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UNH hockey: Wildcats out of the top 20, other thoughts on the weekend.

A tough start for the UNH men’s hockey team has already earned a dubious distinction, as the Wildcats fell out of the USCHO top 20 yesterday after a 4-2 loss to Rensselaer, which dropped them to 1-3-1 for the young season.

While not a disaster, it is still a surprising development for a UNH team that had the No. 1 ranking at one point last year and spent the majority of the season ranked in the top 10, and that has most of its impact players from that squad on the ice this year as well.

UNH, which plays No. 15 UMass Lowell in a pair of games this weekend, is right on the ratings brink, receiving the most votes of any team missing out. Here are a few thoughts on the rankings, and on the loss to RPI.

∎ It’s tough to push the panic button with the Wildcats’ sluggish start. For one, it’s early, and two, the ’Cats haven’t exactly been playing the dregs of college hockey. Each loss has come to a higher-ranked team, with one to Minnesota (No. 1), Michigan (No. 4) and RPI, which is now up to No. 10. The losses to Minnesota and Michigan were by one goal. Those teams are no easy task, but UNH will have to beat some of those teams to get anywhere this season. This weekend against the River Hawks would be a good start.

∎ Are the Wildcats inconsistent or on the verge of a breakthrough? Third-period and finishing woes hindered the team through the first four games, but Saturday vs. RPI saw the opposite. The Wildcats were flat and fell behind 4-0, but took over the game late while cutting the gap. In the third period, UNH posted an unheard-of 11-1 shots on goal advantage. Is UNH learning to piece full games together, or are these incomplete efforts going to be the norm?

∎ The plot thickened in net. Jeff Wyer looked terrific in wins and ties vs. Clarkson and Michigan, respectively, but the senior stopped only four of 18 shots before getting yanked in the second period against RPI. Casey DeSmith came on and stopped all nine shots he faced. If Coach Dick Umile follows what’s been his approach this year, DeSmith and Wyer will each play a game vs. UMass Lowell, but it bears watching if this is a goalie competition or rotation.

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

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