Saturday, January 21, 2017

Petersen Stymies UNH, Notre Dame Wins 3-0

Junior Goalie Danny Tirone
87 Saves in Notre Dame Series

In the 2-2 tie with Notre Dame last night, UNH goalie Danny Tirone made 47 saves and earned the #1 Star of the Game. Tonight in South Bend, it was Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen's turn. The junior made 31 saves against the #1 offense in Hockey East. It was the first time this season New Hampshire has been shut out.

Notre Dame's goals came at the 5:44 mark of the first period (Malmquist), 16:06 of the third (Peeke), and 12:17 of the final period (Evans).

UNH had several good scoring chances but Petersen was up to the task. Two of them came in the third period. With 13:23 left in regulation and Notre Dame holding a 2-0 lead, freshman Liam Blackburn got behind the Notre Dame net and centered a pass to fellow freshman Brendan van Riemsdyk in the mid-slot. Petersen turned aside BvR's point blank shot and denied freshman Patrick Grasso's followup bid. Petersen's second big save in the final stanza came at the 8:48 mark with Notre Dame holding a 3-0 lead. Looking to replicate his beautiful goal from Friday night, junior Jason Salvaggio swooped around an ND defender and nearly beat Petersen in tight.

UNH's Danny Tirone made 40 saves tonight and several were outstanding. Here are a few of them including one on a penalty shot in the third period:

With the loss, UNH's record in Hockey East remains at 6-2-3. The Wildcats (15 points) are tied for 5th place with UMass-Lowell. Notre Dame (16 points) moves into 4th place one point ahead of UNH and Lowell. Vermont is in 3rd place with 17 points, BU's in 2nd place with 18 points, and BC has 21 points. UNH returns to the Whittemore Center next weekend for two games against 7th place Providence (10 points).

Friday, January 20, 2017

Tirone Backstops UNH 2-2 Tie with #14 Notre Dame

Junior Danny Tirone
47 Saves
Junior Jason Salvaggio
1 Goal, 1 Assist
Freshman Patrick Grasso
15th Goal of Season

What a difference a year makes. Last season, UNH goalie Danny Tirone had a very tough time with Notre Dame. In the first of a two-game series at the Whittemore Center on January 22nd, Tirone surrendered 4 goals on 16 Notre Dame shots and was replaced by third-string goalie Jamie Regan midway through the second period. He sat out the subsequent night's game against Notre Dame. Tonight at Compton Arena in South Bend, Indiana, Tirone gained redemption with 47 saves, several of the exceptional variety, as UNH tied Notre Dame 2-2.

Once again, UNH showed that it can hang with a ranked team. The Fighting Irish entered the game ranked #14 in the nation. UNH gave up a soft goal just 4 minutes into the opening stanza. Freshman defenseman Anthony Wyse tried to catch a harmless wrist shot from the blueline but it skipped underneath his left glove. Notre Dame's Oglevie scooped up the loose puck and swept it past Tirone, who had no chance to make the save.

In recent games, UNH has had no difficulty bouncing back after giving up the first goal of the game and tonight was no exception. Midway through the first period, the nation's second leading scorer Tyler Kelleher floated a pass to linemate Jason Salvaggio as he entered the ND zone. Salvaggio flashed his goal-scoring abilities as he controlled the puck, held off a defender, and slid the puck between the pads of goalie Cal Peterson. It was Salvaggio's 15th goal of the season and he briefly held the team's lead in goal-scoring. With the assist, Kelleher moved into a tie for leading scorer in the nation (14g, 27a, 41pts).

Not to be outdone, freshman standout Patrick Grasso scored his 15th goal of the season five minutes into the second period on UNH's second power play opportunity of the game. Junior Michael McNicholas took the initial shot on Peterson from the right faceoff circle and Salvaggio fired the rebound forcing another save by Peterson. This time, Grasso batted in the rebound as he was parked just outside the crease. Grasso and Salvaggio are now tied for 5th in goal-scoring in NCAA Division I.

UNH maintained a 2-1 lead for the final 15 minutes of the second period and the initial 9 and 1/2 minutes of the third period. A mere 9 seconds after UNH successfully held off the Irish on their fourth power play opportunity, Wegwerth skated out of the corner and scored the game-tying goal.

The final 15 seconds of overtime served as a snapshot of the entire game. Freshman Brendan van Riemsdyk just missed scoring the game-winner at one end of the ice and Danny Tirone came out of his crease to stone Notre Dame's leading goal scorer Anders Bjork (15 goals).

