Friday, October 21, 2011

Did UNH Find Their Game in St. Cloud?

If UNH manages to salvage their season in the months ahead and makes it to their 14th NCAA Tournament in the last 15 years, they may look back on the third period of tonight's game at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota as the turning point. Heading into the third period, UNH was losing decisively 5-2. After an even first period, which ended 2-2, the UNH defense and Matt DiGirolamo were overmatched in the second period. St. Cloud outshot UNH 14 to 7 and controlled the game. Other than Damon Kipp, the UNH defensemen did not play well in their own zone. Mistakes including bad clearing passes off the boards, not blocking shots in front of DiGirolamo, and not covering SCSU players in the slot cost the team. So far this season, DiGirolamo has not resembled the outstanding goalie he was last season. The second period tonight may have been his worse so far this season. He made 14 saves but allowed three goals. One wonders whether the absence of former UNH goalie coach David Lassonde has effected DiGirolamo's consistency.

The UNH turnaround began to glimmer at the beginning of the third period. Rookie UNH goalie Jeff Wyer - a sophomore who saw no game action last season - replaced DiGirolamo. The teams were 4-on-4 for a few seconds then UNH went on the powerplay. With only 2 seconds left on the man advantage, John Henrion ripped a shot that beat SCSU goalie Mike Lee. UNH 3, SCSU 5. The momentum didn't turn in UNH's favor right away. At 5:32, Brett Kostolansky was called for cross-checking; the 5th UNH penalty of the game. SCSU converted on the powerplay when a UNH defenseman failed to block a shot and effectively screened Jeff Wyer. That's when UNH started to show the style of hockey that carried them to the final 8 of the NCAA tournament last spring.

Jeff Wyer made a number of outstanding saves over the middle portion of the third period to keep the score 6-3. With a little more than 7 minutes remaining, the newly constituted first line of Nick Sorkin at center, freshman Grayson Downing at left wing, and Stevie Moses at right wing tenaciously forechecked, keeping the puck in the SCSU zone for their whole shift. Sorkin forced a turnover and fed Moses for the 4th UNH goal. That was when the SCSU TV announcer exclaimed "UNH is fighting back!"

The Casey Thrush-Scott Pavelski-Austin Block line had an effective forechecking shift and Pavelski fed Thrush for a nice shot on goal at the 6:21 mark. Thrush persisted at trying to poke the puck free from the SCSU goaltender and was roughed up after the whistle. Matching penalties were called. During the ensuing play, Stevie Moses got off a terrific backhand on goal. Then Trevor van Riemsdyk got behind the SCSU net and fed Moses for a point blank shot on goal. Though the score remained 6-4, UNH was controlling the play with forechecking and the defensemen pinching in on the blue line to keep the puck in the SCSU zone.

With about 4 minutes to play, rookie defenseman Eric Knodel (another sophomore who did not play last season) made a nice play keeping the puck in the zone then senior co-captain Damon Kipp brought the puck into the high slot and scored on a pinpoint wrist shot. UNH had scored 2 goals in less than four minutes and was only behind by one. On the ensuing faceoff, SCSU carried the puck into the UNH zone and Jeff Wyer kept the Wildcats' hope alive by making an outstanding blocker save. UNH maintained the pressure then pulled Jeff Wyer with less than a minute to play and SCSU iced the game with an empty net goal.

There are positives to build on after this game. The juggling of all four forward lines helped. Having Greg Burke play center between Henrion and Dalton Speelman was effective. Burke appeared to win the majority of his faceoffs and the line generated 5 shots on goal. Freshman Grayson Downing played with poise on the first line and had two assists. Downing-Sorkin-Moses passed the puck well and produced 13 shots on goal. Freshman Casey Thrush along with linemates Pavelski and Block were each +2 in the +/- column. And finally, goalie Jeff Wyer showed that he can play well enough to perhaps take some of the pressure off Matt DiGirolamo.

Four winless games to start the 2011-12 season. A stark reality. Did UNH begin to turn it around tonight in St. Cloud? Stay tuned.


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