DURHAM, NH - The Sunday matinee between the U.S. National Team Development Program (NTDP) U-18 team and the top-ranked UNH Wildcats was billed as an "exhibition" game. What emerged was an entertaining, competitive battle with UNH controlling large portions of the first two periods and Team USA gaining confidence in the third period and in overtime.
Bolstered by a 3-1 victory over Merrimack College
on Saturday afternoon, the top 17-year-old, American-born players were pumped for the opportunity to play the #1 college team. Though overmatched in the early stages, the NTDP U-18 players were skating full speed and initiating the majority of hits. With outstanding goaltending from Thatcher Demko
and two quick goals midway through the third period by Anthony Louis
and Tyler Motte
, Team USA earned a 2-2 tie. Getting up for big games against top-ranked NCAA teams has become a habit. In mid-October, the U.S. Nationals played perennial powerhouse Minnesota. At the time, Minnesota had just moved down a notch from #1 to #2 in the national rankings. Team USA tied the Gophers 2-2
in that game as well.
Between The Lines
The Forward Lines & Defensive Pairings
~ Starting Lineup: Maxim Gaudreault (LW) - Kevin Goumas (C) - John Henrion (RW); Eric Knodel (LD)- Connor Hardowa (RD); Jeff Wyer (Goalie)
~ Forward Lines: Speelman-Downing-Block; Thrush-Sorkin-Correale; MacDonald-Pavelski-Smith; Defensive Pairings: Quast-van Riemsdyk; Kostolansky-Pesce.
~ Coach Umile tried some new combinations. New top line centered by junior Goumas, freshman Gaudreault at left wing and senior Henrion at right wing.
~ Only forward line kept in tact was Speelman-Downing-Block, but dropped to 2nd line.
~ Freshman forward Kyle Smith played in his first UNH game. Fellow freshman Harry Quast (D) played in his second game of the season.
~ Junior forward Jeff Silengo and second-year defenseman Justin Agosta were out of the lineup.
~ Junior Jeff Wyer got his first start in goal. In his last outing, Wyer replaced Casey DeSmith in the Denver game and earned the win.
The UNH Recruits
As noted in the preview for Sunday's game
, two UNH recruits got the rare opportunity to play against their future college team. 2013 recruit Tyler Kelleher
and 2014 recruit Shane Eiserman
eagerly anticipated playing against UNH at the Whittemore Center.
Kelleher (DOB: 1/2/1995), a 5'6", 164 lbs, right-shot center, entered the game as the leading goal scorer and point-getter for the U-18 NTDP. In 25 games, Kelleher had scored 13 goals and added 12 assists. In the 3-1 victory over Merrimack on Saturday, Kelleher scored the first goal of the game and assisted on the second, which turned out to be the game-winner.
Kelleher centered Team USA's second line which lead to an interesting matchup with Grayson Downing, a highly-skilled center whose line typically starts for UNH. On the first shift of the afternoon, Downing delivered a stout body check to Kelleher into the boards behind UNH goalie Jeff Wyer. With about 5 minutes left in the first period, Kelleher wheeled with the puck out of the corner to the right of his goalie gaining a step on Downing. In a few strides, Downing caught up and bumped Kelleher off the puck. On his first shift of the second period, Kelleher gathered the puck just outside his blueline, carried it through the neutral zone, rushed deep into the UNH end, and fired a wrist shot forcing Jeff Wyer to make a nice save.
Though faceoff statistics are not available, Kelleher won several more faceoffs than he lost throughout the game. On most of the U.S. National's five power play opportunities, USA coach Don Granato sent Kelleher out on their first unit. Early in the second period with Nick Sorkin in the penalty box, Kelleher won a faceoff and subsequently made a nifty spin move in traffic between the faceoff circles but was checked off the puck. In the waning minutes of the period, Austin Block was penalized for cross-checking. Again, Kelleher won the faceoff at the start of the power play. He then almost created Team USA's only opportunity for a shot on goal by making a nice centering pass but his teammate could not catch up with it. Just over a minute into the final period, Brett Pesce was called for interference. Kelleher won the initial faceoff on the power play against Downing.
