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UNH hockey: Wildcats defensemen adjusting to increased workload

When Trevor van Riemsdyk went down with a broken ankle two weekends ago, it became clear that the load would fall more heavily on Eric Knodel, Justin Agosta and Brett Pesce, UNH’s three best defensemen and the most experienced blueliners on the team.

The load is a mental one, as the trio knows their performances have to be that much better with the All-American out. But it’s also a physical burden, in the form of heavy amounts of ice time in the most important stretch of the Wildcats’ season.

“It was a lot,” said Agosta, who estimated that the three all logged over 30 minutes of ice time in each of the two games against Maine. “I think we handled it well, but once Sunday came around, we didn’t want to move.”

The Wildcats had sophomore Harry Quast taking van Riemsdyk’s place in the six-man defensive lineup, but there were still adjustments to be made, all of which led to more playing time for the UNH veterans. Agosta was bumped up from the second line to the first line, alongside Knodel. Pesce had to step into van Riemsdyk’s place on the power play unit. And Knodel, already a power play presence, played heavily in the late moments of the close games.

The players’ performance didn’t notably suffer, however, as Knodel put the Wildcats ahead to stay in their 3-2 win over Maine with a goal and Agosta and Pesce drew praise from Coach Dick Umile for their impressive performances in the victory.

Even during the weekend’s low point – a three-goal third period surrendered to allow Maine to snag a 4-2 win the next night – Agosta was emphatic that fatigue didn’t play a role in the defeat.

“It was better than I thought,” he said of the revamped defensive unit’s performance. “It was hard, but we got used to it. The goals that we gave up weren’t due to being tired or laziness or anything like that. It was just breakdowns, team breakdowns.”

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

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