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UNH hockey schedule released; thoughts on the Wildcats’ slate

The UNH men’s hockey team released its full 2014-15 schedule Friday, and a few games and thoughts stand out:

∎ Opening against the champs: The Wildcats drew as tough an opponent for their opener as they could get. They’ll get the season started at Achilles Rink, home of defending national champion Union, which knocked off power after power en route to the program’s first title. UNH will hope for a better outcome than the teams’ two-game set last year, which resulted in a Dutchmen sweep at the Whittemore Center (and a season-ending injury to defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk). It’ll be interesting to see how the Wildcats handle the game and the atmosphere. They’ll be young, with newcomers scattered throughout the lines, and their maturity will be tested right away in a rink that should be buzzing after the banner is raised.

∎ Plenty of Maine: The addition of Notre Dame to the Hockey East fold last year resulted in a competitive shift, as teams went from playing each other three times a season to only twice a year. That won’t be the case between the Wildcats and Black Bears, however, who play the standard home-and-away set Jan. 23 and 24 but will also play exhibition games Dec. 12 (at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester) and Dec. 13 (at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland). These games are often high in intensity and physicality, so four meetings will make for plenty of bad blood on the ice. Plus, with two games under their belt before January’s conference games, the rivals will know right away how to play each other, likely with Hockey East standing on the line.

∎ Road warriors? December to February is an important time to gain valuable Hockey East points – and the Wildcats will have to get what they can while rarely skating on their own ice. From Dec. 6 to Feb. 13 they play three games at the Whittemore Center – against Dartmouth Jan. 9, against Massachusetts Jan. 17 and against Maine Jan. 24. They’ll play 12 games at other rinks, a stretch that includes contests against Boston College, Notre Dame (two) and Vermont (two). It’s no surprise to see significant home and road splits in Hockey East, as teams often feed off their crowds and rink familiarity and struggle without those comforts on the road. If the Wildcats are that kind of team, this stretch could be rough on their playoff chances.

∎ The new guys: The Wildcats will have to wait to get their first look at Connecticut, the newest addition to Hockey East. UNH travels to Storrs Feb. 20, then hosts the Huskies the next night in its second-to-last series of the regular season.

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

Slight correction: the UNH_Maine games on December 12 & 13 are not exhibitions. They absolutely do count towards the overall won-loss record. They simply aren't conference games; i..e, they don't count towards the Hockey East standings.

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