With the tie, UNH has 15 points in Hockey East competition and is tied with UMass-Lowell for 4th place. Notre Dame has 14 points and is in 5th place by themselves. The teams will play their final regulation, Hockey East game tomorrow night in South Bend. This is Notre Dame's final season as a member of Hockey East.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Minnesotan Benton Maass Commits to UNH

2017 UNH Commit
Benton Maass

Minnesota has long been a hotbed for elite hockey players. For example, there have been 243 Minnesota natives to play in the National Hockey League - more than any other state. One former UNH player, Chris Pryor (Class of 1993) from St. Paul, made it to "the show" as a player with the Minnesota North Stars and New York Islanders and is currently the Assistant General Manager and Director of Player Personnel for the Philadelphia Flyers.

With so much talent developing in one state, it's a little surprising that only 9 Minnesotans have played men's hockey at the University of New Hampshire. The last was Shawn Vinz from Rochester, MN who graduated in 2007. Maybe that trend is about to change. Last Friday, 18-year-old defenseman Benton Maass (DOB: 11-25-1998) from Elk River, Minnesota committed to UNH and is projected to enroll in the Fall of 2017.

Over the last few months, the 6'2", 195 lbs., right-shot blueliner has been the subject of positive reviews:
"(Benton Maass) is strong and poised and was able to create with the puck." Neutral Zone
"He has excellent mobility and some offensive upside. Sees the ice very well and is good at getting his shot through from the point." George Ross, Scout for Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
"I think we’ve got two of the best defensemen in the state coming back in Benton Maass and Nick Perbix (St. Cloud State commit)." Ben Gustafson, Head Coach, Elks River, Minnesota High School
In early October, the NHL Central Scouting Services released it's initial "Players to Watch" list for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft. Benton Maass (pronounced "Mass") was on the list and received a "C" rating. The NHL CSS identified Maass as a candidate to be drafted in the 4th, 5th, or 6th round next June in Chicago. He maintained that status on the updated "Players to Watch" list in mid-November.

Yesterday, the NHL scouting service released its Midterm Ratings of 2017 draft prospects and Maass was listed as the #158th North American skater. It's very difficult to accurately predict his chances of being drafted by an NHL team in June. For example, of the #155-#165 North American skaters on last year's Midterm Rankings, only one was selected in the 2016 NHL Draft. What is certain is that NHL scouts are following Maass' development and considering him a potential draft pick.
Defenseman Benton Maass
Elk River High School


Benton Maass grew up playing for the Elk River Youth Hockey Association. Elk River is located about half-way between Minneapolis and Saint Cloud. He started playing for Elk River High School, one of the top teams in Minnesota, as a sophomore. The top, high school conference in Minnesota is divided into 8 Sections and winners of the Sectional Tournaments advance to the Class AA State Tournament. Elk River won the Minnesota State Championship in 2001.

As a junior last season, Maass was a co-captain and scored 6 goals and 16 assists in 25 regular season games. In the Sectional Tournment, the third-ranked Elk River team advanced to the semifinals and Maass tallied 1 goal in two playoff games.

Last June, Benton Maass was selected in the 4th Round (96th overall) of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) Draft by the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. Fairbanks had won the 2016 NAHL Championship. Because the Minnesota High School season did not begin until the end of November, Maass played 17 games for Fairbanks in September, October, and early November. He scored 2 power play goals and distributed 6 assists. These video highlights show both of his goals, one assist, and a heavy hit in the defensive zone:

Scouting Reports

The NAHL held its Annual Showcase in Blaine, Minnesota in late September, 2016 and over 300 NHL, college and junior scouts attended. Among them were scouts from Neutral Zone** who ranked Maass as an "A-" player and provided this assessment:

"The late 1998 did a lot well here. He is strong and poised and was able to create with the puck. He rated in our top three players in each of Fairbank’s games. To become a plus player, Benton must improve play in his own end. He has a ton of upside and was one of the best prospects in the showcase. He is a new player for Neutral Zone and played at Elk River (MN) HS last year."
Rating - 3 3/4 out 5 Stars.

** Reprinted by permission of Brendan Collins, Director of Scouting at Neutral Zone.

Maass left the Fairbanks Ice Dogs in late November and rejoined the Elk River High School team for his senior season. As the team's captain, Maass has scored 3 goals (2 PPG) and 17 assists (5 PPA) in 15 games. Elk River is having one of its best seasons in recent years. The Elk River Elks' record is 12-3-0 and they are ranked #3 in the state.

George Ross, a scout for the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League who covers the Minnesota region, provided this assessment of Maass:
"Benton Maass will add much needed mobility to the back end for UNH. Never considered one of the top guys in his age group growing up, he is a classic late bloomer who was somewhat of a forgotten man in a good and deep Elk River program. Before returning to the Elks for the high school season, he spent the fall in Fairbanks (NAHL) and was their best defenseman at the NAHL showcase in Blaine in September. He has excellent mobility and some offensive upside. Sees the ice very well and is good at getting his shot through from the point. Should be a good fit for the big sheet in Durham."


I had an opportunity to interview Benton Maass, via email, about his hockey career and commitment to UNH:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulations on your commitment to play for the University of New Hampshire. What are the main reasons you chose UNH?

