevor van Riemsdyk blasted a shot from the high slot that hit off the end boards, and Nick Sorkin was on hand to knock in the carom 12:59 into the period.

The crowd had barely quieted from the score when UNH struck again. Justin Agosta fired a shot into goalie Derick Roy’s pads, but the goalie couldn’t cover it up completely, and Thrush skated in to jab at it and punch it over the line for a 2-0 lead 13:39 into the period.

“I though the goalie had it covered as I skated in, but I didn’t hear the whistle,” Thrush said. “I just put everything I had under his pad and ended up guessing right where it was.”

Kevin Roy brought Northeastern within one 2:31 into the third, but UNH sealed the game with a pair of power-play goals. Van Riemsdyk set up the first with a great effort to keep the puck from clearing before finding Matt Willows for a wrister from the left circle 10:38 in, and Grayson Downing had the final goal after UNH crashed the net with only 2:07 to play.

“Guys are competing hard, and we’re finishing. Defensively, we’re playing well,” Umile said. “Right now, the team’s playing with a lot of confidence.”

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

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