Monday, November 16, 2015

UNH Captain's Corner: UNH Earns Last-Minute Tie With #13/14 Merrimack

Freshman Chris Miller
Scores Game-Tying Goal

NORTH ANDOVER, MA - UNH finished up a series of six road games with an exciting 3-3 overtime tie against Merrimack College. Merrimack entered the game with an overall record of 6-1-2. Their only loss was to UNH two weekends ago. The Warriors were ranked #13 in the nation in the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine Poll and #14 in the Poll.

UNH was looking to rebound from sub-par performances against Michigan State last weekend. In two losses, UNH surrendered 12 goals and was out-shot 42-25 and 43-24. By-and-large, they succeeded. Over the course of the first period and 15-minutes into the second period, UNH dominated Merrimack in time of possession in the offensive zone and shots on goal - 15 to 8. More importantly, in the defensive zone, UNH was quick in their pursuit of loose pucks, effective in covering the front of the net, and efficient in passing the puck.

Given the improved defensive play by UNH, it was somewhat surprising when Merrimack scored the first goal of the game late in the second period. As the video highlights (courtesy of the Pack Network) show, Merrimack's fourth line winger Craig Wyszomirski was uncovered at the top of the crease when he banged the puck underneath a diving Danny Tirone.

Early in the third period, Merrimack made the mistake of giving one of the top power play teams in Hockey East a two-man advantage. First, Tyler Kelleher sniped a top shelf wrister past Merrimack goalie Collin Delia for a 5-on-3 power play goal. 52 seconds later, Kelleher set up sophomore Andrew Poturalski with a pretty cross-crease pass for the second power play goal. UNH is now tied for 9th in the nation in power play efficiency (25%) and is 2nd in Hockey East. Kelleher is the leading scorer in Division I hockey (5g, 13a) and Poturalski is tied for second in scoring (7g, 9a).

With just under 5 minutes left in regulation, UNH turned the puck over to Merrimack right in front of Tirone and a wide-open Jace Hennig buried it. Tirone was not out of position and had no chance of making the stop (see video).

Back in the second game of the season, UNH gave up two goals in less than a minute to Saint Lawrence. The Saints went on to win in overtime. On Saturday night, UNH surrendered the third goal to Merrimack just 21 seconds after their second goal. Brian Christie's initial shot was blocked but he fired the rebound past Tirone who was screened by a Merrimack player at the top of the crease.

Last Thursday, Roger Brown of the Union Leader wrote a feature article on UNH freshman and Windham, New Hampshire native Chris Miller. Coach Umile had this to say about Miller:
"He's playing well. He and (Ara) Nazarian — the two freshmen — are playing very well. He earned (playing time) through practice. The kid's fast, he competes, he's got skill. He's a good hockey player. He battled his way into the lineup and he's staying in it right now."
Trailing 2-3 with a minute left in regulation, Umile pulled Tirone and inserted Chris Miller as the extra skater. Miller joined Kelleher, Poturalski, and Correale up front with Matias Cleland and Cameron Marks on the blueline. As his teammates worked the puck around the perimeter, Miller fought his way to the front of the net. Cleland took a shot from the point and Miller backhanded the rebound as he was falling backward. The video replay of the game-tying goal is worth a look (see highlights above).

UNH improved it's overall record to 3-4-2. The Wildcats have only played three Hockey East games. They have one win and two ties. UMass Lowell and Boston University, who are tied for 1st place with 8 points, have played five and seven Hockey East games, respectively.

Box Score

In my weekly interview with UNH Captain Collin MacDonald, I had an opportunity to ask him about the exciting, tie-game against Merrimack College:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Sometimes, an overtime tie-game can feel like a loss - for example, the 6-6 tie with UMass three weekends ago. The 3-3 tie with #13/14 Merrimack College had the feel of a win with Chris Miller scoring the game-tying goal with just 38 seconds left in regulation. What's your take on the importance of the tie with Merrimack?

Collin MacDonald: It’s huge that we got a point with the tie. It’s especially big from a conference play standpoint, being that we took 3 out of 4 points against Merrimack for the regular season. That being said, after talking with some of the other leaders on the team, they made a solid point. We’re not satisfied with a tie, we gave the game right back to them late in the third, and we can't be happy with that.

Mike Lowry: After a sub-par defensive performance against Michigan State last weekend, the team defense on Saturday night was much improved. Up until the moment Merrimack scored it's first goal late in the second period, UNH had held them to just 8 shots on goal. What did the team do to tighten up defensive play in your own zone?

Collin MacDonald: Talking with the coaching staff after the game, they recognized that we tightened it up pretty well all night. I think we only gave up six grade-A scoring chances, which is pretty solid. We blocked a lot of shots, especially down around our net. In such a small rink like Merrimack’s, shots are fired from anywhere, our centers and defensemen helped with a strong second wave of blocking.

Lowry: Danny Tirone stopped 28 of the 31 shots he faced including 3 in the overtime period. In a prior interview, you talked about his outstanding dedication and work ethic. Did you notice any adjustments in his technique and/or positioning which helped him play a solid game?

MacDonald: Like I’ve mentioned before, we know Danny is going to give it his all every night. I think most of the play was down in Merrimack’s zone in the first period. Which while this makes Danny’s job easy, it can be challenging as the momentum shifts or shots start to come in bunches later in the game. So it was important that he stayed focus, and he made some key saves for us.

Lowry: Were there other individual efforts which stood out in your mind?

MacDonald: Kells had a big night offensively, he’s showing no signs of slowing down, and clearly it’s huge for us. Miller’s late goal was a great effort, he fought to play in the hard ice in front of the net and it paid off.


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