Sunday, February 24, 2013

UNH Grabs 3 Points at Vermont

UNH Ties UVM (Photo: Mike Lowry)

BURLINGTON, VT - Both the University of New Hampshire (Overall: 17-8-5; Hockey East: 12-7-4) and the Univesity of Vermont (Overall: 10-15-5; Hockey East: 7-11-5) entered the weekend series at the Gutterson Fieldhouse jockeying for playoff position. UNH needs to keep up with the other top 6 teams in Hockey East in the battle for the League Championship and home ice in the HE Quarterfinals. UVM is scrambling to qualify for the tournament.

With a convincing 4-3 win on Friday night and a hold-on-for-dear-life tie on Saturday afternoon, UNH earned 3 points and is currently tied for 1st place in Hockey East with Boston College and Providence. Each have 28 points and BC has played one less game. Close behind are Merrimack (27 points), UMass Lowell (26) and Boston University (24). They have played 1 less game than UNH and PC. The one point earned by UVM (19 points) on Saturday placed them in 7th place, two points ahead of Massachusetts (17).

In both games, Vermont tried to overpower and intimidate the Wildcats with a mix of legitimate body checks, cheap shots to the head, and chippy shots after the whistle. On Friday night, the stategy was ineffective as UNH played with speed and energy but on Saturday, UNH was back on its heels in the first period and unable to break free from a smothering UVM defense during much of the game.

After playing BU next weekend in Boston, UVM finishes the regular season with a pair at home against Boston College. If the Catamounts play like they did on Saturday against UNH, a sweep by either BU or BC will be hard to come by. Meanwhile, UNH has two home games against UMass Amherst next weekend and two "White Out the Whitt" games against Maine on March 8th and 9th. If UNH plays like they did in the 4-4 tie with BC last Sunday and the 4-3 win over UVM, then they should earn home ice in the playoff quarterfinals and have a legitimate shot at winning the Hockey East regular season.

Between The Lines

The Forward Lines & Defensive Pairings
Starting Lineup: Dan Correale (LW) - Grayson Downing (C) - Austin Block (RW); Brett Kostolansky (LD)- Connor Hardowa (RD); Casey DeSmith (Goalie)

Forward Lines: Thrush-Goumas-Willows; Speelman-Camper-Henrion; Gaudreault-Pavelski-Kyle Smith; Defensive Pairings: Knodel-Pesce; Agosta-Trevor van Riemsdyk.

~ In the midweek press conference, UNH's leading scorer Kevin Goumas talked about his lack of scoring in the 4 previous games. Coach Umile identified the need to increase Goumas' "touches" - the number of times he is carrying the puck during his shifts.

In what turned out to be a very effective line combination, sophomore Casey Thrush replaced Nick Sorkin on Goumas' left wing and sophomore Matt Willows took John Henrion's spot on right wing.

The Thrush-Goumas-Willows line clicked because it matched up the wingers' strengths with Goumas' ablities. Both Thrush and Willows are effective at winning battles for the puck in the corners and along the boards. Their primary role was to get the puck to Goumas and let him free wheel in the offensive end.

When opposing players are chasing Goumas around, it leaves one or more UNH players open in the zone. Both Thrush and Willows benefited from this dynamic on Friday night as each registered 3 shots on goal, Willows scored the game-winning goal, and Goumas picked up 2 assists.

Kevin Goumas missed much of the 2nd period on Saturday with a laceration above his eye that required stitches. Still, the line managed 5 shots on goal during the game.

~ The creation of the Thrush-Goumas-Willows line may also increase the scoring potential of UNH's third forward line with the high-scoring John Henrion (9 goals, 9 assists) on the right wing with Camper at center and Speelman on left-wing. Speelman scored UNH's 2nd goal on Friday with the primary assist going to Henrion.

~ Friday night was the NCAA debut for freshman right winger Kyle Smith. Smith played on the 4th line in both UVM games with Scott Pavelski at center and freshman Maxim Gaudreault on left wing.

Although Smith did not post any points or shots on goal, he didn't make mistakes and made a couple of nice defensive plays.

Report Card

In a previous post called "Is UNH Ready for the Stretch Run?", I looked at how UNH had performed in several key areas as it was about to embark on the final 7 games of the regular season. For what it's worth, here's how I thought they did in these areas in the two, weekend games against Vermont.

Intensity and Effort

Friday 4-3 Win: A
Over the first two periods, UNH outshot UVM 18-4. Despite UVM's physical play, UNH was hustling for loose pucks and able to gain separation with their speed.

Saturday 1-1 Tie: C-
As Trevor van Riemsdyk acknowledged in a post-game interview, the Wildcats came out of the gate noticeably slower on Saturday. Conversely, UVM were determined to knock UNH off its stride with physical play. UVM succeeded and UNH made many fewer attempts to play the body.