Benton Maass: I chose UNH for a variety of reasons. During my visit, I really connected with the guys on the team and the coaching staff which was a big priority of mine. They made me feel like I was at home. I also really liked the campus and schooling that New Hampshire offers which was another big reason why I decided to go there.

Mike Lowry: What other college programs were you considering? Which schools did you visit and which ones made an offer to you?

Benton Maass: I took my time with the process and looked at a variety of colleges out east and in my home state of Minnesota before committing to New Hampshire.

Lowry: Have you and the UNH coaches agreed on a target date for you to enroll as a freshman at UNH and join the team?

Maass: I will be enrolling as a freshman next fall (2017) and will be joining the team for the upcoming season.

Lowry: At this stage in your hockey development, what are the strengths of your game? What areas are you trying to improve?

Maass: I think of myself has a solid two way defenseman. I am very calm and poised with the puck and always look to make plays that will benefit my team. The areas I need to work on would be my skating because a player can always get faster and my puck handling skills.

Lowry: The Fairbanks Ice Dogs selected you in the 4th Round of the 2016 North American Hockey League Draft and you played 17 games with them from mid-September to early November. You then returned to your hometown high school team in Elk River, Minnesota for your senior season. Hockey fans from New England may not have a full appreciation of how important high school hockey is in Minnesota. Would you describe the tradition of Minnesota HS hockey and the reasons you decided play for Elk River this season?

Maass: I don’t think there is a better place to play high school hockey than in Minnesota. It is almost all community based which allows you to play with the same guys for most of your youth and high school experience. I chose to stay and play my senior year in Elk River because I wanted one last go and playing with all my friends, most of which I have grown up playing with, and the chance at getting to play in a state tournament.

Lowry: In your sophomore and junior years at Elk River, the team was coached by former NHL defenseman Gordie Roberts. How did he help you develop as a defenseman?

Maass: He always had a lot of good, small tips that he would encourage the defensemen to try during practice and games. Having his experience as a player and scout in the NHL definitely helped with my development as a defenseman.

Lowry: When your season at Elk River ends, do you plan to return to the Fairbanks Ice Dogs for the remainder of the NAHL season?

Maass: Yes, I will be returning to Fairbanks to finish out their season after my high school season is done.

Lowry: The NHL Central Scouting Service identified you as a "Player to Watch" and a "C" prospect (a candidate for selection in the 4th, 5th or 6th round) for the 2017 NHL Draft. No doubt, that means that NHL scouts have been showing up at games to watch you play. Does that enter into your mind when you're out there playing? If so, how do you handle it?

Maass: I try to not think about things like that too much. In the end, it all comes down to playing well and continuing to develop as a player and a person.

Lowry: What are your academic strengths and interests? Have you thought about what you might major in when you enroll at UNH?

Maass: I have interest in almost all areas of academics. I plan on majoring in business finance at UNH with plans to go to law school at some point after my 4 years at New Hampshire.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

UNH Captain's Corner: Frozen Fenway

UNH Captain Matias Cleland

Back in the winter of 2008, the National Hockey League initiated the modern era of outdoor ice hockey games. They coordinated the construction of a portable, regulation hockey rink on top of the football field at Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo, New York for the first NHL Winter Classic. Trivia buffs will remember that the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Buffalo Sabres in overtime. It was a wildly popular event with 71,000 fans braving the elements and 3.75 million TV viewers watching in the comfortable indoors.

On New Years Day 2010, Fenway Park hosted it's first outdoor hockey game with the Boston Bruins downing the Philadelphia Flyers in overtime. Former UNH star James van Riemsdyk played for the Flyers. Over 38,000 fans packed the old ball yard and another 3.68 million watched on TV. Recognizing the popularity and marketability of outdoor games, Hockey East launched the inaugural Frozen Fenway event one week later. Boston University beat Boston College 3-2 in front of another sellout crowd.

In August, 2011, Hockey East officially announced an ambitious plan to stage a college-only, outdoor event in the Second Frozen Fenway. The original plan included matchups between UNH and the University of Maine and Vermont versus UMass Amherst on January 7, 2012. Later, additional games between BC & Northeastern, Harvard & Union, and Babson & Norwich were added to the schedule. On a mild, overcast evening before a sellout crowd, UNH rallied from a 4-2 deficit to force overtime against Maine but lost in overtime.

Since that Second Frozen Fenway battle between UNH and Maine in January, 2012, the number of outdoor college hockey games has rapidly increased. Between then and the end of last winter, 18 Division I men's hockey games have been played in outdoor venues from Boston to Denver and several cities in between. The Third Frozen Fenway in January, 2014, which included UMass-Lowell vs. Northeastern and BU vs. Maine, still attracted over 25,000 fans to the ball park. So, when Hockey East announced that UNH would be invited to the Fourth Frozen Fenway this winter, players and fans began to look forward to the spectacle with anticipation and excitement.

