Sunday, January 10, 2016

UNH Captain's Corner: Defensive Showdown with Lowell

UNH Captain Collin MacDonald

On paper, the first matchup between UNH and UMass Lowell shaped up to be a classic battle between a high-powered offense and a stifling defense. The Wildcats entered the contest with the:
~ 6th highest goals per game average (3.95) in NCAA Division I hockey
~ 5th best power play (27.5%)
~ Top-scoring line (First-in-the-Nation: UNH's Poturalski-Kelleher-Correale Line)
~ #1 scorer in the nation - Andrew Poturalski (18G, 18A)
~ #2 scorer - Tyler Kelleher (6G, 28A)
~ Top power play goal scorer - Dan Correale (8 PPG).
~ #6 scoring defenseman - Matias Cleland (3G, 13A).

The UMass Lowell River Hawks came to Durham sporting the 4th best defense in the nation. They had given up an average of only 1.84 goals per game. Senior goalie Kevin Boyle had the 11th best goals against average (1.83) and had 4 shutouts to his credit. The River Hawks were ranked #10 in the country and sat atop the Hockey East standings.

Start to finish, the two teams played tight defense and the shots on goal were relatively even throughout the game. Andrew Poturalski generated perhaps the best opportunity for a UNH goal with 7 minutes left in the first period. He accelerated down the wing to the right of goalie Boyle, swooped around behind the net, and just missed the open net with a backhander. UNH goalie Danny Tirone and Boyle made a number of glittering saves and the game came down to a single, chaotic play with three minutes left in the game.

The scoring play began with A.J. White threading a pass between UNH defenders Harry Quast and John Furgele to Dylan Zink skating down the left wing. Zink carried the puck behind the UNH net and tried a wraparound shot which was deflected by Furgele. Zink gathered the loose puck a flicked a shot which was stopped by freshman forward Chris Miller who was on his knees in the goal crease. Tirone dove in an attempt to cover the puck but it was stuck between Miller's legs. Ryan Collins, playing in only his fifth game of the season, poked at the puck twice and it trickle across the goal line.

Final score 1-0. Both UNH and Lowell generated 27 shots on goal. UNH was 0 for 2 on the power play while UMass was 0 for 3. Here's a link to Parker Wheeler's game report from our blog:

"UNH Falters Late; Can’t Muster Up a Goal in Loss to UMass Lowell"

UNH's record in Hockey East fell to 2-2-4. The Wildcats are in a three-way tie for 7th place with Vermont and Massachusetts. Lowell improved to 7-2-3 and maintained their 1 point lead at the top of Hockey East. The Wildcats' overall record is now 8-8-4. The River Hawks are 12-4-4.

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Collin MacDonald about the tightly contested game against UMass Lowell:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Umass Lowell brought the 4th stingiest defense in NCAA Division I hockey to the Whittemore Center to face UNH's 6th best offense in the nation. The game turned into a tight, defensive battle with only a single goal scored. After the game, Coach Umile said UNH played "as good a defensive game as we've played". As a team, what did the guys do particularly well in the defensive side of the game?

Collin MacDonald: Clearly we have scoring ability on our team, and we’ve put ourselves in positions to win games with our offense throughout the season. It was nice to see our team put ourselves in a position to win with our defense on Friday night. We’re very upset with the outcome of the game, but we’ve talked as a team about the positives to take from it. We competed hard in our own end. Our defensemen did a nice job with getting us out of our zone. We had patience in our neutral zone play and it was clear that it helped us on offensive zone entry.

Mike Lowry: What individual defensive efforts stood out?

Collin MacDonald: Danny Tirone had another strong showing for us. He did a great job getting whistles when we needed them, especially on the penalty kill. The rest was more of a team effort. I really liked our patience on the breakout and regroups. Our defensemen had poise throughout the night. Our forwards did a nice job of getting open to become options. Everybody had great sticks without the puck, and we created a lot of turnovers.

Lowry: The nation's #1 and #2 scorers, Andrew Poturalski and Tyler Kelleher, have acknowledged the goal of improving their defensive play. I noticed that they played substantial minutes on the penalty kill against Lowell and helped shut out the River Hawks' power play. Are there individual skills, which make each of them potent offensive players, that will help make them outstanding defensive players?

MacDonald: Pots and Kells want to play offense, we all want them to play offense; it’s a big part of success. With the amount they play every night, they know they have to commit to defense as well. Their confidence with the puck and ability to make plays helps us get of our own zone. They both have good sticks, which help them create turnovers. They are always two of the best players on the ice; knowing that and just staying committed to winning hockey games will allow them to become great defensive players as well.

Lowry: You got another opportunity to be behind the bench in the Lowell game. What kinds of input do you provide during the game and in between periods?

MacDonald: The coaches do the coaching; I just tell guys individually anything I can to help them out. Sometimes it’s just complimenting a nice play they made, or trying to give them a tip on something I saw from the bench that’s hard to see on the ice at the speed of the game. I’m in a tough position; I’m just trying to make the most of it. I appreciate the guys accepting the role I’m in while I can’t play, they really are an unreal group.


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