Overall, Tyler Kelleher was one of the best passers and play-makers on the U-18 NTDP squad. He was fast and quick, created room with the puck in tight spaces, and dished out some accurate passes. UNH fans won't have to wait too long to see Kelleher in a UNH uniform. A few weeks ago, he signed a National Letter of Intent to enroll at UNH next fall.
At 6'2" and 190 lbs., Shane Eiserman (DOB: 10/10/1995) - a left-shot, left winger - is a prototypical power forward. As the third-youngest player on the team, Eiserman has posted some impressive numbers
. In 23 games, he has scored 7 goals and added 4 assists. In his very first regular season game with Team USA, an 8-1 victory over the Youngstown Phantoms (USHL), Eiserman scored 2 goals, including the game winner
, and added an assist. So far this season, 2 of his goals have been short-handed.
In the UNH game, Eiserman played left wing on the fourth line with Dawson Cook at center and Kevin Labanc on right wing. Though their line saw somewhat limited minutes, they generated 3 shots on goal. Eiserman is a strong skater who is difficult to bump off the puck. In the offensive zone, Eiserman firmly establishes his position in prime scoring zones.
Unlike most of his teammates who are seniors in high school, Shane Eiserman is a junior. Eiserman is on target to enroll at UNH in the Fall of 2014. He has committed to play at UNH once he finishes high school. Eiserman plans to play in the United States Hockey League next season during his senior year
. He will be eligible for the NHL Entry Draft in June, 2014. There is already buzz in the scouting community about the possibility of Eiserman being drafted in one of the top rounds.
With 9 players at 6 feet, 185 lbs. or more, Team USA established their physical game early on. Overall, they threw substantially more body checks throughout the game. With a few notable exceptions, UNH seemed content to skate and pass rather than mix it up in the corners and along the boards.
UNH's speed and skill allowed them to maintain territorial advantage for most of the first period. Midway in the period, junior Nick Sorkin carried the puck around the top of the faceoff circle to the right of USA goalie Thatcher Demko and through the slot. Sorkin fired a close in shot which Demko saved but left as a rebound. Sophomore Casey Thrush
was parked just to the right of Demko and banged the rebound home. UNH 1, Team USA 0.
So far this season in Hockey East action, UNH has only allowed one goal in 39 penalty kill situations - the best in the conference. Their dominance on the penalty kill was evident throughout the game. After freshman Dan Correale was called for interference just two minutes into the game, UNH killed the penalty without allowing a shot on goal.
Shots on Goal: UNH 13, U.S. NTDP 8.
The Under-18 Nationals maintained their aggressive play and it started to get under UNH's skin. About 5 minutes into the period, Nick Sorkin made a nice rush toward the net but was knocked off the puck with a heavy hit. Soon after, Sorkin retaliated with a hooking penalty. Each team posted a shot on goal during the power play.
Midway through the second period, defenseman Trevor Hamilton and senior Austin Block bumped and hit at each other before and after the whistle. Block was aggravated and energized by this exchange and became much more aggressive.
At the 11:10 mark, defenseman Gage Ausmus and John Henrion got into a physical altercation and both were penalized for high-sticking. This set up a 4-on-4 situation. After UNH swept UMass-Lowell two weekends ago, junior Kevin Goumas
commented on how effective he and Grayson Downing had become when they are on the ice together. The 4-on-4 gave them another opportunity to create a scoring opportunity. From the top of the faceoff circle to the right of Demko, Downing zipped a pass to Goumas just to the left of Demko. Goumas was in too tight for a shot so he skated away from the crease and lifted a backhand shot high into the net. At that juncture, UNH was in total command of the game leading 2-0 and outshooting Team USA 21-12.