Last Saturday evening, the UNH Wildcats faced off against the Northeastern University Huskies under a clear, chilly sky at Fenway Park. UNH had defeated NU the night before in a come-from-behind, 5-3 victory at the Whittemore Center in Durham, NH. The UNH freshman line lead the UNH win with Patrick Grasso scoring 2 goals, Brendan van Riemsdyk adding a goal, and Liam Blackburn assisting on all three.

In front of a bundled up crowd of 16,432 fans, Northeastern got on the board first with a power play goal at the 13:04 mark of the opening stanza. An initial shot flew off the top of the crossbar behind UNH junior goalie Danny Tirone and floated toward the front of the net. Aston-Reese batted the puck out of mid-air, it slid across the crease, and Gaudette buried it into the open net.

Former Malden Catholic High School star Ara Nazarian tied the game 4 minutes later. UNH freshman defenseman Anthony Wyse, a native of Newton, MA, kept the puck in the NU zone along the half-wall, spun around, and flicked a wrist shot on net. Nazarian caught the puck with his skate, kicked it to his stick, and back-handed it home.

UNH took a 2-1 lead midway through the second period on a goal by former St. John's Prep (Danvers, MA) star Shane Eiserman. Eiserman gathered a loose puck behind the NU net, slid it to Nazarian who passed it out to the junior defenseman Cam Marks at the blue line. Marks sent a wrist shot toward the net and it bounced around in the low slot. Linemates Eiserman, Nazarian, and sophomore Marcus Vela were entrenched in front of NU goalie Ryan Ruck and Eiserman banged the puck between his pads.

Northeastern would tie the game 2-2 in the waning seconds of the second period. NU defenseman Jeremy Davies controlled the puck at the point and faked a shot as Patrick Grasso slid across the ice to block one. Davies then wristed the puck along the ice and junior defenseman Dylan Chanter tried to block it with his skate. The puck got by Chanter, he partially screened Tirone, and the puck slid past his left skate into the net.

Although UNH outshot Northeastern 9-7 in the third period and 1-0 in the five minute overtime period, neither team scored. After the game, UNH head coach Dick Umile said "If you can get three out of four points in Hockey East, it's a good weekend."

Captain's Interview

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Matias Cleland about the Frozen Fenway game and the three-point weekend against Northeastern:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Any fan who has laced 'em up can fondly recollect their first times playing hockey outdoors. Would you share some of your memories of playing outdoors when you were growing up in Longmont, Colorado?

Matias Cleland: My buddies and I would get together to play on small lakes and ponds in Colorado every winter. Playing outdoors like that, is some of the most fun I've had playing hockey. We would always stay out way too long and usually get sick but it was worth it.

Mike Lowry: With all the fanfare and buildup to the Frozen Fenway game, what was it like to walk out onto the field, skate onto the ice, and take your first shift?

Matias Cleland: It was surreal. There was a lot that went into playing this game, and we have been looking forward to it since last year. We didn't just play at any baseball field either. It was awesome looking up when we walked out and seeing the "Fenway Park" sign. It was a memory I'll never forget, and I thought Hockey East and Fenway did a fantastic job putting the event on.

Lowry: As the game progressed, it looked like the ice surface was covered with more snow/icechips than in an indoor game. Did the conditions have any effect on the way UNH would typically play a game?

Cleland: The ice definitely got worse as the game went on, but it was the same for both teams. It was pretty hard to handle the puck as the game went on. We have some skilled forwards on our team so they weren't able to make some plays they usually are able to make. We talked before the game that we needed to keep it simple and shoot pucks whenever we get the chance.

Lowry: With all the extended TV timeouts, you and the rest of first unit appeared to play a lot of minutes. By the final period and into overtime, was stamina a factor?

Cleland: The TV timeouts definitely helped out a lot so we could get some rest. Stamina wasn't a factor in the game. After the game, I think we were all pretty tired but I don't think it affected anything in the game.

Lowry: With the come-from-behind, 5-3 win on Thursday night and the 2-2 tie at Fenway, the team earned 3 out of 4 points in the Northeastern series. You're now in fourth place, 1 point behind Lowell and Vermont, 2 points behind Boston University, and 5 points behind first-place BC in the Hockey East standings. You've played three fewer Hockey East games than BC. What are your thoughts on the weekend results and where the team stands in the race for the Hockey East season title?

