Thursday, October 30, 2014

UNH Answering Preseason Questions: Part I

UNH Freshman Adam Clark
4th Best Save Percentage in Hockey East

The UNH squad playing against 8th-ranked UMass Lowell this weekend is dramatically different than the one defeated by Lowell in the Hockey East Championship game last March. Casey DeSmith, one of the top Hockey East goalies the last two seasons, won't be there (suspended indefinitely). The three top scoring defensemen - Eric Knodel (29 points), Trevor van Riemsdyk (23), and Justin Agosta (26) - and the top two forwards - Kevin Goumas (52 points) and Nick Sorkin (40) - have moved on. All of which begged the preseason questions - Are the 2014-15 UNH Wildcats capable of winning the Hockey East Championship and/or qualifying for the NCAA Northeast Regional to be held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, NH next March?

The current group of 10 UNH freshmen players is the largest since the 10 freshmen who came in the 2003-04 academic year. That group included Daniel Winnik, Jacob Micflikier, Matt Fornataro, Brett Hemingway, and Josh Ciocco - players who had very productive NCAA careers. Of the returning upperclassmen, only Matt Willows (18 goals) and Grayson Downing (10) scored double-digit goals last season and only six scored double-digit points - Willows (39 pts), Downing (21), Brett Pesce (21), Tyler Kelleher (16), Dan Correale (11), and Kyle Smith (10). Would the freshmen and upperclassmen fill the large scoring hole left behind by the departing players? Would freshman goalie Adam Clark or the returning Jamie Regan, who has only played briefly in one NCAA game, serve as a capable, starting goalie?

Four games into the 2014-15 season, some potential answers are emerging. Defending NCAA Champion Union College downed UNH 3-1 in the season opener. Union was ranked 5th in the country at the time. The Wildcats won the first game out in Michigan 5-1 and lost the second game 2-1. Michigan was ranked #10 in the national polls. Last Saturday, before a packed Whittemore Center in the home opener, UNH decisively beat Colorado College 6-2. Overall, UNH is tied for 4th in scoring (13 goals, 3.25 goals per game) among Hockey East teams and 2nd in goals allowed (8 goals, 2 per game). The Wildcats' penalty kill is the best in Hockey East having killed off all 16 penalties without allowing a goal.


Casey DeSmith began his freshman season as the backup to senior Matt DiGirolamo but became UNH's #1 goalie by the 16th game of the season. Over the last two and a half seasons, DeSmith started in 95 out of the 97 games UNH played. In November of his sophomore season, DeSmith set a UNH program record for the most consecutive minutes of shutout play (203 minutes, 32 seconds). The historic stretch included three shutout games. Last season, DeSmith finished 8th among all Hockey East goaltenders in goals against average (2.40) and save percentage (.920). His overall record was 20-16-0 with three shutouts.

Freshman goalie Adam Clark expected to be a backup goalie this season but that all changed over Labor Day weekend. Casey DeSmith was arrested by Durham Police and charged with domestic assault and resisting arrest. The University subsequently suspended DeSmith from the UNH hockey team pending further investigation.

Adam Clark has played every minute of the first four games and has performed very well. In terms of conventional stats, Clark is 4th among all Hockey East goalies in Save Percentage (.926) and 5th in Goals Against Average (2.01). Needless to say, the 6'5", 220 lbs. goalie covers a lot of the net. Pasco Valana, one of Clark's goalie coaches over the past two years, provided this description of Adam's style:
"A large goaltender, calm, emotionally controlled and positional. We have been working to refine Adam's game to best occupy the netspace, control rebounds, and place them into non-populated areas, and adopting a game that encourages a 6-inch movement in net regardless of the shot. The second area, and one that he will always be working on, will be his skating both on his skates and on his pads. Goaltender power-skating along with puck skills and playing the puck has been at the corner stone of Adam's training."
As this highlight video shows, Clark skills have allowed him to make a smooth transition from junior hockey to NCAA Division I play.


