UNH hockey: New Kelleher on the block; Grasso ruled out for season opener

  • Patrick Grasso

  • UNH freshman forward Charlie Kelleher during Sunday’s exhibition game against St. Francis Xavier in Durham. China Wong / UNH Athletics

  • Charlie Kelleher

Monitor staff
Thursday, October 05, 2017

It’s déjà vu in Durham.

Charlie Kelleher, the younger brother of Hobey Baker nominee Tyler Kelleher, is filling the spot his older sibling left behind after wrapping his fourth season with the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team last year.

Charlie, a freshman, has made a strong enough impression through practices and one exhibition game that Coach Dick Umile slotted him on the top line alongside seniors Michael McNicholas and Jason Salvaggio.

“That line hasn’t changed from last year,” Umile said, laughing.

Charlie started Sunday’s exhibition game at right wing, opposite Salvaggio with McNicholas centering the line. The group will stay together this weekend when the Wildcats open their season with a home-and-home series against defending Hockey East champion UMass-Lowell.

McNicholas, who racked up 30 assists while Salvaggio and Tyler combined for 47 goals last season, sees a lot of similarities in the brothers Kelleher. That’s a good thing for the Wildcats, who have a 63-point gap to fill with the loss of the elder Kelleher. The younger Kelleher collected 51 points in 61 USHL games last year.

“It’s hard losing a guy like (Tyler) because he was such a great player,” McNicholas said. “(Charlie) is a good player, too. They play in a similar way. He’s good in the (defensive) zone, too, so he’s learning quickly. It’s nice playing with him.”

“Both are skilled guys who see the ice really well,” McNicholas added. “(Charlie) has come in and has been put in a big role and he’s doing well with it so far. It’s nice having him on the right side.”

Brendan van Riemsdyk, Marcus Vela and freshman blueliner Max Gildon scored in the exhibition game, a 3-3 draw with St. Francis Xavier.

Missing from the ice was Patrick Grasso, one of the top freshman forwards in the country last season with 20 goals and 13 assists. Grasso is dealing with a shoulder injury and has already been scratched from the lineup for the opening weekend. The length of his absence isn’t clear – Umile said it could be “a couple weeks” – and the sophomore declined comment when asked about the nature of the injury at the team’s media day in September.

When he returns, Grasso will return to his familiar spot on Umile’s third line, along with classmates Liam Blackburn and van Riemsdyk. In the meantime, Chris Miller, a junior from Windham, will fill in for Grasso at right wing.

Lowell, ranked in the top 10 in both national college hockey polls, will host the Wildcats on Friday night and then travel to Durham on Saturday.

UNH ended its 2016-17 season at the Tsongas Center in Lowell, Mass., in a three game series against the River Hawks. Meeting Lowell again to open the new season is a test the Wildcats are looking forward to.

“I don’t think you can pick a better team to play against in the first game of the season,” McNicholas said. “We’re excited about it. ... We’ve beaten them in the past couple of years, so it gives us confidence. We know their system and we know what they do best.”

After defeating Merrimack in a three-game series to open the conference tournament, UNH carried the momentum into the quarterfinals and won the first game against Lowell, 3-1. The River Hawks punched back with a 3-1 win in Game 2 and buried the Wildcats for good with an 8-2 shelling in Game 3.

McNicholas would rather keep that last game in the past.

“It’s not something we try to dwell on or talk about too much,” he said. “We’re just looking forward to this weekend and focusing on that.”

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