Cleland: We have put ourselves in a pretty good position going down the stretch here. This weekend was a solid weekend for the team. Northeastern was a good team and they gave us their best effort. The win on Thursday night was a huge win for us. We stuck to the game plan being down in the third and we had been in this position before. It showed that we know how to win those tight games, which is how they will all be from here on out. I think we are improving every game, and we will play some good teams down the stretch here. We have distinguished ourselves as one of those good teams though. We're excited for the back end of the regular season.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

UNH Power Play Dominates, Cats Down Brown 7-4

Senior Tyler Kelleher
5 Assists
Junior Michael McNicholas
2 Goals, 2 Assists

Junior Jason Salvaggio
2 Goals
Freshman Patrick Grasso
Game-Winning Goal

After are a hard-fought 2-1 loss on Friday night against #6 Umass-Lowell, the UNH Wildcats needed to guard against a letdown in their final non-conference game at Brown University. A substantial snowstorm in southern New England on Saturday postponed the game until this afternoon at 4 PM. The extra day of rest and reflection may have helped UNH as they notched a decisive 7-4 win over the Brown Bears.

On paper, the matchup between UNH and Brown looked like a mismatch between the #12 offense in Division I hockey (UNH: 3.39 Goals Per Game) against the #59 defense (Brown: 4.13 Goals Allowed per Game). In particular, Brown needed to avoid penalties as UNH boasts a top 15 power play while the Bears has the second worst penalty kill in the nation. In the end, it didn't turn out well for Brown.

The potent power play unit of Tyler Kelleher, Jason Salvaggio, Michael McNicholas, Patrick Grasso and Matias Cleland put on a clinic converting on all 4 opportunites. McNicholas buried 2 power play goals. Salvaggio tallied a power play goal and an even-strength goal. Grasso scored the game-winner on the power play.

Freshman Brendan van Riemsdyk and senior Jamie Hill also scored even-strength goals. Hills' goal 4 minutes into the final period gave UNH a 7-1 lead. Brown's first line netted 3 goals over the final 8 and 1/2 minutes but it was too little too late.

For a complete recap of the game and stats, check out .

Here are the video highlights of all 7 UNH goals:

UNH returns to action with a home-game against Northeastern on Thursday and another matchup with NU at the 2017 Frozen Fenway on Saturday night.

Monday, January 02, 2017

UNH Ends 2016 On High Note

Senior Tyler Kelleher
2 Goals, 2 Assists
Junior Jason Salvaggio
2 Goals, 2 Assists

[Manchester, NH] -- The University of New Hampshire Wildcats skated past the Maine Black Bears 6-4 on Friday night to close out the 2016 year. Although outshot 37-25, the Wildcats and Tyler Kelleher were able to grind out their third victory over the Black Bears this season.

It did not take long for the Wildcats to strike gold in this one when only :28 seconds in, Jason Salvaggio capitalized for his 10th goal of the season. Cam Marks glided a pass to Kelleher into the neutral zone who then redirected it to Michael McNicholas. He skated into the Maine zone on the right side and passed it to Salvaggio who then buried it past Maine netminder Rob McGovern.

“It is a good win for us. It ends 2016 and is against Maine. We did some good things, but need some work defensively. Tirone made some huge saves and Kelleher has a had great career against Maine and is a threat on the ice every year,” head coach Dick Umile said.

At 1:16, Ryan Smith scored his third goal of the season to level the score and it seemed that the crowd at SNHU Arena was ready to watch an exciting hockey game. Smith retrieved a pass from Cedric Lacroix who then fired a shot just outside the faceoff circle.

One of the biggest plays of the season was at 9:02 in the first period when Shane Eiserman poked checked a puck away in the defensive end at the start of Maine’s first power play and broke away skating down the ice. Eiserman then shot it top shelf past McGovern to make it 2-1.

“It was a great way to start the second half of the year. We all gel pretty good and have good chemistry. Confidence is high right now,” Salvaggio said.

Maine would not go quietly in front of 4,460 at SNHU arena when on their second power play of the night, senior defensemen Eric Schurhamer knotted the game up at two a piece. Florida Panther prospect Patrick Shea saucered a pass over to Schurhamer who from the point wristed one through traffic and past netminder Danny Tirone.

At 5:44 of the second period, Kelleher continued to showcase his All-American talent when he scored his 13th goal of the season to put UNH up 3-2. Captain Matias Cleland found Kelleher in the neutral zone who then skated around two Black Bears and into the Maine zone and fired one into the back of the net.

“Tyler sets them up. That whole line. He is a threat every time he is on the ice. That goal he had was fabulous. I just knew when he was sitting behind the net he get Sal out front. Sal has a great shot and in his junior year he has broke out. We have a good line with them,” Umile said.

One of the biggest stories of the night was freshman Justin Fregona burying his first collegiate goal at 15:30 of the second period. Fregona clawed his way through the Black Bear attack and carried the puck himself into the slot and then wristed one top shelf to make it 4-2.

Maine made it a one goal affair after Schurhamer tallied his second of the night to make it 4-3 going into an exciting third period. With :52 seconds left in the second, Cam Brown fed a one-time pass to Schurhamer who rocketed one past Tirone.

