Sunday, January 29, 2012

UNH Plays 7th-Ranked BC Even; Comes Up Empty

DURHAM, NH - The results on the scorecard are stark. Two weekend home-and-home series; One against 6th-Ranked Merrimack College, another against 7th-Ranked Boston College. One win, three losses. A gain of only 2 points in the Hockey East standings and still fighting for the final playoff spot. For UNH fans accustomed to watching their team battle for the Hockey East regular season title every year since before the turn of the century, this is unsettling.

But look closer and there's a UNH hockey team that's playing its best hockey of the season when their backs are against the wall. Yes, they lost a home game to Merrimack and two games to BC but each loss was by a single goal. Two of the losing goals came in overtime - including tonight's nerve-wracking 3-2 loss to BC. The other came with just 55 seconds left in regulation Friday night in Chestnut Hill.

Tonight, UNH played BC essentially even. UNH had 33 shots on goal and BC had 37. UNH made few mistakes but two were costly. Just minutes into the first period, BC forward Barry Almeida was left unattended near the goal line and snapped a one-timer past Freshman goalie Casey DeSmith. The other miscue came 2 minutes and 43 seconds into the overtime period when Kevin Goumas was called for hooking as he tried to disrupt BC's breakout of their zone. It's debatable whether the infraction was blatant enough to be called in overtime. UNH managed to kill off over a minute of BC's powerplay but Almeida tipped in his second goal of the night for the game-winner.

Technically, UNH is on a three-game losing streak as it prepares to play two of the teams immediately in front of them in the Hockey East standings - home-and-home with Providence College next weekend and a home game against Northeastern in two weeks. However, unlike the midseason stretch in which UNH lost 7 out of 8 games, there have been several noticable improvements in UNH's team play and the performance of individual players:

~ For most of tonight's game against BC, UNH was able to execute the tight-checking defensive play evident last weekend against Merrimack. Defensemen and forwards blocked numerous shots and passes with their sticks.

~ Several forwards including freshman Matt Willows, Jeff Silengo, Greg Burke and Kevin Goumas were very effective in covering BC forwards trying to maneuver with the puck behind Casey DeSmith and the UNH net.

~ Freshman Casey DeSmith is doing what a long line of outstanding UNH goalies have done over the last decade. He's making the routine saves plus timely outstanding saves and giving his teammates the opportunity to win every night.

~ In the two games against BC, freshman defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk reasserted himself into UNH's offense. In the Friday game, TvR had two assists. Tonight, he carried the puck into the offensive zone several times and skated in deep to make plays. During one sequence midway through the third period, TvR carried the puck out of the UNH zone, through center ice and into the BC zone, fired a shot, then chased a BC forward all the way back into the UNH zone and poke-checked the puck away as the forward was about to shoot on DeSmith. TvR also made some outstanding defensive plays in the UNH zone. In the first period, the speedy John Gaudreau tried to break free of TvR by skating with the puck from one circle to other. Not only did TvR keep up with him, he stole the puck and Gaudreau grabbed him and was called for a holding penalty.

~ More balanced scoring: Before this weekend,, Stevie Moses had been scoring the bulk of the UNH goals. Moses is the leading goal-scorer in Hockey East with 18 goals so far this season. However, UNH generated more balanced scoring against Boston College with goals by forwards Austin Block, Scott Pavelski, and Mike Borisenok and defenseman Brett Kostolansky.

~ Freshman forward Matt Willows is playing with more confidence and with an edge. He is tenacious in pursuit of opposing puck carriers and often finishes with a body check.

~ At the start of the season, UNH's second line was Grayson Downing on left wing, Greg Burke at center, and John Henrion on right wing. This line was reunited against BC. While they did not generate any shots on goal Friday night, they had 9 SOG on Saturday night. Having the skillful Downing and Burke on the same line as Henrion seems to bring out his passing ability and improves the quality of his shot selection.

~ On Friday night, New York Rangers draft pick Chris Kreider showed an amazing burst of speed to get past Brett Kostolansky and score. Kostolansky redeemed himself tonight by scoring a nice, backdoor goal on the power play in the first period. Of late, Kostolansky has been getting chunks of power play time paired with Connor Hardowa. UNH has been trying to generate faster passes and quicker puck movement on the power play and this plays to Kostolansky's strength.

Although UNH's hope of earning home ice in the Hockey East quarterfinals is fading, they have shown they can be competitive against the top teams in Hockey East. The immediate objective is to make it into the quarterfinals and then do some damage.



The freshmen are taking over!

DeSmith, Downing, van Riemsdyk, Thrush...

And I think Willows would be up there with Thrush if he got the ice time.

Considering the struggles of the team this year, and a flat run of bum luck, this freshman class is one of the most impressive in many years.

That said, the seniors are clearly showing that the season isn't over yet with some impressive playing of their own.

I'm hoping for a strong finish and surprise run with an at large bid to the NCAAs!

Go 'Cats!

Feb 1, 2012, 11:20:00 AM  

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