UNH hockey notebook: Umile thinks Minnesota schools missed ‘big-time’ on defenseman Maass

Monitor staff
Friday, October 13, 2017

DURHAM – If you ask Dick Umile, the UNH men’s hockey team got a steal in recruiting defenseman Benton Maass out of high school in Minnesota.

“The Minnesota schools, I think they missed him big-time,” Umile said during his weekly meeting with reporters Wednesday. “This kid is a good hockey player … and a great student – he’s on academic scholarship as well.”

Associate Head Coach Mike Souza, the heir apparent as Umile coaches his 28th and final season, recruited Maass straight out of Elk River High School. Maass played 25 games his senior year at Elk River and 26 games with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in the North American Hockey League (NAHL). He finished his NAHL stint with nine goals and 11 assists. 

A sixth-round pick of the Washington Capitals in last summer’s draft, the 18-year-old Maass has made a smooth transition into the college game. He’s already a top-four defenseman on Umile’s squad, and he picked up a pair of assists in helping the Wildcats complete a two-game sweep of then-No. 5 UMass-Lowell last weekend.

“The biggest thing … is the pace of play,” Maass said. “College hockey is a lot faster than anything I’ve played before, just making sure I was up to pace with everyone.”

Team defense has been the emphasis this season for Umile’s Wildcats, whose sweep of Lowell lifted them to No. 20 in the USCHO.com national poll. Maass feels like he’s fitting right in.

“The chemistry was there,” he said. “It felt like it wasn’t the first game we’ve all played together.”

Sato’s situation

One of the most intriguing recruits of this freshman class has been missing not only from the ice, but the team’s roster, as well.

Kohei Sato, UNH’s first ever Japanese recruit, hasn’t appeared on any rosters through one exhibition and two regular-season games, nor was he included in the 2017-18 yearbook.

The 21-year-old is on campus and taking classes, according to the UNH Athletic Communications office, but an issue involving his eligibility with the NCAA has stalled his participation in hockey this year.

The issue is not with his grades or high school GPA, the office said, but rather how his high school credits add up in fulfilling the NCAA’s eligibility requirements.

The athletics department has filed a waiver with the NCAA in hopes that Sato can play as a true freshman this year. It is not clear when the NCAA will get back to the university with its decision.

The athletics department was not made aware of the eligibility conflict until after the academic year began. Sato already had his picture taken for the roster and was assigned the number 18. 

Sato is a 6-foot-1, 185-pound forward from Nishitokyo, Japan. He played 48 games for the Northeast Generals of the NAHL last year, gathering 14 goals and 22 assists. He has been playing in North America since he left Japan at 12 years old to attend prep school in Canada, according to Mike Lowry of the UNH Men’s Hockey Blog. Sato is most often noted by scouts for his speed and explosiveness on the ice.

In net

Danny Tirone took conference honors as the top defensive player of the week after the Wildcats’ sweep of Lowell last weekend. In all, Tirone stopped 52 pucks on 56 shots for a .929 save percentage.

Tirone is back in net Friday night as UNH opens a two-game set with Colgate at the Whittemore Center. Umile didn’t share his plans beyond that. 

“We’ll take it from there and just take it game by game,” Umile said. “No plans to do anything other than (Friday’s) game, and it’ll be Tirone.”

Senior Adam Clark and freshman Mike Robinson, a San Jose Sharks prospect and Bedford native, are competing for time in the early weeks of the season but Tirone made his case last weekend to keep the starting job to himself.

“He played with a lot of confidence, so he’s feeling good about it right now,” Umile said. “It’s a great way to start the season.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)