The third period lived up to the hype when both teams were physical and continued to jaw at each other. The momentum seemed in the corner of the Black Bears, but at 14:02 in the final stanza, Salvaggio scored his second of the game and 11th of the season. Marks once again set it up and played a pass to Kelleher behind the Maine net. Goalie Matt Morris had taken over for McGovern. Kelleher found Salvaggio in the slot waiting for the biscuit. It was a tic-tac-goal that got Wildcat fans in Manchester on their feet and more importantly put UNH up 5-3.

TK was able to record his fourth point of the night when he scored an empty netter. Kelleher's 35th point of the season moved him to second place in scoring, behind Union’s Mike Vecchione, in all of D-I college hockey. Vecchione has 37. Kelleher is also tied for third in the nation in goals (14) and tied for first in assists (21).

Maine got the last laugh to make the score to 6-4 with a goal by Patrick Holway. Malcolm Hayes and Housakos recorded assists on the play, but the final score ended 6-4 in favor of the Wildcats.

UNH moved to 9-7-2 on the year and still 5-1-1 in Hockey East as the thick of the schedule now stares them in the face. The Black Bears fell to 7-10-3 on the season.

Here are the highlights of the Wildcats winning the Riverstone Classic courtesy of UNH Wildcat Productions:

Up Next: UNH returns to the Whittemore Center to challenge the #7 UMASS-Lowell River Hawks in a contest that will prove where this UNH Hockey team is really at as the new year begins. For now, a 3-0 sweep of Maine in 2016-2017 is always a great accomplishment.

Tune in Friday on 91.3 FM WUNH Durham at 6:00 PM to listen to the action as Brian Dunn and myself bring you the contest.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Midseason Review with Mike Souza, UNH Associate Head Coach

UNH Associate Head Coach
Mike Souza

Last summer, I had an opportunity to sit down with Mike Souza, associate head coach of the UNH men's hockey team, to review last season and talk about the team's prospects for this season. Now that the team is exactly halfway through the 34-game, 2016-17 schedule, it's time for a followup interview with coach Souza.

After 17 games last season, UNH's overall record was 7-6-4. The current team has a similar overall record of 8-7-2. However, the 2016-17 Wildcats have compiled a better record in Hockey East competition. While last year's team had only 2 Hockey East wins (2-1-4), this team is 5-1-1 and tied for 3rd place with Notre Dame and Vermont in the Hockey East standings. Boston College (8-1-1) is in first and UMass-Lowell (6-3-1) is in second.

In Hockey East competition, UNH has the #1 offense (4.43 goals per game) and #1 power play (37.2 power play %). Individual standouts include Tyler Kelleher who leads Hockey East in scoring (2.57 points per game), assists (1.71 per game), power play points (1.57 PPG) and goals (0.57 GPG). Among Hockey East defensemen, Matias Cleland is the leading scorer (1.57 points per game) and #1 in assists (1.43 per game). Patrick Grasso is the leading scorer (1.57 points per game), goal scorer (0.71 per game), and power play scorer (1.14 points per game) among all Hockey East freshmen.

Here's the interview I conducted yesterday with UNH associate head coach Mike Souza:

Qualifying for the NCAA Tournament

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): When I interviewed you last July, I asked how close the 2016-17 team was to qualifying for the 2017 NCAA Tournament. You said "I really believe that we can make the NCAA tournament this year. I hope I'm telling you that in January too." This year, UNH hosts the Northeast Regionals in Manchester so if the team earns a spot in the NCAA tournament, you will have a "home team advantage". In order to qualify, UNH either has to win the Hockey East Tournament or be ranked among the top 12-15 teams in Division I when the HE Tournament ends. Now that we're half-way through the season, how do you feel about UNH's chances of making the NCAA tournament?

Coach Mike Souza: I feel great about it. I think that ... obviously as we talked about this summer, there's always uncertainty with the new team, I mean that's the same for everyone in the country. When you have a turnover, when you lose seniors and have new players arriving. We've already surpassed our win total from last year within our conference but that was the toughest conference to win in college hockey. Last year I believe from our conference there were six, and you can correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe there were six teams from our conference that made the tournament.

What that tells me is that if you're able to finish near the top of the conference, which is where we are right now, you're going to not only rise in the national rankings but also give yourself the best possible chance to get into the NCAA tournament. Now I know we've had some hiccups with the non-league games, which hopefully at the end of the year don't cost us in getting in - hopefully that's not why we don't get in. But I feel great about our team. I know you mentioned not having beat any of the top teams yet, the so-called "top teams", but the reality is you gotta win the games you play. Last year, we weren't able to do that consistently and so far this year we have and I think that bodes well for our overall team attitude as we go into the second half of the season.

So I feel confident that we have just as good a chance as anyone of getting in there. I know our kids do and I know there's a great energy with our group since they've come back from break. We're real excited about our game tomorrow and moving on to obviously, back into league play next Friday.

