'Cats show depth in early going

Last modified: 11/12/2010 12:00:00 AM
DURHAM - Black and blue, and completely bloodshot, Paul Thompson's right eye looked like it had gone 12 rounds in a heavyweight bout. The smile on the Derry native's face told a different story.

Thompson and the Wildcats stood toe-to-toe with the reigning champion last weekend, but it was UNH that delivered the knockout punch, sending an early message to the rest of Hockey East.

'Our team is real pleased with getting those two wins,' said Thompson, whose Wildcats (4-1-2, 2-0-1 HE) face Massachusetts at home tonight and tomorrow - one week after a weekend sweep of defending national champion Boston College and UMass-Lowell. 'Obviously if we lost to Lowell it would have taken something away from what we did on Friday night, so it was important for us not to get too high on the BC win.'

And they did it all without a point from their first line. The top unit of Thompson, Phil DeSimone and Mike Sislo were held off the scoresheet for the first time this season, yet the Wildcats skated back to Durham with four points, jumping from last to fourth in the conference standings.

'Probably not,' said Thompson, when asked if he could have imagined his line being held without a point and still go 2-0 before last weekend. 'But the depth we showed on our team ... that's great to have as we move forward.'

'It's not like the first line didn't get opportunities, they just didn't get a point,' Coach Dick Umile said. 'We're getting good balance right now.'

That balance is being anchored by the all-sophomore unit of Austin Block, Dalton Speelman and John Henrion, who combined for seven points last weekend. All told, sophomores have accounted for 44 percent of the 'Cats total points this season, a positive sign for those looking beyond just this season.

Home at last

It will be a second homecoming for the Wildcats tonight, as they play host for only the second time this season - and first against a Hockey East foe. UNH last skated in front of its home faithful on Oct. 16, when it played Michigan to a 2-2 tie.

'It's going to be nice finally to be at home,' said junior defenseman Blake Kessel. 'We love our fans here and that's what we all kind of live for, those Fridays and Saturdays, when we pack the house and we have our students going crazy.'

The Wildcats will play five of their next six games at the Whittemore Center, and six of the next nine in Durham before the holiday break (Dec. 10-Jan. 2).

'I'm excited and I'm sure the guys are excited to come home,' Umile said. 'There's no guarantees that you're going to win hockey games just because you're home ... but it's going to be nice not be on the bus and traveling.'

Scouting the Minutemen

Although Massachusetts (0-5-2) has yet to break into the win column, the Minutemen have hardly been a pushover for the teams they've faced. Of their five losses this season, three have been by a single goal, including a 4-3 loss and 2-2 tie against Boston University, which currently ranks No. 1 in the nation.

'I didn't know they hadn't won a game, that's news to me,' Thompson said. 'I know they're a young, fast, skilled team, and they're going to be playing hard, so we just have to match that. We're not going to take them lightly.'

Some insight into the Minutemen's scoring woes is highlighted by their leading goal scorer. Sophomore defenseman Darren Rowe has a team-high five goals, while Michael Pereira, a freshman, isn't far behind with four tallies.

Massachusetts has split time between senior goaltender Paul Dainton and freshman Jeff Teglia. Dainton is 0-3-1 with a 3.82 GAA and .881 save percentage, while Teglia is 0-2-1 with a 3.49 GAA and .890 save percentage.

Whoever is in goal tonight, expect the Wildcats to try and jump on Massachusetts early. The Minutemen have given up 11 of 27 goals in first-period this season.

Standing Matt

Any questions as to whether Matt DiGirolamo could handle the pressures of being the Wildcats No. 1 netminder were cleared up last weekend. The junior stopped 56 of 58 shots and raised his save percentage to .921.

'When he gets that confidence and starts to feel it, it's hard to beat him,' said Kessel, who played junior hockey with DiGirolamo in Waterloo, Ontario. 'He made some huge saves for us that were just momentum swingers. He has a lot of emotion, but keeps it in check in a good way and keeps a level head in net.'

'He's been a winner and he proved that in Waterloo,' Umile said. 'He's been a great team player, and he's been behind Brian Foster, an All-American, but he's worked hard to get ready. When he had his opportunity he was going to make the most of it, and he's done that.'

Ice chips

• The Wildcats are 77-18-7 all-time against the Minutemen, including a 7-1-2 in their last 10 meetings.

• Last weekend marked the first weekend since October of 2008 that the Wildcats scored two goals or less in back-to-back victories.

• The bad luck continues for sophomore Greg Burke. The Lee native returned to the lineup last weekend for the first time this season, only to find out Monday that he has mononucleosis. 'He played hard over the weekend, he's just run into some tough luck,' said Umile, who expects Burke to miss at least the rest of the month.

(Gavin Faretra can be reached at 369-3340 or gfaretra@cmonitor.com.)


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