Team USA responded by stepping up the pace and the physicality. 6'4", 210 lbs. freshman defenseman Harry Quast was creamed along the half-wall. With 2 minutes remaining, Austin Block channeled his frustration with the physical play of Team USA by cross-checking one of their players. Once again, UNH's penalty kill unit shut Team USA down. For nearly a minute, Downing and Goumas skated the puck, passed to one another, and kept the puck away from Team USA. UNH did not allow an SOG.
Over the first two periods, the U-18 team was unable to generate many grade A scoring chances. This was due, in part, to the tendency of individuals attempting to single-handedly create offense on their own. In the third period, Team USA became more effective at passing the puck.
Even so, UNH had control of the game over the first half of the final period. At 1:31, Brett Pesce was called for interference. During the penalty kill, Connor Hardowa blocked a shot headed for Wyer and cleared the puck. With 25 seconds left in the Team USA power play, Michael McCarron was called for roughing. This lead to a 4-on-4 situation. Each team registered two shots on goal. UNH had a brief 5-on-4 advantage but did not generate any shots.
Seconds after the power play ended, UNH had a golden opportunity to put the game out of reach but goalie Thatcher Demko came up big. Grayson Downing and Austin Block broke into the Team USA zone on a 2-on-1 and Downing fed Block just to the side of the crease. Demko made a stellar pad save.
At the 6:20 mark, Team USA left the door wide open for UNH by drawing a two-minute penalty for tripping. First, Connor Hardowa blasted a shot from the point. Demko saved. Next, Trevor van Riemsdyk fired a wrist shot from the top of the faceoff circle that was labeled for an opening just over Demko's blocker. Demko save. Score remained 2-0.
With just over 10 minutes remaining in regulation, the Under-18's were buzzing around the UNH net. Anthony Lewis was allowed to race behind the net and sneak a wrap-around shot to Wyer's left. After a brief video review, the goal stood. UNH 2, Team USA 1.
The last thing UNH wanted to do was allow a team of 17-year-olds to get a big burst of adrenaline but that's what happened. Just 36 seconds after their first goal, the Team USA forwards were again buzzing around the net and Tyler Motte poked home a shot from in close. Game tied 2-2 and the Nationals were celebrating.
About a minute and 1/2 later, it looked like the UNH wheels might fall off. Nick Sorkin was called for tripping. Instead, Trevor van Riemsdyk nearly created a short-handed goal by snaking the puck from his own end through the neutral zone, and into the U-18 end. He then fed Austin Block for a one-timer but Demko made another huge save.
Next, it was Jeff Wyer's turn to make some big saves. At the 14:32 mark, Tyler Motte fired a wrister from the top of the face off circle. Wyer gloved it. With the final seconds ticking away, Team USA crashed the UNH zone on a 3-on-2 break but Wyer made another save. Shots on Goal: UNH 34, Team USA 27. Headed to overtime.
Early in overtime, Team USA turned up the forechecking pressure in the UNH zone and gained a couple shots on goal.
With just over a minute left, Thatcher Demko made another game-saving stop. From the faceoff circle to the right of Demko, Kevin Goumas threaded a pass to John Henrion who was wide open in the low slot. Demko made the save on Henrion's point blank shot.
Both teams posted 3 SOG in overtime but the game ended in a 2-2 tie.
Points of Interest
~ The promenade of the Whittemore Center was loaded with NHL scouts. With at least 10 players on the NTDP U-18 team projected to get drafted in the June 2013 NHL Entry Draft, there was plenty for the scouts to watch. In addition, UNH has a number of talented players, not drafted in June 2012, who are, no doubt, attracting attention. Players such as Trevor van Riemsdyk, Casey DeSmith, and Grayson Downing.
~ Numerous family members and friends of Team USA players were also in attendance. That's where the cheering for the U-18 team came from. Among them were UNH recruit Charlie Kelleher, his father and his cousin - all there to support Tyler in the big game.