UNH hockey: Wildcats in search of offensive spark against Yale

  • UNH’s Liam Blackburn (26) and Charlie Kelleher (23) look to the puck as BC’s Michael Kim closes in during a Hockey East game at the Whittemore Center in Durham on Nov. 17. JOEY WALKER / UNH Athletics

  • UNH forward Eric MacAdams handles the puck near BC’s Connor Moore on Nov. 17. MacAdams and the Wildcats are hoping to find their scoring touch when UNH takes on Yale on Saturday. JOEY WALKER UNH Athletics

Monitor staff
Wednesday, November 22, 2017

DURHAM – The fiery offense that surged the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team to a 5-0 start has fizzled out as the No. 13 Wildcats (6-4-1, 3-3-1 Hockey East) have won just once in their last six games.

Injuries are at least one part of the offensive drought, but Coach Dick Umile is pushing all of his players to increase pressure around the crease.

“Looking for more second- and third-chance shots and being a bit more aggressive around the net,” Umile said Wednesday.

UNH is coming off a 3-2 loss to Boston College last Friday, a game where the Wildcats led twice but eventually fell short in the third period.

“I thought we played a good game, but it was our inability to score,” Umile said.

That’s been the case for a couple of weeks now.

UNH averaged nearly five goals per game in their first five contests of the season. Since then, the Wildcats have averaged fewer than two goals per game in their last six.

The correlation between injuries and production is clear: the lineup at forward has shuffled over the last few weekends with Charlie Kelleher (shoulder), Brendan van Riemsdyk (shoulder), Marcus Vela (appendix) and Shane Eiserman (knee) in and out of the lineup.

Vela, van Riemsdyk and Kelleher returned last weekend, and Eiserman is expected to be available on Saturday when UNH is on the road to face Yale (3-5-0) of the ECAC. Puck drop is 7 p.m.

“Everybody will be back in the lineup for the first time in a while,” Umile said. “Eiserman, he’s a big strong powerful forward. He likes to take it to the net and shoot. You won’t move him around in front of the net, so having him there will help.”

While those key forwards were off the ice, the guys on the ice struggled to find twine.

Patrick Grasso, one of the nation’s top freshman forwards last season, missed the first six with a shoulder injury. He returned Oct. 21 against Colorado College and is still searching for a goal to go along with his three assists through six games played.

Jason Salvaggio, a senior forward who scored 23 goals last year, scored three in his first four games this season but hasn’t found the net since Oct. 14. He leads the team in shots with 46.

Salvaggio came close when he hit the crossbar against Boston College. 

Freshman defenseman Benton Maass, one the top point-getters with nine assists and a goal, is looking for a couple good plays to swing momentum back to the Wildcats.

“Just a simple play can spark a goal and just go from there,” Maass said. “Whether it’s in the offensive zone or defensive zone, we just need to continue playing like we have been. We’ve been practicing well lately so just trying to make the little plays will lead to more goals.”

Upon further review

One of Umile’s noted takeaways from reviewing the Boston College game was the Eagles’ command between the blue lines.

Transition defense has been a point of emphasis in practice this week.

“When we don’t have the puck and their coming at us, (we need to) turn the puck over,” Umile said. “BC carried the puck in the center zone. That all happens very fast and you need to practice the transition part of the game.”

It’s been a while

Nearly 12 years have passed since UNH last traveled to face Yale. The Wildcats came away with a 4-1 win the last time they were in New Haven in January 2006.

Like UNH, Yale is hungry for a win after losing its last three games, including a 3-0 shutout to Quinnipiac. 

“They’re an ECAC team, so they’re going to come out big and fast and finishing their checks,” sophomore forward Liam Blackburn said. “We have match their speed and try and get a bunch of shots early and get momentum going our way because we’re playing in their building. I think the first period is going to be big for us.”

Yale made an impressive start to the season with a 5-2 win over then-No. 3 Harvard. The Crimson have since dropped out of the top 20.

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