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After big series with BC, UNH men’s hockey ready for Providence

The situation is prime for a letdown. The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team is a week removed from its biggest series of the season, and it can be hard to replicate the emotion and intensity UNH put into its crucial split with Boston College.

But the Wildcats are getting help from the schedule. Coming to Durham tomorrow is Providence College, a team that, though normally a bottom-dweller in the competitive Hockey East, is in fourth place and eager to show it belongs among the conference’s title hopefuls.

It’s hard to overlook a team on the rise, and UNH Coach Dick Umile said that label fits the Friars.

“In the board, in our locker room, Providence is right there,” he said. “They’re fighting for that top bracket, so I think the guys are aware of how they play. They were a good team last year, and they’re much improved.”

The arrival of freshman goalie Jon Gillies has been a spark behind the Friars’ success. Gillies sports a .931 save percentage and 1.95 goals against average (both top-15 nationally), and his three shutouts are tied for fourth in the country and are enough to convince Umile that his offense will need to take advantage of the opportunities it gets.

“He positions himself well, but he’s a big boy,” Umile said of the 6-foot-5, 215-pound netminder. “The way the style of goaltenders today, with the pads and everything else, you’ve got to get it by him and it’s not easy.

“We’ve got to get shots there, get second and third shots. Make him move, keep it down at his feet.”

The Wildcats are about to get even more familiar with their opponent. Three of the next seven games are against Providence, and junior defenseman Justin Agosta said lulls against the Friars aren’t affordable if UNH wants to keep pace with Boston College down the stretch and hang on to its current share for the top spot in the PairWise rankings.

“We’re definitely focused because if you look at the standings, we’re still two points behind (BC), even though we have a game in hand,” he said. “We have the standings up in the locker room, and if you keep looking at the standings, it’s going to keep saying BC ahead of us.”

Defending the power play

In Saturday’s win against Boston College, UNH got the pivotal goal on a third-period power play, making up for several missed chances and supposed frustration.

According to Umile, however, the power play performed better than suggested by the stats, which read no goals scored in six previous chances with the man advantage, a stretch that included five minutes of penalty time due to a game misconduct and two minutes of 5-on-3.

“In the five-minute major, I think we got nine shots on net. We got shots,” he said. “They boxed it up and kept it outside and it was difficult to get the puck through there. But we did get shots.”

After several missed power play conversions, UNH wasted no time on its last one, as John Henrion scored the winner only 13 seconds in.

“The power play won the game for us,” Umile said. “Depends when you get it.”

Injury update

The Wildcats are getting closer to full health but are still nursing a few lingering injuries. Center Greg Burke (concussion) remains out, while left wing Nick Sorkin, out since New Year’s Eve with a broken hand, is wearing a cast and is close to a return, with a chance of making it back against Providence.

“I haven’t decided yet, but we’ll give him a couple of days of practice here and see how it goes,” Umile said.

The notion of playing with a cast isn’t too unusual (Umile mentioned that senior forward Austin Block did it last year), but the coach admitted that the injury’s location makes a cast a little harder to deal with.

“It just limits (them), they can’t move their wrists,” Umile said. “And his is the lower hand, which makes it even more difficult.”

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

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