Cranking up the ‘D’

UNH Insider
Published: 1/30/2020 10:34:13 PM

DURHAM – Junior goalie Mike Robinson and the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team clamped down on defense in a big way last weekend en route to picking up three points in a tough weekend series against then-No. 7 Massachusetts, the top team in Hockey East and one of the best in the nation.

Robinson stopped all but one of the 58 shots he faced over the course of two nights in a 1-0 win Friday in Amherst and 1-1 tie Saturday in Durham.

In another sign of the defense’s contribution to the series, UNH defenders blocked twice as many shots from getting to the goaltender as did the Minutemen in the two games.  

Sophomore defenseman Ryan Verrier led the charge for the Wildcats with five of the team’s 26 blocked shots on the weekend, including a key one late in Saturday’s contest.

“Verrier’s had a couple of big blocked shots over the course of this stretch that we’ve had,” said UNH coach Mike Souza. “I think vividly of a few of the ones he has blocked that have been shots that you don’t necessarily want to get in front of, but you know you have to if you want to win the hockey game.”

The Wildcats have gone 5-1-1 in January against the iron of Hockey East and they close out the month Friday night at 7 p.m. with a home game against Connecticut at the Whittemore Center at 7 p.m. The game is presented by Tuscan Brands and the first 1,000 fans will receive the fourth set of Wildcat trading cards. It’s also Dollar Dog night in concession stands at the Whitt with the Huskies in town.

The teams turn around and kick off February on Saturday with a rematch at the XL Center in Hartford at 4 p.m.

Verrier, out of Reading, Mass., has been paired with fellow sophomore defenseman Will MacKinnon, who’s from Plymouth, Mich., as one of the team’s defensive units since the start of the new year and they’ve been earning praise from Souza.

Both are known more for their defense, but MacKinnon had the deciding goal in two of the team’s last three wins: in a 5-4 victory in overtime against Northeastern on Jan. 11 and at UMass in the 1-0 triumph last Friday.

“I just think they’re both real tough kids,” Souza said. “They play hard. They’re hardnosed guys. They log a lot of minutes. They were real good killing penalties for us last weekend. They’re growing as players. They’re in February of their sophomore year. You hope each day the guys are getting a little bit better and eventually people start to notice.”

Observers have noticed the pair, the coach said.   

“I think they complement each other well,” Souza said. “They keep it simple. People that have watched us have commented on their play, people that are in the game, just because they defend and they move the puck. That’s what we’re looking for. A couple of times Will has been rewarded lately. You always love to see that. I know his teammates love to see that, too.”

Verrier leads the team and ranks sixth in Hockey East in blocked shots with 35. Many of those tend to come while killing penalties and last weekend the Wildcats killed all 12 power plays UMass had in the series. Opponents had scored at least one power play goal in 15 of the 16 games before Friday.

Verrier noted it’s not always the most enjoyable part of the game to be putting your body in front of a shot, but he doesn’t feel he’s doing anything out of the ordinary.

“I think just being human, obviously, sometimes it’s not going to be too fun,” he said with a chuckle. “But I think in the game everyone’s energy level is so high that the man next to me is willing to block the shot just as much as I am.

It’s the kind of mentality we have on the bench.”

As with most things, practice is critical to what happens in the game.

“I think it starts in practice and habits and being able to read the shooter’s stick, not only his eyes,” Verrier said. “What players at this level do very well, they kind of look you off. They can look one way and put the puck the other way. To be able to read where that puck’s going is a big factor. Even in practice, even though you really don’t want to be in front of a puck in practice, it comes down to the little things. Habits. Like stick position in practice. Same with blocking shots. I think that’s the biggest thing: Habits and knowing where the puck is going to go.”


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