Mike Lowry: In terms of who you've played so far this year, BC is the only one that's been ranked in the top 15 and that turned out to be a pretty close game as I recall. You fell behind pretty early but then scored three goals to tie it up and then lost late in the game. It's only one game and it's only Boston College, but did you get a sense from that game of how your team will stack up with the top teams, or the so-called top teams in hockey?

Coach Souza: I know that game was early in the year, but I think that was a good measuring stick for our group. We showed some great character in coming back in that game and basically being there right at the end of the game and having the chance to, at the very least, come out of there with a point. We failed to do that but I think for those who may not know our team that well, that game right there was an indication of where we are as a group. I think that when we get to those top teams, we'll be right there.

What's the point of doing this if you're not going to compete against the best teams in the conference? Last year we didn't have a great season, but we were able to knock off Lowell and Providence. We've got guys that have played in some big games and won those games. I like where we are and I like our leadership. Matias (Cleland) and the senior class do a tremendous job and they're hungry to win too, Mike. They're very hungry to win which is great.

Lowry: I think another thing we talked about last summer was that in the grand scheme of things, what does it take to win a national championship? You had mentioned two key factors - you've got to have hot goal-tending at the end of the year and the team needs to be peaking at the right time as you go into the tournament season. If you think about peaking at the right time, can you think of areas where the team has the potential to get better over the second half and be firing on all cylinders so to speak?

Souza: I guess the general, the "Belichick-ian" answer would be we can get better in all areas. That's coach-speak, but I actually believe that. There's always room to improve in all areas of our game, especially with young players and young kids. I do think that we can always get better defensively as a group. Teams that play tenacious, tough checking defense, generally do well in the tournament. You know the old saying in college hockey - "it's the race to three".

When I say defense, I mean team defense and just overall group defense and that's an area that I think we made a lot of strides in. I know that our entire team is committed to getting better in that area. I think that's so important and I'm sure every coach in the country would probably echo similar sentiments about wanting to tighten it up defensively all the time and not to have any situations where you're beating yourself.

Lowry: I've seen every game this year and it seems to me that there have been two improvements in terms of team defense. One is getting back to prevent the odd man rushes, not only just the two defensive guys getting back, but also the, usually the center, getting back to cover the guys as the opposition enters your zone. I think there's been improvement also in covering guys out in front of the net since the beginning of the season. Do you see those improvements as well and are those a couple of key areas that you'll hopefully be doing, playing at your very best come tournament time?

Souza: I think that the makeup of our group has allowed us to be more consistent defensively. I think Anthony Wyse's size and quickness for a big guy has really helped our play in our own end. I think that our top guys have made a commitment to play in our own end and I think we've gotten contributions defensively from the freshman line, it's been solid. Guys like Hill and Eiserman have done what I've always asked them which has really, really helped us make an overall commitment to team defense.

I think we've talked about this before or we've mentioned this before Mike. We always have this reputation of being a better offensive team than defensive team, but I always took pride in the fact that we've had some pretty darn good defensive teams up here at UNH over the years. I'm talking about back when I was here and long after I left. It's always been a staple of the way Dick (Umile) coaches. Put it this way, we talk about our play without the puck more than we talk about our play with the puck. Our guys have done a good job with it this year and I think we continue to get better with it. And Danny Tirone has played well for us too.

The Power Play

Lowry: One of the things the team is doing very well this year is scoring on the power play. Last year, the UNH power play scored on 23.9% of the opportunities which ranked #1 in Hockey East and #6 in the nation. A couple of things that made the power play click last year was Andrew Poturalski and Dan Correale. This year though, you haven't fallen off hardly at all so far. You're scoring on 22.1% of your opportunities and the power play is ranked #1 in Hockey East and #12 in the nation.

I think fans will have noticed that you made a couple of major changes in the first power play unit this year as compared to last year. Last year, the first power play unit had Matias and Cam Marks playing at the points and then you had your first line of Correale, Poturalski, and Tyler Kelleher up front. This year, right from the very beginning, you moved Tyler back onto the blue line with Matias and you have your first line out there, or two-thirds of the first line, with Jason Salvaggio and Michael McNicholas and then you added freshman Patrick Grasso to play right wing on the forward line. So a very different style of power play. What was the rationale for that? I think it's worked out quite well, but how do you think it's worked out?

Souza: Well, first of all, I think that last year, four of the five guys were consistently on it, but that fifth guy, you know, at times, you remember it was Max Gaudreault, at times it was Ara Nazarian, at times it was Cam Marks. This year we've stayed pretty consistent with the group and I think that only helps. Naturally, we have some talented players on there. Tyler is as talented as player as there is in the country and the power play sort of runs through him. Michael McNicholas actually is another guy that was on and off (the power play unit) last year. He's been on it all year, so without a doubt, tremendous chemistry with that group on the power play this year. Above all, they're five very talented kids that work well together. We talk concepts, more so than set plays, but we have some things that we go over and work on. It ultimately comes down to execution and those guys, from the start of the year, have gelled together nicely.

