'Terriers in town, payback on mind'
DURHAM - The first weeks of the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team's season have been fixed on the present. But for this weekend, the nightmares of last March are coming back strong.
The surprise? Dick Umile's inviting them back.
That's because No. 11 Boston University will be in Durham tomorrow, facing the No. 15 Wildcats for the first time since the Terriers ended UNH's season with a come-from-behind, 5-4 victory in double overtime of the decisive third game in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.
The loss, in which the Wildcats let a 4-1 lead and their season slip away, still hurts. It's a festering scar. The Wildcats (2-0) and their coach don't hide it. With the Terriers in town, they're embracing it.
''You don't forget the missed opportunity we had last year,'' Umile said. ''That made us all angry and miserable, and we've been living with it since. So you definitely carry that into the game.''
Coaches will often stress turning the page with their players, to make sure they're focused on the task ahead. But Umile knows there's no better way to be focused than by thinking back to the memories of the Terriers celebrating and the Wildcats knowing their season was over.
''We talked about that a little bit (Tuesday). They bumped us out of the playoffs last year when we thought we were kind of getting things back together,'' he said. ''That's exactly what we talked about. Payback.''
This won't be the same BU squad from that series, however. Star goalie Kieran Millan has finally left after four years, and three of the Terriers' top four scorers from last year have left. But the team still has scoring punch left over in forwards Matt Nieto and Wade Megan, and goalie Matt O'Connor, a 6-foot-5 freshman, has generated plenty of buzz.
''He's highly-touted coming in,'' Umile said. ''He's a good goaltender.''
It's also the first Hockey East game for the Wildcats, and Umile said there's a different mood among the players when league foes are next on the schedule.
''In our locker room, we have the standings in our locker room, we take it one game at a time and we have the logos of each team we play,'' he said. ''And you want to be on top and look down.''
Of course, there's a little more story to this particular Hockey East team.
''We haven't forgotten that,'' senior forward Austin Block said. ''Definitely still a bitter taste in our mouths.''
It wasn't the five goals in Friday's victory over St. Cloud State that Umile was still celebrating about, or even the victory itself.
It was the unselfish, dirty work plays in the win that had the coach beaming.
''Friday night, we blocked more shots than I have ever seen since I've been here,'' said Umile, who estimated his team stopped ''a dozen'' shots. ''We've never blocked as many shots as that. It's a point of emphasis, it's part of making sacrifices and doing what we have to do in the defensive zone.''
Junior forward Kevin Goumas said blocking shots is a test of desire.
''You've got to put your heart into it and you've got to want to block the puck,'' he said. ''You can't go up and act like you're going to block it. You've got to go, say you're going to do it and do it.''
Goumas said it's becoming a point of emphasis for the team, and everyone's getting in on it - some more than others.
''This kid, Brett Pesce, he's a freshman, every time in practice, whether we're doing power play and he's on the mock penalty kill, he blocks everything,'' he said. ''We just say he eats pucks all the time.''
Thoughts on Serino
Umile took an opportunity to talk about former assistant coach Chris Serino, who passed away Monday at age 63 from throat cancer.
''Incredibly respected by the guys,'' he said. ''He really got along with the fans and the community.''
Serino served as an assistant under Umile from 1991-93 and 1994-98 before leaving to take the head coaching job at Merrimack College. He left in 2005 to take over as head coach at Malden Catholic High School in Massachusetts, where he stayed until stepping down due to his diagnosis in 2011, a year after winning a state championship.
Umile praised Serino's sense of humor, and went over his personal relationship with the former coach.
''He was a tremendous athlete, he was a personal friend of mine. I go way back with him. We competed against each other in high school,'' he said. ''He was just a great guy, and a knowledgeable hockey guy. A great coach. Guys loved playing for him.''
(Drew Bonifant can be reached at 369-3340 or email@example.com or on Twitter @dbonifant.)