Back home, UNH hockey prepares for challenges in UMass and No. 2 Boston College

Last modified: 11/22/2015 12:13:13 AM
DURHAM – One of the best teams, if not the best, in all of college hockey awaits this week. And the University of New Hampshire hockey team isn’t even thinking about it.

Not yet, at least.

That’s because before No. 2 Boston College comes to the Whittemore Center on Saturday, Massachusetts gets a first crack at the Wildcats on Friday night. It’s a Minutemen team that’s been playing well this season – and that UNH has a none-too-small grudge with.

It adds up to as pivotal a weekend set as the Wildcats have had in the young season, and they made it clear they’re not about to take any of the four crucial Hockey East points on the table for granted.

“We’re definitely focused on UMass, that game being first, but we know BC’s been really good defensively,” junior defenseman Matias Cleland said. “But we’re going to be more worried about that game come Saturday morning. Really, we’re just focused on (UMass) Amherst at this point.”

“Right now we’re just focused on Friday night,” sophomore forward Andrew Poturalski echoed. “We can’t really worry about Saturday, even though BC’s obviously a great team.”

It’s tempting when looking at the two games to zero in on the BC date, considering both the hype the Eagles entered the season with and the manner with which they’ve lived up to it. BC was picked first in the preseason conference poll and has gone 9-1-0 this season, with a 3-0-0 Hockey East mark. The Eagles get plenty of goals (4.2 per game, fifth in the country) but they’re even better at preventing others from scoring them, ranking first nationally in defense (1.0). Goalie Thatcher Demko has been superb, ranking second overall in save percentage (.962) and goals-against average (1.00) while leading all goaltenders with six shutouts.

But UMass (6-3-2, 2-2-2) has enjoyed a strong start to the season, even burning UNH (3-4-2, 1-0-2) once along the way. The Wildcats were on their way to a win and two easy points with a 6-1 lead on Oct. 23 before the Minutemen stormed back with five unanswered goals to secure an improbable tie.

“I think we all know about our last game with UMass, how we gave away a point,” said UNH Coach Dick Umile, whose team is finally back home after six straight road games. “We had it going pretty well and gave it up in the third.”

“We’re definitely a little sour when it comes to UMass,” Cleland added. “They’ve got some firepower up front that we’re going to need to watch out for.”

Not that it was anything personal. UMass has been doing that to most of its opponents, ranking 11th in the country in scoring and tied for eighth in the nation on the power play.

“They can score, they’ve proven that,” Umile said. “They can score in bunches, and they’re a team that, regardless of the score, they find ways to come back.”

Because of that, and with UNH still looking for consistency on defense, the focus is on making sure neither team this weekend gets any more help than they need. UNH played well in tying Merrimack, 3-3, last weekend, and Umile’s favorite statistic from the game was a zero.

Specifically, the one under “penalty minutes.”

“The best plan for our penalty kill is the same kind of thing that happened the other night,” Umile said. “Didn’t get any penalties.”

The Merrimack game was cause for higher spirits entering what Umile called a “huge” weekend, but the challenge is turning a good game into a good stretch. The Wildcats had a chance earlier in the season after wins over Merrimack and Union, then got swept against Michigan State in a series that saw them get outscored 12-4 and prompted their coach to say they never even made it off the plane.

“Hopefully we can play better down the stretch, and play consistent for 60 minutes,” Umile said. “Just compete. Everybody’s good, especially in our league, everybody’s good. You’ve got to play well, you’ve got to compete, and do the little things well.”

Trivia time

When was the last time the Wildcats beat a team ranked in the top two nationally?

Local presence

Saturday’s game against BC will have a nostalgic feel to it. UNH invited alums to celebrate the Whittemore Center’s 20th anniversary, and 48 former players will be recognized by the crowd during a ceremony between the first and second periods.

Included among the 48 will be former Concord High players Mick Mounsey and Tim Walsh, who played for the Wildcats during their most successful era. Walsh, a forward, totaled 25 points from 1996-2000, while Mounsey, a defenseman, scored 44 points from 2000-04. The two played for teams that made a combined seven trips to the NCAA tournament and four to the Frozen Four, and Walsh was on the 1999 team that made it to the championship game against Maine, while Mounsey was on the 2003 team that reached the final against Minnesota.

Mark Mowers and Tom Nolan will drop the puck before the game. Mowers scored the first goal at the Whittemore Center against Boston University on Nov. 10, 1995, while Nolan scored in overtime to lift the Wildcats to a 6-5 win over the top-ranked Terriers.

Granite State standout

Chris Miller is doing his part to help the Wildcats, and his coach is taking notice.

Miller, a freshman and Windham native, has made his mark in his first few months on the team, totaling three goals and two assists in six games while playing with fellow freshmen Marcus Vela and Ara Nazarian.

“He’s playing well,” Umile said. “He’s in as good of shape as anybody on our team, he’s as fast as anybody. He works, he’s smart. He’s a good teammate. He’s a good hockey player. He’s going to do a lot of good things here.”

He’s already started. Miller had the tying goal with 38 seconds left against Merrimack, coming in as an extra attacker with the goalie pulled. For a freshman to hear his name called when the team’s in dire need of a goal isn’t common, but Umile said Miller’s gained the trust.

“He’s earned it. … He knew what he had to do,” he said. “His job was to screen and tip, deflect in front, find the lose puck and put it in. He did it to a T.”

Trivia answer

UNH beat No. 2 Boston University, 5-2, on Nov. 19, 2010.




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