Tuesday, February 09, 2016

UNH Captain's Corner: Hanging Tough with BC & UMass Lowell

UNH Captain Collin MacDonald

With 6 games remaining in the Hockey East regular season, the top 5 teams - Notre Dame (26 pts), Boston College (26), UMass Lowell (24), Providence (23) and Boston University (21) - have separated themselves from the rest of the pack. UNH, Vermont, Connecticut, and Northeastern have each earned 12 points followed by Maine and Merrimack (10 pts) and Massachusetts (8).

Over the past three weekends, UNH faced off against all the top Hockey East teams except BU and hung tough with each of them. The Wildcats built some momentum with a convincing 3-1 victory at Providence College (ranked #4 in the nation at the time) on the final night of January.

On Friday, the team bus rolled into Chestnut Hill to face 4th-ranked Boston College. Over the prior 7 Hockey East conference games, the Eagles had won 4 and tied 3. Their goalie, Thatcher Demko had the best goals against average and save percentage in Hockey East. In one of the more entertaining games of the season, both UNH and BC unloaded 38 shots on goal. Sophomore goalie Danny Tirone made some key saves including one in the first period dubbed the "Superman Save" by Grant Salzano of BC Interruption (click on link to view).

After BC potted two quick goals early in the second period, a resilient UNH squad answered with goals by Kyle Smith, his 3rd goal in the last 2 games, and Andrew Poturalski. Midway through the third period, BC scored two more goals but Dan Correale pulled the Wildcats to within one with a goal a minute later. UNH played with an extra skater for over a minute at the end of regulation but did not get the equalizer.

Here's a link to an informative game report on BC Interruption:

"GOAL BY GOAL: Boston College Hockey Battles Through Injuries To Hold Off New Hampshire 4-3"

Following the game, Head Coach Dick Umile summed up the team's performance:
"I think we played well, played smart. Tirone made saves in key times of the game. The Poturalski (Kelleher-Correale) line played hard and I thought Kelleher played extremely well tonight. We're talking about one of the top teams in the country and we're going head-to-head with them. We're disappointed that we're not winning hockey games here but it's not from lack of effort. These guys have been bringing it the last 3 or 4 games and I like the way they compete."
On Saturday night, UNH played it's fourth road game in two weekends - this time against 8th ranked UMass Lowell. The River Hawks' goalie Kevin Boyle entered the game with the second best stats in Hockey East, just slightly behind Thatcher Demko. The Poturalski-Kelleher-Correale line scored one of the quickest goals of the season just 30 seconds into the game. As this rinkside video shows, Poturalski sparked the scoring play by digging the puck out from behind the net. Correale made a slick centering pass to Kelleher who nearly shoveled it in. Poturalski banged the rebound home for the 21st goal of his sophomore season.

Midway through the second period, Andrew Poturalski nearly notched his second goal of the game on this penalty shot but Lowell goalie Kevin Boyle denied him:

Less than 2 minutes later, Shane Eiserman built up a 2 goal lead with the first goal of his sophomore season. Eiserman and right winger Jamie Hill worked this pretty, cross-slot passing play:

With 10 minutes remaining in the third period, freshman Ara Nazarian scored the eventual, game-winning goal on an outstanding individual effort. Incidently, the last time Nazarian scored a point at the Tsongas Center was in March, 2014 during a semifinal victory by Malden Catholic High School in the Massachusetts Super 8 tournament. Here's a rinkside view of Nazarian's second game-winning goal of his freshman season:

Lowell mounted a two-goal comeback, including one with an extra skater, but UNH held them off for the 3-2 victory. Danny Tirone finished the game with 43 saves and earned the #2 Star of the Game.

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Collin MacDonald about the key win over Providence College:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): On Friday night, both UNH and Boston College (#4 in Nation) generated 38 shots on goal with BC winning 4-3. On Saturday, UMass Lowell (#8 in Nation) outshot UNH 45-16 but the Wildcats won the key Hockey East contest 3-2. What did Lowell do to limit the team's shots on goal and how did UNH overcome the shot deficit to win?

Collin MacDonald: Lowell is a defensively disciplined team, and really shut it down in their own end. They block shots and win a lot of low scoring games. We were very opportunistic on Saturday. Two of our three goals were nice plays on the rush, and we were very happy with the final outcome.

Mike Lowry: Sophomore goalie Danny Tirone earned the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week award after the Providence series and he was awarded the #2 Star in both the BC and Lowell games. When Danny is on top of his game, what does he do as well or better than any other Hockey East goalie?

Collin MacDonald: Yeah I thought Danny had another outstanding weekend. He made some incredible saves in both games. A couple things that are consistent about Danny are his focus and his work ethic. I’ve said it before; his work ethic is second to none. He’s very quick in the net, and he just refuses to quit. I see it everyday in practice and it carries right into games.

Lowry: After scoring 4 goals as a freshman, Shane Eiserman (4th round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators) broke through with his first goal of the season in the victory over Lowell. As a fellow left-shot, power forward, what strengths do you see in Shane's game?

MacDonald: Shane is always one of the strongest guys on the ice; he’s also always one of the most fearless players I’ve played with. I think he’s been playing a much more consistent game over the last few weeks. He’s had plenty of chances and the boys were happy to see him get rewarded. We’ll need him to continue his strong play as we finish up the regular season, and I believe he will.

Lowry: I noticed that you are no longer wearing a sling for your shoulder injury. Does that mean you are close to returning to the lineup?

MacDonald: I’m rehabbing everyday and back to on-ice activity. I’ve got a lot of work to do, but I plan to return to the lineup before the season is over. Can’t say when yet, it depends on how I progress on and off the ice. I have twenty-four teammates in my corner and helping me recover as quickly as I can.


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