Monday, February 03, 2014

UNH Standouts in Weekend Sweep of Notre Dame

Casey DeSmith's 70 Saves
Anchor Sweep of Fighting Irish

Much was at stake and the obstacles were daunting. The UNH Wildcats were battling to keep their chances of earning home-ice in the quarterfinal round of the upcoming Hockey East Tournament, and qualifying for the 2014 NCAA Tournament, alive. 14th-ranked Notre Dame was coming to town for back-to-back games at the Whittemore Center. The hometown team would be without the services of All-American defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (broken left ankle), 2nd-line center Grayson Downing (sprained shoulder), and 3rd-line center Kyle Smith (concussion).

The outcome could not have been better. UNH overcame a slow start on Friday night to defeat Notre Dame 4-2 and convincingly beat them 5-2 on Saturday night. The entire team rose to the occasion.
"All weekend, the guys worked their butts off, blocking every shot, winning every battle in the corner. Every line, every D-pair, everyone who was out there. If your number got called, they were going to work their butts off for the team. If was a great effort for us."
Captain Eric Knodel
When every player steps up to achieve victory, it's awkward to single out individual player performances. Nonetheless, in each game, individual UNH players made outstanding plays at key junctures. These are the performances I believe merit a second look.

Friday, Jan. 31st: UNH 4, Notre Dame 2

Junior Goalie Casey DeSmith

During the broadcast on Saturday, former BU star and current NESN color commentator Colby Cohen described Casey DeSmith as an averaged-height goalie who plays big in the net. In the first game of the weekend series, with Notre Dame badly outshooting UNH 34-22, DeSmith kept UNH in the hunt with routine and spectacular saves. His glove work, in particular, frustrated the Fighting Irish. Here's a sampling:

Sophomore Defenseman Brett Pesce

As a freshman last season, the play of 6'3", 175 lbs. Pesce garnered the attention of NHL scouts and he was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round of the NHL Draft last June. He's been described as a "stay-at-home" and "shutdown" defenseman. His ability to stop the offensive efforts of opponents, particularly with his stickwork, is remarkable. However, his offensive upside has been somewhat overshadowed by the play of Hobey Baker Candidate Trevor van Riemsdyk. In TvR's absence, Pesce's abilities to rush the puck up ice, distribute it in the offensive zone, and fire shots on net have become more obvious.

In these highlights, Pesce plays the umbrella position on the UNH power play and scores a PP goal, disrupts the Notre Dame power play, and almost single-handedly stymies ND in the UNH zone:

Senior Forward Kevin Goumas

By the end of the weekend games against Notre Dame, Goumas was UNH's leading scorer with 12 goals, 23 assists, and 35 points. He is the 5th leading scorer in Hockey East. In the first period of the Notre Dame game, UNH only registered 2 shots on goal and Goumas fired one of them. These highlights show this sequence as well as Goumas scoring the game-winner in the third period, and feeding Jeff Silengo for the empty net goal.

Saturday, Feb. 1st: UNH 5, Notre Dame 2

Junior Forward Matt Willows

To say that Willows is having a breakout season as a junior would be an understatement. To date, he has scored 13 goals and 12 assists. Remarkably, 4 of his goals have been game-winners including the one in Saturday's game against Notre Dame. He is now tied for 7th in Hockey East scoring. Among the following highlights is the short-handed goal Willows scored late in the 2nd period. It epitomizes a highlight reel goal.

Senior Defenseman Eric Knodel

With TvR out of the lineup, Captain Knodel has stepped his game up a notch both offensively and defensively. His 23 points make him the top-scoring defenseman on the Wildcat roster. The first clip in these highlights shows Knodel carrying the puck end-to-end and making an accurate centering pass to the front of the Notre Dame net. The rest of the clips show Knodel at his defensive best.

Freshman Forward Tyler Kelleher

With Downing and Smith injured, Coach Umile juggled his forward lines and as the weekend progressed, they started to gel. A hallmark of UNH hockey is the transition game where they stop an opponent's progress in their own end and quickly advance the puck up ice for odd-man rushes. Tyler Kelleher showcased his ability to play transition hockey in the following highlights - including his pretty setup of Maxim Gaudreault's goal midway through the first period. There is also a clip of Kelleher effectively back-checking to stop a Notre Dame play.

Junior Goalie Casey DeSmith

It is only fitting that I bookend this post with highlights of DeSmith's outstanding goaltending on Saturday night. His agility and positioning held Notre Dame to just 2 goals in both games.


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