UNH Digs Early Season Hole - Loses to RPI
|13th Ranked UNH Loses to #12 RPI 2-4|
TROY, NY - A mere 38 seconds after the opening faceoff last night at RPI's Houston Field House, UNH began digging a hole - actually two holes. The first ditch was giving up 4 unanswered goals over the first 23 minutes of the game. The second, and more troublesome pit, is a lackluster record in nonconference games, but more about that later.
Although UNH won the initial faceoff and registered the first shot on goal of the night, RPI quickly counterattacked. Senior goalie Jeff Wyer made an initial save on a shot from RPI's Matt Tinordi, but the rebound went out to the faceoff circle to an uncovered Johnny Rogic. He snapped the puck over Wyer's shoulder into the top corner.
Last season, UNH rose to the rank of #1 in the country by December on the strength of smothering team defense and great goaltending. The defensive core, lead by seniors Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky, were adept at covering players in the scoring zone in front of the net and minimizing followup shots on goal. Last night, UNH struggled in this aspect of the game.
Midway through the first period, with RPI leading UNH in shots on goal 8-4, Zach Schroeder and Jake Wood entered the UNH zone on a 2-on-2 break against senior captain Eric Knodel and sophomore Brett Pesce. Knodel was positioned to cover the puck carrier Schroeder rushing down the right wing. Pesce left his position and skated diagonally to challenge Schroeder, which gave Wood an opening down the left wing. Schroeder made a tape-to-tape pass to Wood in full stride and Wood beat Wyer over his glove.
RPI outshot UNH by a 3-to-1 margin (14-5) in the first stanza. UNH had difficulty carrying the puck into the RPI zone as the Engineers played a soft forecheck in the neutral zone and concentrated on attacking the puck along their own blueline. This defensive strategy is similar to the one executed with great success by Providence College in the Hockey East quarterfinals last season. It inhibits UNH's quick transition game and forces the Wildcats to dump the puck into the opponent's zone and give chase.
Less than a minute into the second period, UNH almost got back into the game as junior Grayson Downing tipped a shot by senior Kevin Goumas, clanging the post. Downing's frustration must be building as he has hit several posts over the first few games and has yet to register his first goal of the season.
RPI's third goal came a couple minutes later as Mike Zalewski eluded UNH defenders behind the UNH goal and fed Milos Bubela at the top of the crease. Senior center Jeff Silengo was effective at tying Bubela up after his quick shot on goal but the rebound went to an open Matt Neal to Wyer's right.
Less than a minute later at the 17:00 mark, Knodel broke his stick as RPI was pressuring UNH in their own end. Shortly after, Knodel was penalized for roughing. The frustration must have been building in the typically calm UNH captain as RPI was ahead 3-0 and outshooting UNH 16-7. 30 seconds into the power play, RPI made UNH pay again as junior Ryan Haggerty - one of nation's leading goal scorers with 6 goals - cleaned up another rebound off Wyer's initial save.
UNH began to gain some momentum shortly after RPI's 4th goal. Junior Casey DeSmith replaced Jeff Wyer and made a couple big saves with just over 15 minutes left in the second period. The offense was sparked by an outstanding shift by the all-sophomore, 4th line of Collin MacDonald-Kyle Smith-Jamie Hill. They brought high energy to the forecheck, kept the puck in the RPI zone, and fired at least 3 shots at RPI goalie Scott Diebold.
UNH got on the board at 10:03 of the 2nd when senior center Jeff Silengo tipped an Eric Knodel wrist shot from the left point. Seconds later, Kevin Goumas rushed into the slot and drew an interference penalty. On the power play, senior Dalton Speelman made a nice, cross-ice pass to senior defenseman Justin Agosta who hit the post on a one-timer. As the remaining seconds of the power play ticked away, Dalton Speelman and Nick Sorkin set up Matt Willows for his 2nd goal of the season.
UNH dominated the third period outshooting RPI 11-1 and had several quality scoring bids including: ~ Slap shot by sophomore Harry Quast 4 minutes into the period. ~ Slap shot by Trevor van Riemsdyk at 11:26 ~ Shot by Dalton Speelman off a pretty feed from Tyler Kelleher at 10:22 ~ Shot by Matt Willows on the doorstep at 3:27 on a powerplay ~ Another Dalton Speelman shot in close at 2:55 RPI goalie Scott Diebold, who bobbled a few shots early in the game, came up big in the final stanza.
And about that other hole that UNH has dug. They began the season with one of the toughest out-of-conference schedules in Division 1 hockey. After playing 5 games against Clarkson (current record: 6-1-1), Minnesota (4-0-1), Michigan twice (4-1-1) and RPI (4-1-0), UNH has only managed a win against Clarkson and a tie with Michigan. Last season, UNH's early season success against St. Cloud State (2 wins), Colorado College (tie), and Denver (win) was a key to earning an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
UNH will have additional opportunities for nonconference wins, later this season, against Colorado College (2 games), Nebraska-Omaha (2 games), Union College (2 games), and against Ivy-Leaguers Brown, Harvard, and Dartmouth (1 game each). However, they are now in a position where they must achieve an exceptional record in Hockey East play in order secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
With only 11 goals in 5 games so far this season, UNH has the lowest goals-per-game average of any Hockey East team. Look for the UNH coaching staff to juggle the forward lines in the near future. In the third period last night, Kevin Goumas and Dalton Speelman swapped places for a couple of shifts. Also, with Casey DeSmith pulled over the final 1:41, Matt Willows was on the ice with the first line of Goumas-Downing-Kelleher. Kelleher and Willows make for an intriguing combination.
Defensively, look for sophomore Harry Quast to play a regular shift in future games. So far, UNH has gone with a 5-defensemen rotation - veterans Knodel, Agosta, TvR and Pesce plus freshman Matias Cleland - for large portions of these early season games. That's in sharp contrast with last season when the 3 defensive pairs played together regularly and UNH was one of the stingiest teams in the nation. Quast played with increasing confidence and poise as the game progressed last night against RPI (2 SOG, +0 +/- rating) and last Saturday against Michigan (1 SOG, +0).
Finally, it will be interesting to see if the platooning of Jeff Wyer and Casey DeSmith will continue. 4 goals got past Wyer last night but that was, in part, due to UNH's failure to cover players around the net. DeSmith looked sharp in relief saving all 9 shots he faced. DeSmith's stats (2.05 GAA, .914 Save%) are now slightly better than Wyer's (2.42 GAA, .923 Save%).