Now, like you said, we have a whole second half to go and hopefully we can continue that consistency on the power play. As you know, there's an uptick in penalties in college hockey so that puts a premium on performing on the power play. Our guys are aware of that and we practice it a lot, but there's been a complete buy-in from the group as to what we want and they go out and ultimately execute it. It has very little to do with the coaching staff in terms of what happens once those guys are out there and they make plays.

We've been fortunate over the last couple of years, at least since I've been back here, to have guys that have enough skill to kind of get out of trouble, keep plays alive, making little area plays or little skilled plays that keeps the power play in the zone, doesn't force a turnover. Those are the sort of things, that's what makes Tyler a special player, he has the ability to do that. Michael McNicholas has the ability to do that, Grasso's covering around the net, they all compliment each other well. Matias is good up top and Jason Sal's got the best, probably the best shot on the team. They all compliment each other well and I think that's, if you look at any power play unit anywhere, those are some of the things that need to happen. The guys need to compliment each other well and fortunately to this point in the year we've been able to have some success, but like you said, we've got a long way to go.

Tyler Kelleher

Lowry: You mentioned Tyler Kelleher. Obviously he's a special player. He's pretty much matching or exceeding his scoring from last year. Right now he's the fourth leading scorer in NCAA hockey, he's got 12 goals, 19 assists and he's tied for second in assists. Would you agree that he deserves serious consideration for the Hobey Baker Award as the second half of the season moves on?

Souza: Yeah, I think that he clearly will be in that conversation and it also puts more of a premium on how we do as a group. As you know from being around a long time, the guys who are in it for that award generally are on teams that are near the top towards the end of the year. So our hopes I'm sure, and his hope I know, is that we're there, we're one of the teams in the discussion for the tournament come the end of the year. As we tell the guys all the time, when the logo on the front of the jersey is taken care of, usually there's accolades for the Kellehers and the like. Without a doubt Mike, he's as talented a player as there is in the country, he's fun to watch, he's got a great stick, he's got great creativity, he sees the ice incredibly well and he has an elusiveness to him that's uncanny when he's on the ice and in the offensive zone. Obviously he's having a great senior season and hopefully will continue that. I don't see any reason why he won't.

Lowry: Long time UNH fans will remember that you played on a line with Jason Krog and Darren Haydar. Krog won the Hobey Baker Award in the 1998-99 season and then Haydar made the Hobey Hat Trick in the 2001-02 season. Could you compare Tyler's skill set to Krog's and to Haydar's since you played with both of them? Is Tyler different in important ways from those two players?

Souza: That's a very tough comparison to make. Jason was a centerman who was really good at face offs and he played down low a lot. Jason was just a special player - he obviously helped catapult our team that year to the national finals. He played in a couple hundred NHL games and played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Darren is similar in stature but a little bigger than Tyler. He had uncanny knack to score goals in and around the net and he continued that in pro hockey. I marvel at his pro hockey statistics (AHL All-Time leader in playoff goals, assists, and points). They're absolutely unbelievable in the American Hockey League.

I think that Tyler has some similar traits, but you are talking about two incredibly unique players that have come through Durham. And two guys that I am obviously bias towards for obvious reasons. I speak very highly of them whenever I have the opportunity. But I'll tell you what, Tyler is a special player, and in today's game, its hard to score goals in college hockey and its hard to get points. He's found a way to do that throughout his career at UNH and hopefully he continues it and becomes an All American. We'll see how the rest of his history is written at UNH over the next couple of months. When people think of this generation of players, he'll be one of the first players that comes to mind, without a doubt.

The Freshman Class

Lowry: Another thing we talked about last July was your sense of the Freshman class. You said you liked our Freshman coming in and you thought that the Freshman "have a nice balance of speed, skill and size and grit and all those things that can help make us a formidable team this year in our league". So halfway through the season, what's your assessment of the freshmen and how they've performed so far

Souza: We've been nothing but happy with the entire freshman group to be honest with you. You have seen all of our games, I think there's no question that they've been regular contributors in all areas, whether it's on the power play, the penalty kill, and our defense. We couldn't be happier with them to be honest with you. And I made that comment to you over the summer - when you bring players in there is always the uncertainty. But I think these guys to date have lived up to what we thought they would do. They've even exceeded what we expected. We have been more than pleased with the freshman.

Lowry: Would you be comfortable singling any of them out in terms of those who have exceeded your expectations, or have done particularly well?

Souza: There's no doubt that we expected Patrick Grasso to be a contributor for us. I don't know if we expected him to have as hot a first half as he's had. He has set the bar pretty high for himself here! But honestly Mike, all joking aside, we couldn't be happier with that group. We really couldn't. I think they've all contributed in their own way and they have done everything we have asked of them. So, I think the future bodes well for our group here at UNH and especially for that class.

Web Site Hit Counter

Firefox 2