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UNH hockey welcomes Michigan in home-opening weekend

The UNH men’s hockey team makes its home debut this weekend – and the fans in Durham will see their team face a stiff challenge.

The No. 13 Wildcats face off against No. 5 Michigan, battling the Wolverines in a pair of games at the Whittemore Center. Michigan notched an impressive start to its season, going 2-0 by defeating RPI, 7-4, then topping then-No. 4 Boston College, 3-1.

UNH’s opening weekend yielded a 1-1 result, with the Wildcats beating Clarkson, 4-1, before losing to No. 3 Minnesota, 3-2. Here are a few things to watch as the games unfold this weekend:

∎ Starting goalie Casey DeSmith will have a major test going up against the Wolverines offense. Michigan put in 10 goals over the weekend, with sophomore Andrew Copp leading the way with five points. Despite getting saddled with the loss, DeSmith played well against the Golden Gophers, stopping 91.2 percent of the shots he faced. This is the part of the year when DeSmith was as good as anyone in the country last year. He’ll need to flash that form against Michigan if UNH wants to come away with a win, or two.

∎ The chemistry of the first line will be a key factor in this series. Coach Dick Umile has stuck to his word so far, playing freshman Tyler Kelleher in the top unit with Grayson Downing all three games, and with Kevin Goumas in two of them (Goumas didn’t play against Minnesota). Despite Kelleher’s inexperience, Umile is high on the right wing’s instincts and hockey IQ, which he said work well with Downing’s and Goumas’s smart and creative style of play. The combination has worked well so far; Kelleher scored the game-winning goal against Clarkson, and Goumas (two assists) and Downing (two goals) were impressive in the season-opening exhibition win over Acadia.

∎ The top defensive pair of Eric Knodel and Trevor van Riemsdyk will be crucial to the Wildcats’ success this season, and the two have started their seasons in impressive fashion. Knodel scored against both Clarkson and Minnesota, and van Riemsdyk posted three assists in the two games. They also help coordinate the power play, which is 2-for-9 so far this season and might make the difference if UNH hopes to keep up with Michigan.

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