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UNH hockey: What to watch for vs. Providence

When the UNH men’s hockey team fell to 1-5-1 for the season, it had the benefit of a portion of the schedule coming up that was significantly weaker than the assembly line of national powers it had faced to begin the year.

After games against teams like Minnesota, Michigan and UMass Lowell, the Wildcats were facing Massachusetts, Brown and Northeastern, solid teams (NU was ranked going in, after all), but not of the caliber of their previous opponents. And to UNH’s credit, the team capitalized, winning all five and turning the season around in two weekends.

It was a major success, allowing No. 20 UNH (6-5-1) to both stock up on wins and find their game. And against Providence, they’ll need it.

There’s no need to sell the No. 3 Friars (9-1-1) as a formidable matchup. Wildcats fans and followers just need to look back to last March, when Providence ousted UNH in the first round of the Hockey East tournament. That was a young Friars team clearly on the rise, and this year, they’ve continued that upward trend.

The Wildcats are riding high on their five-game winning streak, but Providence will be a stiff challenge. Here’s what to look for in these two games:

∎ Starting fast will be vital for the Wildcats this weekend. The Friars have been nearly perfect (6-0-1) in cozy Schneider Arena, so playing a strong road game will be paramount for UNH. That means bringing intensity from the opening faceoff, winning effort battles and taking the Friars out of the home advantage early. Northeastern played such a first period in Durham on Saturday, but couldn’t sustain it as UNH pulled away. The Wildcats will need to start like the Huskies did – and finish as well.

∎ The “Wildcat killer” returns. Nick Saracino’s had a quiet season (one goal and five assists in 11 games), but the Wildcats know not to take the sophomore lightly. Saracino was the most dangerous person on the ice in the six games against UNH last year, scoring seven goals and adding three assists in those contests (and scoring goals in each of the playoff games). Saracino played the team’s last game on the fourth line, but scored his first goal of the year – possibly warming up for this weekend.

∎ Saracino’s got the history against UNH, but the stats suggest Ross Mauermann is the one to focus on. Only Boston College’s Johnny Gaudreau and Rensselaer’s Ryan Haggerty have more goals than the Providence junior, who has potted 10 and added eight assists. It’ll be interesting to see how often Umile makes sure his terrific defensive duo of Eric Knodel and Trevor van Riemsdyk are on the ice whenever Mauermann, who played the last two games on the third line, jumps on.

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

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