Monday, January 04, 2016

UNH Captain's Corner: Review of First Half of 2015-16 Season

UNH Captain Collin MacDonald

The UNH Wildcats finished off the Fall 2015 portion of the season with three non-conference games against Hockey East rivals Maine and Vermont. The games against Maine in Portland on December 29th and in Manchester on the 30th, both won by UNH, and against Vermont in Burlington on January 2nd, an overtime loss, do not count in the Hockey East standings. They have no impact on who plays who when the Hockey East playoffs begin in March.

The home-and-home series against Maine over the first weekend in December did count and UNH won that Hockey East series. The teams tied 3-3 in Orono and UNH downed Maine 5-2 in "White Out the Whitt" night. The Hockey East contests between UNH and Vermont will come on February 12th and 13th in Durham.

Last Tuesday night, UNH edged Maine 5-4 at the Cross Insurance Arena in Portland. Senior Alternate Captain Dan Correale lead the team with 2 goals including the game-winner. Here are some video highlights courtesy of WMUR-TV:

On Wednesday night, UNH trounced Maine 7-0 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester. The freshman forward line of Ara Nazarian at left wing, Chris Miller at center, and Marcus Vela at right wing generated 2 quick goals just two minutes into the game. Sophomore Michael McNicholas scored his first NCAA goal midway through the second period to up the lead to 5-0. Sophomore goalie Danny Tirone earned his first shutout of the season and third of his NCAA career. Here are video highlights courtesy of UNH Athletics:

Two nights ago at the Gutterson Fieldhouse in Burlington, UVM got a fortunate pop fly on the first goal of the game. Tirone made a save but the puck flew up toward the rafters and all the players stood around wondering where it had gone. A moment later, the puck landed behind Tirone and bounced into the net. The Catamounts scored their second goal on a deflection late in the first period and shut UNH down with suffocating defense until midway through the third period.

The "First-in-the-Nation" line of sophomore center Andrew Poturalski, junior right winger Tyler Kelleher and senior left winger Dan Correale lead the UNH comeback. With 11 minutes left in regulation, Poturalski lead the line on 3-on-2 rush into the UVM zone, fired a shot on goal, and drew a roughing penalty. On the ensuing power play, Poturalski passed to defenseman Matias Cleland at the top of the faceoff circle. Cleland flipped a pass/shot toward the net as Correale was parked at the side of the goal and Kelleher was streaking toward the crease, and the puck got behind the UVM goalie.

With less than 4 minutes on the clock, Kelleher fed Poturalski just before he rushed across the blueline. Poturalski accelerated past both UVM defensemen, around the back of the net, and stuffed a wrap-around shot into the goal. On the first shift of the overtime period, UNH failed to clear the puck along the boards and Vermont scored on a nice passing play. Here are the game highlights courtesy of UVM Athletics:

Over the first half of the 2015-16 season, UNH has played 7 Hockey East games and 12 non-conference games. The Wildcats' overall record stands at 8-7-4 with a Hockey East record of 2-1-4. UNH has played the second fewest Hockey East games in the conference and their 8 points puts them in a tie for 6th place. First-place UMass Lowell has played 11 Hockey East games and has earned 15 points. UNH faces UMass Lowell on Friday night at the Whittemore Center.

The Poturalski-Kelleher-Correale line has scored the most goals (37) and points (88) in all of NCAA Division I hockey. Andrew Poturalski is the leading goal scorer (18) and scorer (36 points) in the nation. Tyler Kelleher has the most assists (28) of any Division I player and is the second leading scorer with 34 points. Dan Correale has the most power play goals (8) in the country and is tied for 4th in goal scoring with 13 goals.

I had an opportunity to review the first-half of the season with UNH Captain Collin MacDonald. Here is our interview:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): With 15 regular season games remaining, all against Hockey East opponents, I'd like to ask you to reflect on the first part of the 2015-16 season. What are the top three strengths of the team?

Collin MacDonald: Offense is definitely one of our strengths, especially as of late. We have the number one scoring line in the country so that doesn’t hurt. But we’ve started to get scoring throughout the lineup recently and it’s nice to see. Our power play is another strength for sure. I’d say our leadership is second to none. I don’t mean just guys with letters on their chests when I say this. We have a lot of on-ice and off-ice leadership on this team; guys like Kyle Smith and Matias Cleland definitely contribute.

Mike Lowry: UNH has the 4th most productive power play in NCAA Division I hockey with a scoring percentage of 27.5%. What has Coach Souza, who guides the power play, been emphasizing with the power play units?

Collin MacDonald: Coach Souza has done a great job with our power play this year. He preaches that being on the power play is a privilege that must be earned. Quick puck movement and not passing up shots are things that he emphasizes. Hopefully we can keep up our success with it during the back half of the season.

Lowry: What areas does the team need to improve upon in order to mount a successful run into and through the playoffs?

MacDonald: We know that the rest of our games are conference games and each one is extremely important. We need to commit to our defensive zone play. We’re too far into the season now to keep saying it and just have to make the commitment. It’s going to be the difference between being at the top of standings and being an average team in our league.

Lowry: Andrew Poturalski is currently the leading goal scorer (18) and scorer (36 points) in Division I hockey. As this video clip shows, Poturalski has been on the receiving end of two roughing penalties in the last two games - against Maine and Vermont. Do you think this is a coincidence or are there other factors at play?

MacDonald: Pots is no secret to any team we play against. With the amount of scoring him and his line mates have done this year, it’s clear that other teams have a plan to try to shut them down. You can see frustration amongst opponents when they fail to shut Pots down. That being said, it’s no coincidence that some cheap shots will be taken at him. We’re aware of this, and so is Pots. He’s not going to back down because of it; he plays hard and it contributes to his offensive success.

Lowry: Here's a video clip of you getting injured in a game at Maine a month ago. How is your recovery/rehabilitation coming along?

MacDonald: Without getting into too much detail about my shoulder injury, I will say that unfortunately it is a rare one. It’s tough being a senior and being out with this type of injury. But the last thing I’ll do is feel bad for myself, there’s no time for that. I’m still waiting out the healing process, and doing exercises I’m allowed to do, which isn’t much. When I get the news that it’s healed I’ll waste no time getting it strong again and getting back out there with the guys.


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