Blackburn provides spark for UNH men’s hockey

UNH Insider
Published: 1/17/2019 8:17:28 PM

DURHAM – Junior forward Liam Blackburn had a goal and a couple of assists through his first nine games of the season with the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team.

He had the same number of points – with three goals – last weekend in a two-game set against Boston University and Boston College.

Blackburn had UNH’s two goals in the team’s 5-2 loss at BU on Friday night and had another in a come-from-behind 6-4 victory over BC on Saturday night at the Whittemore Center.

Now the hottest Wildcat leads the group into a couple more key Hockey East games, at Merrimack on Friday at 7:30 p.m., and at Maine on Monday for a Martin Luther King Day matinee at 2 p.m.

UNH coach Mike Souza said after the BC game that he challenged Blackburn several weeks ago.

“He’s responded big-time,” Souza said. “They talk about hockey sense and knowing where the puck’s going to be before it gets there. He knows that. He has an uncanny ability to strip pucks and be good around the net and keep plays alive.”

Souza said Thursday that he encouraged Blackburn to use more than just his hockey sense.

“Sometimes I think you can rely too much on it and not move your feet,” the coach said. “We needed him to move his feet – and he has – and be around the puck more. He’s a very intelligent kid both on and off the ice. I like his reaction to coaching. He’s very receptive to coaching. I think guys who aspire to be great players are very receptive to coaching and I think Liam is a kid who embodies the spirit of what we’re trying to do here in terms of finding kids who want to be good in all areas of their life, on and off the ice. His play speaks volumes for how he responded to what we talked about.”

Blackburn has at least one point in each of UNH’s last 11 games, the team’s longest point streak of the season.

He has six goals and nine assists for 15 points in that stretch.

“Everyone keeps talking about the point streak he has going,” Souza said. “He’s been outstanding killing penalties for us, too. He’s been good in all areas. I’m happy for him.”

Over its last seven games, UNH has allowed just three power-play goals in 30 power-play chances by its opponents.

The Wildcats have scored three short-handed goals in their last three games.

Junior forward Brendan van Riemsdyk has two of UNH’s four short-handed goals for the season.

Blackburn had an assist on each of those scores.

UNH’s power play (15-for-69 for 21.7 percent) is ranked third in Hockey East and 11th in the nation.

The Wildcats are sixth in Hockey East and 17th in the nation on the penalty kill (76-for-90 for 84.4 percent).

Merrimack had five power-play chances when the teams met two weeks ago at the Whittemore Center and the Wildcats shut them down.

The Warriors scored less than two minutes into the game that night. UNH tied it on an Ara Nazarian goal near the midpoint of the third period and won the game 2-1 in overtime on a goal by freshman Angus Crookshank – set up by a great hustle play by Blackburn.

Now the Wildcats take on Merrimack in the tight confines of Lawler Rink in North Andover, Mass.

“I told our guys and I meant it: Friday night’s game will be the toughest game of the year for a lot of reasons,” Souza said. “One, we’re in a playoff race with them. It’s a Hockey East game. It’s not an easy place to play. It’s hand-to-hand combat down there. There’s not a lot of room. Things happen fast. They’re physical and they’re playing well.”

Merrimack has won three straight games since the loss at UNH. The Warriors won at Northeastern, 1-0; at Michigan, 4-2, and at home against UConn, 5-2.

The Wildcats are 5-1-1 in their last seven games.

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