UNH Hockey feeling good after strong weekend in Colorado
Given the choice, Dick Umile would always prefer to talk about the future than the past. But the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach was happy to take a step back and revisit what took place a weekend and more than 2,000 miles ago.
He had every right to be. Wins that involve comebacks from three-goal deficits against one of the country’s best teams are the ingredients to a memorable season, and Umile admitted that he’s getting a good feeling about his collection of players.
“The way that the guys responded Saturday night after falling behind 3-zip, it does feel like a special group,” he said, following a 6-4 win over then-No. 2 Denver, in which UNH bounced back from 3-0 and 4-2 deficits. “They’re a determined group, they’re a team that’s very together, there’s no doubt about it. They trust each other.”
It was the biggest test of the season for a UNH team that had been on cruise control for much of the season. The Wildcats (9-1-2, 6-1-1) were coming off of a 4-4 tie against Colorado College in which they blew a four-goal lead, and a defense and goalie that had been airtight had begun springing leaks. Casey DeSmith, among the nation’s leaders in most goaltending statistics, was pulled after allowing three goals on eight shots to Denver, and UNH was in serious danger of leaving Colorado with only one point to show for two games.
It was an opportunity to fold, but the Wildcats instead roared back.
“The guys really battled back,” Umile said. “The way they did it, how they competed, everybody contributed, it did a lot for us.”
Grayson Downing got the rally started with a shorthanded goal, and he scored again to make it 3-2. Denver scored next, but Downing completed a hat trick, and Kevin Goumas put in the next three goals to seal the win for the team, and Hockey East Player of the Week honors for himself.
The rally allowed UNH to take Denver’s spot at No. 2 in the polls. That’s an immediate benefit, but Umile said the win could continue to pay off later on.
“I think we developed some real character on that trip,” he said. “No doubt.”
Wyer steps up
Jeff Wyer didn’t seem to be in line for playing time as UNH left for Colorado for its weekend games. Both Colorado College and Denver were nationally ranked, and DeSmith, the goalie ahead of Wyer on the Wildcats’ depth chart, was playing as well as anyone in college hockey.
Still, with just over nine minutes of game time completed against the Pioneers, the call came in. DeSmith was out, and it was up to Wyer, who hadn’t played at all beforehand, to bring the Wildcats back.
“We had spoken for a couple of weeks, and he felt he was ready,” Umile said. “He was confident.”
Wyer looked the part, stopping 17 of 18 Denver shots and giving the Wildcats the shot in the arm necessary to pull off the comeback.
“That was huge, especially for us as a team,” freshman forward Maxim Gaudreault said. “He really gave us some support emotionally there, and we knew he was capable of making the saves he had to make during the game.”
Umile said before the season that he expected Wyer to push DeSmith for the starting job, and that the junior showed the kind of skills Saturday he was looking to see going in.
“He had to make two key saves at a key time in the game,” Umile said. “He was ready to go when asked to, and he did a great job.”
Umile also spoke on DeSmith, saying he doesn’t expect the weekend to affect the Rochester native too much.
“It happens. But he’s over it,” he said. “That won’t linger with him.”
Thoughts on Lowell
The Wildcats get a familiar foe this weekend, as they’ll play UMass Lowell at the Whittemore Center tonight and in Lowell tomorrow. It’ll be the third game against the River Hawks in two weeks, and senior forward Austin Block said that seeing them recently, which resulted in a 3-0 UNH win, makes preparation this time easier.
“It helps in scouting them, and it helps in getting prepared mentally,” he said. “But anything can happen every night, so we have to play our best hockey.”
Lowell’s had a tough time doing that, as the River Hawks, a preseason pick to finish second in Hockey East, have stumbled to a 4-5-1 record, with a 2-4-1 mark in the conference, where they sit in a tie for eighth.
“We won 3-zip the first time, but the game was a lot closer than the score would indicate,” Umile said. “They’re trying to battle back into the picture. … It’s an important weekend.”
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via Twitter @dbonifant.)