UNH men’s hockey one of 4 teams battling for 3 Hockey East playoff spots heading into final weekend of the season

  • UNH defenseman Max Gildon collects the puck along the boards against Boston University on Feb. 15. Helene Bartsch / UNHWildcats.com

  • UNH’s Angus Crookshank skates in front of Boston College goalie Spencer Knight during a Nov. 1 game. Joey Walker / UNHWildcats.com

  • Angus Crookshank takes the ice in a recent game. Meghan Murphy / UNHWildcats.com

UNH Insider
Published: 3/5/2020 11:09:03 PM
Modified: 3/5/2020 11:08:52 PM

DURHAM – The men’s hockey teams from Boston University, Providence College, Northeastern University and the University of New Hampshire – all tradition-rich programs in Hockey East – find themselves, in varying degrees, in the same predicament heading into this final weekend of the regular season.

One of the teams – call them the Final Four - will not make the field for the Hockey East tournament that begins next weekend.

Any is capable of getting hot and making a deep run in the playoffs, but come late Saturday night, one will be on the outside of the eight-team tournament, looking ahead to its next game seven months away in early October.

So here we go.

UNH has the toughest path of the Final Four.

The Wildcats sit in ninth place, a point out of eighth, but they must face Boston College, which clinched the Hockey East regular season championship last weekend, has won seven games in a row and has climbed to the No. 4 ranking in the country.

UNH plays at Conte Forum at BC on Friday night at 7 p.m. and the teams meet again Saturday for Senior Night at the Whittemore Center, also at 7 p.m.

The Wildcats are ready.

“There’s a little bit of tension in the room, but that’s to be expected, based on how big these games are,” said sophomore forward Angus Crookshank, who leads the team with 14 goals. “But we’re confident at the same time. We like the burst we’ve shown over the past couple of games, we’ve just got to be a little more consistent with that and that’s something we’ve been working on this week.”

UNH played a couple of tight games against No. 12 UMass Lowell last weekend. The Wildcats led late last Friday night at Lowell, but gave up an extra attacker/power-play goal and had to settle for a 2-2 tie.

Back in Durham last Saturday, they pulled within 3-2 on a Patrick Grasso goal with just under five minutes to play, but could not get the equalizer.

The good news this weekend is that the Wildcats control their own situation and with a pair of wins can earn a spot in the league tournament. With anything less than two wins, they could need a little help in the tight race.

UNH is 15-14-3 overall and at 9-11-2 in Hockey East has 20 points in the league standings.

Northeastern, which lost a pair of games to Vermont last weekend, is just one point in front of UNH. The Wildcats are three points behind Boston University and Providence.

All the teams have difficult assignments. Providence has just one game left, at Maine on Friday night.

BU is at Northeastern Friday night and the teams play at BU on Saturday at 4.

UNH and BC are the only show in Hockey East on Saturday night to close out the regular season.

Boston College is 23-8-1 overall and 16-6-0 in Hockey East and has been on a roll.

“They’re firing on all cylinders,” said UNH coach Mike Souza. “We have a huge task on our hands and we understand that.”

Crookshank scored 2:15 into overtime to lift UNH to a 1-0 win over BC, then ranked No. 15, at the Whittemore Center on Nov. 1.

The Eagles ran off 10 straight wins after that loss, outscoring teams 50-12 in the process.

They’ve outscored the opposition 39-11 while winning their last seven games.

“Boston College is as good as any team in the country and they’re playing really well now,” Souza said. “Some of their younger players are coming into their own.”

That includes an uber-talented freshman class, highlighted by three players who were picked in the middle of the first round of the NHL draft last year: goalie Spencer Knight was the 13th overall pick by the Florida Panthers, Matt Boldy went at No. 12 to the Minnesota Wild and Alex Newhook went at No. 16 to the Colorado Avalanche.

Knight is tied for second in Hockey East with a 1.97 goals against average and is third with a .929 save percentage.

“Spencer Knight is as good as there is in the country,” Souza said. “He has an opportunity to be a bigtime player in the National Hockey League. He’s a big guy. He handles the puck well. He doesn’t beat himself.”

The Eagles have three of the top six freshmen scorers in the league in Newhook with 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points, Boldy at 9-16-25 and Mike Hardman at 10-13-23. Senior forward Julius Mattila leads BC in scoring at 9-32-41.

Newhook has three of BC’s whopping 11 shorthanded goals. The Wildcats do not have a shorthanded goal this season.

With the regular season title clinched, among the BC goals is nailing down a No. 1 seed for the NCAA tournament.

The Eagles are averaging 4.09 goals a game to lead Hockey East and they’re second in the league at 2.09 goals allowed a game.

UNH is seventh in the league in scoring at 2.72 goals a game and also seventh in goals allowed at 2.88.

Wildcat junior forward Charlie Kelleher returned to the lineup last weekend after missing four games with an injury.

“It’s been huge having him back,” said junior forward Eric MacAdams. “He’s one of our captains. He’s our leader on the ice, off the ice. He’s a really high end, talented forward. He’s been doing a lot for us and practice has been going good for him.

It’s game on now and the Wildcats aim to keep their season alive, whether that’s by winning two games or getting as many points as needed to move up at least one spot in the standings.

“We don’t really try to figure it out, like numbers-wise,” MacAdams said. “We do know what spot we’re in right now. It’s do or die and we’re just focused on Friday at first and Saturday after that.”

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