Last season, Kevin Goumas (19 goals) and Matt Willows (18) were mainstays on UNH's first line. Freshman Tyler Kelleher (5 goals), Dalton Speelman (7), and leading scorer Nick Sorkin (20) also played games as the third member of the top line at various points in the season. Sorkin moved up to the first line for good during the latter weeks of the season when UNH was battling for home-ice advantage for the Hockey East Playoffs. Sorkin played left wing, Goumas was at center and Willows on right wing. Sorkin, Goumas, and Willows had a total of 57 goals in 41 games.

So far this season, the starting forward line for UNH has been Dan Correale at left wing, Grayson Downing at center, and Matt Willows on right wing. If Correale (1 goal), Downing (2 goals), and Willows (2 goals) continue to score goals at the current rate, then they would combine for 50 goals in 40 games. The top line is currently holding its own.


In recent years, UNH teams which have earned an invitation to the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the second round (2009, 2010, 2011, and 2013) have had a second line of forwards scoring 30 or more goals. For example, the 2012-13 team which beat Denver in the opening round of the NCAA Northeast Regionals had Kevin Goumas (10 goals) at center and John Henrion (15 goals) on right wing. Left winger Casey Thrush added 6 goals. Last season's team did not qualify for the NCAA's. The second line during the Hockey East playoff run included Dalton Speelman (7 goals), Grayson Downing (10), and freshman Tyler Kelleher (5).

So far this season, UNH's second line has players who are more known for aggressive, two-way hockey than scoring. Casey Thrush (left wing) and Maxim Gaudreault (center) - part of the "Maryland Connection" - are smart, tight-checking forwards who are strong along the boards and effective penalty killers. Jay Camper played second line, right wing over the first three games and freshman Jason Salvaggio substituted for Camper (concussion precautions) against Colorado College. Thrush, Gaudreault, and Camper scored a total of 7 goals last season.

The threesome of forwards which has emerged as a scoring line is Foegele-Poturalski-Kelleher. Freshman Warren Foegele was drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes in the third round last June and Andrew Poturalski was the 6th leading scorer in the United States Hockey League last season. Sophomore Tyler Kelleher was the leading scorer on the US National Team Development Program's U17 and U18 teams.

Here's how Coach Umile described the trio:
"They’re very clever; I think they like playing with each other. Poturalski we think is a real clever centerman. … We think that they can score goals and be creative."
Other descriptors come to mind like dynamic, quick, and tenacious. Just watch some of their offensive zone play in these highlights as well as the scoring plays by #18 Poturalski (2 goals, 1 assist), #16 Kelleher (1 g, 2 asst) and #3 Foegele (2 asst).


6'1", 200 lbs. forward Shane Eiserman turned 19 earlier this month. During the 2012-13 season, Eiserman played in 15 games against NCAA Division I teams as a member of the US National Team Development Program U18 team. In December, 2012, Eiserman, teammate Tyler Kelleher, and Team USA played UNH at the Whittemore Center. Last June, Shane Eiserman was drafted in the 4th round (100th overall) by the Ottawa Senators. He is arguably the most prepared "true" freshman to join the UNH Wildcats in recent memory.

Playing left wing on UNH's fourth line, along with juniors Kyle Smith at center and Collin MacDonald on right wing, Eiserman has been a force at both ends of the ice. He uses his size and physicality in tight spaces (e.g., along the boards, in front of the oppositions net), to create space and gain position. In open ice, Eiserman is remarkably fast and moves the puck well. He has scored 2 goals in 3 and 1/3 games (he left the second Michigan game in the first period with a "head injury"). Watching him play (see video highlights of #12), it's difficult to imagine him remaining on the fourth line for the entire season.

UNH fans have legitimate cause for optimism when considering the play of the UNH goaltender and forwards over the first 4 games of the 2014-15 season. It'll be fun and interesting to see if the positive trends continue as the team faces Hockey East competition. In Part II, I'll take a look at how the UNH defensemen, including 4 freshmen, are progressing.


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