UVM played a unique style of 1-on-1 defensive coverage in their own zone. Whenever, UNH entered their end, each Catamount found a UNH attacker and stuck with him. This strategy largely prevented UNH from cycling in the corners or making more than one pass in succession.

Ordinarily, you'd expect UNH to use its speed and stick-handling to break away from this tight coverage but that didn't happen.

Team Defense

Friday's Win: B
On UVM's break through center ice on their first goal, two UNH forwards went after the puck carrier in the neutral zone allowing HT Lenz to enter the UNH zone uncovered. Lenz one-timed a cross-ice pass and beat Casey DeSmith.

Saturday's Tie: C
For the most part, the UNH defensemen effectively picked up the first couple of UVM players to enter the UNH zone. Late in the third period, Brett Kostolansky did an outstanding job preventing an attacker from getting around him, then poked the puck away. However, the UNH forwards were not as effective in getting back to cover the 3rd or 4th UVM attacker as they had been the night before or in the BC game last Sunday.

Penalty Kill

Friday's Win: A
UVM had three power plays and UNH did not allow a single shot on Casey DeSmith. UNH executed the diamond penalty kill well, stopping rushes at the blue line, aggressively attacking the puck carrier along the half-wall, and blocking shots.

Saturday's Tie: B-
Vermont only had one power play but they fired 3 shots on DeSmith. One was a routine save but the other two were testers.

UVM entered the UNH zone three times without being stopped at the blue line - the first point of defense in the diamond penalty kill.

UNH tried to be aggressive on the puck but were a bit slower than the night before. On the plus side, Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky blocked a few shots.

Goal Scoring

Trevor van Riemsdyk Power Play Goal (CBS Sports)
Friday's Win: A
For the second game in a row, UNH scored 4 goals. They also scored 4 last Sunday against BC.

As I indicated in the Stretch Run article, in order for UNH to succeed, sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk needs to be a major contributor to the offense. He has certainly stepped up over the last 4 games.

TvR had an assist in the BC game and 3 assists in the 4-3 win over UVM. He assisted on Matt Willows game-winning goal.

Once again, senior Austin Block came up big scoring 2 goals against UVM. Block is now tied for 4th in goal scoring in Hockey East.

The work of the new Thrush-Goumas-Willow line paid off early in the third period on Friday. On a UNH power play, Goumas carried the puck along the boards and behind the UVM net. He passed out to TvR on the point to the right of UVM goalie Brody Hoffman. TvR tapped a one-time pass right on the tape of Matt Willows' stick.

Willows had gained position just to the right of Hoffman while Thrush was positioned on the opposite side of the crease. Willows made a nifty spin move and beat Hoffman with a backhander between his legs.

Saturday's Tie: D+
Trevor van Riemsdyk scored UNH's only goal on a power play. His shot bounced between a defender's legs and slipped past Hoffman. The only other bright spot was Connor Hardowa hitting the post shortly after TvR's goal in the second period.

UNH was mostly unable to break free from UVM's tight man-to-man coverage in the Vermont end.

UNH only managed 2 shots on goal in the 1st period and 19 during regulation.

Power Play

Friday's Win: B+
UNH scored three power play goals in 8 opportunities. UVM made a number of stupid penalties - including the vicious hit against Jay Camper from behind which sent his head smashing into the glass - and UNH made them pay on the scoreboard.

TvR and Eric Knodel were given substantial minutes on the power play and they effectively orchestrated the umbrella setup with TvR at the middle of the blueline, Knodel to his left and Grayson Downing to his right.

UNH moved the puck smartly and had little trouble keeping it in the UVM zone.

Saturday's Tie: D+
Aside from TvR's power play goal, UNH was totally ineffective with the man-advantage.

During their 3 other power plays, UNH had zero shots on goal.


Casey DeSmith Game Saver (CBS Sports)
Friday's Win: C
Casey DeSmith faced only 4 shots in the first two periods. The first UVM goal came on a 2-on-1 break. DeSmith made the initial save but the rebound was cleaned up by Lenz who was wide open in the slot.

On the 2nd goal, UVM broke into the zone on a 3-on-1. Nick Bruneteau carried the puck to the faceoff circle to DeSmith's right. Bruneteau decided to go at DeSmith 1-on-1 rather than pass to his open linemates.

Bruneteau faked a shot, DeSmith when down to his knees, and Bruneteau beat him over his shoulder.

Jonathan Turk scored the third UVM goal on a wrist shot from the top of the slot. Justin Agosta may have partially screened DeSmith's view of the shot. It beat DeSmith over his glove. Most of the time, DeSmith snaps his glove up and snags those type of shots.

Saturday's Tie: A
The picture to the right shows Casey DeSmith's amazing save 5 minutes into the 3rd period. With the game tied, it was a game-saver.

DeSmith bounced back from an average performance on Friday night with energy and quickness. He made 30 saves and was clearly the #1 Star of the Game.

To succeed in the playoffs, UNH will need Casey DeSmith to play the way he played on Saturday. It's the way he's played in most every game this season.


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