UNH Insider: Crunch time comes early for men’s hockey team

  • University of New Hampshire sophomore Ty Taylor readies himself in the crease during a game earlier this season at Merrimack College in Andover, Mass. On Monday, Taylor was named Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the Week after he stopped 46 of the 48 shots he faces in two games last weekend. JOEY WALKER /UNH Athletics

UNHWildcats.com
Published: 1/9/2020 10:57:33 PM
Modified: 1/9/2020 10:56:55 PM

DURHAM – The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team warmed up – and hopefully got a little shot of momentum – for a tough set of games ahead with a couple of wins against ECAC opponents last weekend at the Whittemore Center.

A long stretch run for the Wildcats starts Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Whittemore Center against No. 11 Northeastern, one of the top teams in Hockey East and the nation.

“Every game’s a playoff game for us right now,” coach Mike Souza said. “That’s our mentality. It has to be. The stakes are always high in Hockey East play, but they’re higher this year. I think it’s going to come right down to the wire.”

The Wildcats (10-8-1 overall, 4-5-0 Hockey East) and they have 15 games left in the regular season, all against Hockey East opponents.

Eight teams qualify for the league tournament, and if it started today, UNH would be on the outside looking in: Thus Souza’s sense of urgency.

The Wildcats head into the weekend tied for ninth place in the league standings with Merrimack. The teams are two points behind UConn and Maine, who are tied for seventh place. UNH has played nine league games so far, three fewer than UConn or Maine.

The Wildcats face a gauntlet in the next few weeks. After the single game with Northeastern on Saturday, they have home-and-home series with Providence and Massachusetts the next two weekends. All three teams are in the top four of the league standings and ranked among the top 12 teams in the country.

Northeastern is 13-5-2 overall and ranked No. 11 in the country and at 7-4-1 in the league is tied with UMass Lowell for the top spot in Hockey East. The Huskies, as Souza noted, have also had UNH’s number in recent years.

Northeastern beat the Wildcats, 4-0, in the Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Nov. 29. It was the fifth time in the last six games between the teams that Northeastern had shut out UNH. The Wildcats have been outscored 32-3 in that stretch, but they are hoping to put their home ice advantage, and momentum, to good use Saturday night.

UNH is 7-1-0 at home this season, tied for the fourth-best home winning percentage in the country. The Wildcats added to that mark with wins over Yale, 4-1, and Brown, 5-1, last weekend.

“Any time you can build some confidence having teams come in your building and chasing them off, it’s huge,” junior forward Patrick Grasso said. “Right now we feel really good playing at home. We attribute that to the crowd, that kind of stuff, and taking advantage of the way we play in our rink.”

Grasso had a pair of goals against Brown on Saturday and has scored in each of the last three games.

Junior Eric MacAdams also had two goals against Brown and has scored in each of his last four games. Eric Esposito and Filip Engaras have been among the forwards picking up their pace of production, too, and have helped UNH average 4.5 goals a game over its last four games.

The added scoring depth, the way the team finished off the games in the third period and the goaltending of sophomore Ty Taylor were among the highlights of last weekend’s sweep, giving the Wildcats a boost heading back into Hockey East.

Taylor started consecutive games for the first time in his career and stopped 46 of the 48 shots he faced, earning Hockey East Co-Defensive Player of the Week honors for his efforts.

“Ty was phenomenal last weekend,” Grasso said. “He bailed us out on a few big plays and kind of kept the tide rolling for us. You can see the confidence in his game in practice and in the games, obviously, and it gives us more confidence, too.”

Former UNH All-American goalie Ty Conklin is in his first year as the team’s volunteer assistant coaching working in goaltender development. Conklin played nine years in the National Hockey League and spent four years as a goaltending development coach with the St. Louis Blues, and Souza believes the former Wildcat netminder is helping all the current ones: Taylor, junior Mike Robinson and senior Joe Lazzaro.

“I think Ty Conklin has had a huge influence on our goaltenders, especially this season with Ty Taylor, sort of being more raw,” Souza said. “Ty’s done a nice job with him. All three goalies work hard. They all want to play. It’s a good problem for us to have with the two goaltenders pushing each other. Ty and Mike are both NHL prospects for a reason. They’re both talented players. Ty and Mike are both guys their teammates want to play in front of, feel confident playing in front of.”

Next up, Northeastern.

“It’s going to be fun,” Souza said. “I think our guys are ready to take the next step in terms of where we are in the league. But we know it’s not going to be easy. We know no one’s going to hand us anything. We certainly know Northeastern’s not going to hand us anything.”

Notes

The Wildcats have lost six straight games to Northeastern and are 1-9-2 in their last 12 against the Huskies.

■ The team celebrates Skating Strides for Breast Cancer Awareness on Saturday and fans are encouraged to wear pink.

■ Season, group and individual tickets for all UNH home games are available at unhwildcats.com or by calling 862-4000.

(Allen Lessels is the UNH Insider and can be reached at Allen.Lessels@unh.edu or on Twitter @UNHInsider)



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