UNH women’s hockey: Stacked senior class looks to take next step

UNH Insider
Published: 9/27/2019 5:41:24 PM

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire women’s ice hockey team drops the puck Sunday when the Wildcats host the Franklin Pierce Ravens. After a turnaround season with multiple, long unbeaten streaks, head coach Hilary Witt, entering her sixth season at the helm, looks to her experienced senior class to take that next step.

“(The team) obviously knows that we’ve got to start better,” Witt said. “The players came in prepared and ready to go this year. I think we had a great preseason. We’re excited, and we’re doing a lot of good things in practice.”

UNH started off slow with only one win in its first month and a half of the 2018-19 season, but responded well in November as the ’Cats pulled off a nine-game unbeaten streak from Nov. 17 to Jan. 8, the program’s longest stretch of games without a loss since the 2007-08 season. They followed that streak up with a five-game winning streak that began with a shutout of No. 9 Providence on Jan.19, all the way up to a home sweep of Maine on Feb. 2 and 3.

“We know that we can’t put ourselves in that hole again. But it also gave us confidence knowing that we dug ourselves way out of that hole as well,” Witt said. “So if we can start better and have a little more consistency, when you have a couple slumps, which can happen, you know you can get out of it.”

Coming into this season, the Wildcats are ranked fifth in the Hockey East conference standings in its annual preseason poll. Ahead of the UNH are nationally ranked Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College, as well as Providence.

Team captains

Three Wildcats will don the “C” on their sweater this season: redshirt senior Taylor Wenczkowski, who became the first Wildcat to post a hat trick and the first to tally 20 goals in a season since Jonna Curtis in 2016-17. Wenczkowski, who is from Rochester, will be joined by seniors Tori Howran and Carlee Turner; Howran was third on the team last season in assists with 11 helpers on the season, and Turner tallied 16 points on last year with eight goals and eight assists.

“Those guys really brought it last year. They were great leaders on the ice with their play. When things got tough, they went out there and made plays. And that, to me, is a big piece of leadership, to practice what you preach, get out there, and get it done for the team when things aren’t going well,” Witt said.

Stacked seniors

The three captains are just three of seven members of the 2019-2020 senior class. Senior Meghara McManus was second on the team last season in total points with 20 on 12 goals and eight assists. Wenczkowski was the only Wildcat to have more goals and assists than McManus last season.

Nicole Dunbar contributed 13 points last season on four goals and eight assists; three of her goals last season came on the power play.

Rounding out the senior class are Abby Chapman, Lexie Revkin, and Hannah Touzos. Last season, the entire senior class (then juniors) was responsible for 51 of the teams 77 goals (65%) and 95 of the team’s 197 points (48%).

“I think Taylor was a big part of that percentage, she scored 20 goals for us, and that was really important. But we also got production out of Carlee and Meghara and Dunny,” Witt said. “Those guys pitched in offensively as well, so we’re going to need them to be even better this year, but it’s important to get that same production out of our other classes as well and spread it out a little more.”

Strong youth

New Hampshire got a lot of its point production last year from the junior class, but also received a significant amount from the freshman class. Returning sophomore Lauren Martin shared a line with Wenczkowski over the course of the season and made her mark with a team-high 14 assists, along with three goals for 17 points. Redshirt sophomore Paige Rynne also shined in her debut season last year, with 12 points on four goals and eight helpers.

“Lauren was very steady all year long, she kept getting better, she made a lot of great plays, and created a lot of offense for us but was reliable defensively as well,” Witt said. “Paige came off a redshirt year with injuries; to be able to miss pretty much a whole year of hockey, to come back, and get up to speed as quickly as she did, I thought that was pretty impressive.”

That youth also helped in the defensive zone with Emily Rickwood, who had 10 assists in her debut season and blocked 37 shots, the fifth most on the team last season.

Strength in net

After facing injury issues in net last season, the Wildcats look to return to full strength with the return of redshirt sophomore Ava Boutilier. Boutilier only appeared in eight contests for UNH last season before her year was cut short due to injury.

“The best thing about Ava is her compete level and her desire to be the best that she can be, and the best in the league,” Witt said.

The Wildcats also bring in two strong goaltending prospects in with the incoming freshmen: Nikki Harnett of the Armstrong/Cooper Wings, and Ava Thewes from the Pursuit of Excellence Hockey Academy.

“We’re going to rely on all of our goalies, because they’re all really good. But we certainly missed Ava and we’re excited to have her back and we expect for her to compete the way she always has,” Witt said.

The road ahead

The Wildcats open up the season with three straight home games, starting with Franklin Pierce on Sunday. The Ravens come from the newly formed New England Women’s Hockey Alliance (NEWHA), officially approved as a Division I NCAA conference in September. “For women’s hockey, it’s exciting to get more teams involved, adding a new collegiate conference.”

The ’Cats welcome in the Saint Lawrence Saints for a two-game series Oct. 3 and 4.

In nonconference this season, the Wildcats face the Saints, as well as Ivy League foes Harvard and Dartmouth. UNH will also travel to Pennsylvania to face off in a two-game series with Penn State.

“We try to have really good nonconference opponents; but the reality is in women’s hockey right now, everyone’s good: anyone can win on any given day, it’s a grind,” Witt said. “And we’re ready to grind it out.”

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