UNH Insider: Men’s hockey getting healthy with return of Pierson, Kelleher

  • University of New Hampshire sophomore forward Jackson Pierson prepares for a faceoff. CHINA WONG file / UNH Athletics

UNHWildcats.com
Published: 1/2/2020 10:46:48 PM
Modified: 1/2/2020 10:46:26 PM

DURHAM – University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach Mike Souza delivered a double dose of good news after Thursday afternoon’s practice at the Whittemore Center – forwards Charlie Kelleher, a junior, and Jackson Pierson, a sophomore, are expected to be in the lineup for this weekend’s home games against a pair of ECAC opponents.

Souza plans to reunite Pierson and Souza, two of the team’s three top scorers on a line with sophomore Angus Crookshank, who leads the Wildcats with eight goals.

UNH faces Yale on Friday at 7 p.m. and takes on Brown at the same time Saturday night.

The third set of hockey team trading cards will be given away to the first 1,000 fans attending Friday night’s game and Dollar Dogs – in recognition of the Yale Bulldogs – will be sold at the concession stands. Both games will also be shown on NESN.

Pierson has missed the last eight games after sustaining an injury in the first of a two-game series at Maine on Nov. 15. Kelleher left last Sunday’s game at Army West Point after taking a hit. He’s been getting better each day since and practiced for the first time on Thursday.

“We were fortunate it was just a bruise,” Souza said. “He’s been getting treatment all week and he says he feels great. We’re glad to see him out there, that’s for sure.”

Kelleher leads the team with 17 points on five goals and 12 assists.

Pierson led the team in assists with 11 and points with 13 when he went down on Nov. 15. The assist total at the time was second-best in Hockey East and tied for third in the country. He still ranks third on the team in scoring. Junior defenseman Max Gildon has five goals and 10 assists for 15 points.

“Happy to have Jackson back,” Souza said. “It’s the first time we’ve had a healthy lineup in a long time. I’m excited to see our group kind of how we had envisioned it over the summer. ... Jackson’s practiced all week. He plays in all situations for us. When he left the game against Maine, we didn’t know if we’d see him the rest of the year. He’s been diligent in his rehab. Obviously, a little bit of good fortune. He’s done a good job of getting himself back. He feels healthy. We’re excited to have him back.”

Kelleher, Pierson and Crookshank skated on a line together at a few point during the season last year.

They were matched together in the three games leading into the Maine game this year and led the Wildcats to three big wins.

Crookshank scored the only goal in a 1-0 overtime win over No. 15 Boston College on Nov. 1; Crookshank had two goals and an assist, Pierson four assists and Kelleher a goal and an assist in a 5-4 overtime win over Dartmouth on Nov. 2; and Pierson had two assists and Crookshank one in a 3-1 win over No. 2 UMass on Nov. 10.

“Jackson’s a really special player, so having him back is going to help us a lot,” Kelleher said. “I think he’s really just a smart player. Obviously, he has really good skill and he’s fast, but what sets him apart is his hockey sense. He’s always making the right pass and the right play and he works really hard at it, too. He’s a really good player to play with and have on your team, too. We think it’s going to kickstart our offense even more.”

The Wildcats have scored nine goals in their last two games and 14 in their last four, and they’re now averaging 2.59 goals per contest.

Souza is also looking for his team to improve its special teams play.

“I think the special teams in general have been not good the last nine or 10 games,” Souza said. “The statistics have indicated that. It’s something we’ve addressed as a coaching staff. We’ve made some adjustments on our penalty kill that we’ll roll out and hopefully execute tomorrow night. The power play hasn’t been where it needs to be either. You lose a guy like Jackson from your lineup, who’s first over the boards on both the penalty kill typically and the power play, that’s a huge void to fill. But that’s no excuse for not executing on either situation. We’re a team that traditionally has real good special teams and we take pride in them.”

The Wildcats have scored four power play goals in their last 10 games on 36 chances and have allowed opponents to score 12 goals on 39 power play opportunities.

They’ll be out to improve those numbers – and get the second half of the season off to a fast start – this weekend.

Notes

The Wildcats hit the halfway mark of the 34-game regular season with an 8-8-1 overall record.

■They are 4-5-0 in Hockey East play.

■At the halfway point last year they were 5-7-5 overall and 1-4-3 in Hockey East.

■UNH and Yale played to a 5-5 tie in Durham last season on Jan. 5.

■Sophomore goalie Ty Taylor has a 3-0-0 record. He made 16 saves in a 5-2 win over Merrimack on Dec. 8 in Durham in his last start. Junior Mike Robinson from Bedford has a 5-8-1 record.

■Sophomore defenseman Ryan Verrier is tied for fourth in Hockey East with 27 blocked shots.

■Crookshank is second in the league in faceoff percentage at 61.4 percent.

■Season, group and individual tickets for all UNH home games are available at www.unhwildcats.com or by calling 603-862-4000. Tickets start at $9.

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




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