Monday, November 21, 2016

UNH Captain's Corner: #1 Offense in Hockey East

UNH Captain Matias Cleland

At the UNH Hockey Media Day in late September, both head coach Dick Umile and captain Matias Cleland addressed the need to replace the goal-scoring of Andrew Poturalski (22 Goals), Dan Correale (16G), and Maxim Gaudreault (12G). Matias said:
"I think we're going to need guys to step into roles and fill some shoes that left. It puts guys in great places. They get what they came here to do and allows them to succeed at where they want to be. I think some guys will step up and fill those shoes."
With a third of the 2016-17 season already in the record books, a number of Wildcats have stepped up to give UNH a potent offense. UNH has compiled an overall record of 5-5-2 and their team offense is tied for 12th place in the nation. They have scored an average of 3.50 goals per game. The UNH power play has scored during 23.32% of opportunities which is the 8th best in all of Division I hockey.

UNH's offensive rankings in Hockey East competition are even more impressive. The Wildcats are #1 in Total Offense (4.40 Goals Per Game) and Power Play Efficiency (36.7%). The 12 Hockey East teams have played between 4 and 7 conference games. UNH has a Hockey East record of 3-1-1 and is tied for 3rd place with Notre Dame and Vermont. BC is in first place with a 5-0-1 record and UMass Lowell is in second at 4-2-0. UNH won the season series against two teams at the bottom of the Hockey East standing. They swept UMass 4-1 and 6-2 and earned 3 out of 4 points against Merrimack (6-2, 3-3). UNH lost 5-3 at BC in the final three minutes of the game. The Eagles were ranked #3 in the nation at the time.

Throughout last season, UNH's first line of Tyler Kelleher at right wing, Andrew Poturalski at center, and Dan Correale at left wing was one of the top scoring lines, and often the top line, in college hockey. Over the first 12 games of the 2015-16 season, the three had combined for 23 goals and 20 assists. Poturalski (11G, 12A) was the #1 scorer in the nation and Kelleher (6G, 16A) was #2. So far this season, the first line of Kelleher, Michael McNicholas (center), and Jason Salvaggio (left wing) has essentially matched the offensive output of the Kelleher-Poturalski-Correale line. Kelleher (7G, 15A), McNicholas (6G, 5A) and Salvaggio (7G, 5A) have combined for 20 goals and 25 assists. Kelleher is tied for 2nd in the nation for scoring and assists. McNicholas is tied for 2nd in power play goals (5).

Kelleher, McNicholas, and Salvaggio are also top scorers in Hockey East competition. Kelleher (2G, 10A) is the leading scorer in Hockey East. Salvaggio is tied for 1st in goal-scoring (5G) and tied for 6th in scoring (7 Points). McNicholas (4G, 3A) is tied with Salvaggio in scoring and has scored the most power play goals (4) in Hockey East.

Freshman phenom Patrick Grasso has also been a key contributor to UNH's offense. Overall, Grasso has tallied 10 goals and 8 assists in 12 games. He is tied for 6th in NCAA scoring, tied for 1st in power play goals (6), and tied for 3rd in goal-scoring. In 5 Hockey East games, Grasso has posted 5 goals and 5 assists. He is tied with Salvaggio and BC's Austin Cangelosi for most goals. He is also the 2nd leading scorer, behind Kelleher, in Hockey East competition.

Grasso's fellow freshman linemates, Brendan van Riemsdyk and Liam Blackburn, have also played like veterans. BvR has scored a goal and 6 assists and Blackburn has tallied 3 goals and 4 assists.

The Captain, Matias Cleland has shown leadership in all aspects of the game including offense. Overall, he has a goal and 12 assists in 12 games - somewhat better than the 1 goal and 9 assists he posted over the first 12 games of the 2015-16 season. Cleland is the 2nd leading scorer among all Division I defensemen and is tied for 3rd in assists among all Division I players. He has scored a goal and 6 assists in 5 Hockey East games which is the second most points among HE defensemen.

Captain's Interview

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Matias Cleland about the team's effective offense and the recent string of 3 Hockey East games:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Since our last Captain's Corner, the team played three important Hockey East games, improved its conference record to 3-1-1, and is now tied for 3rd place in the standings. In the first of these games, you erased a 3-goal deficit against Boston College but lost in the last 2 and 1/2 minutes of the game. At the time, BC was ranked #3 in the nation. How do you think the Wildcats stacked up to the Eagles offensively, defensively, and on special teams?

Matias Cleland: I thought we stack up just fine against a top team in all those areas. It was frustrating to lose a game that we worked so hard to come back in. It did show that our team is capable of playing with teams like BC, but I think we knew that before going into that game. We just have to do it for a full 60 minutes.

Mike Lowry: Last season, UNH's power play was the 6th best in Hockey East with a conversion rate of 21.1%. So far this season, the team has scored on 36.7% of its power play opportunities which ranks 1st in Hockey East. The UNH coaches have made two changes to the first power play unit this season. First, forward Tyler Kelleher is on the blue line with you, instead of a second defenseman. Second, freshman winger Patrick Grasso takes Kelleher's place on the forward line, along with Jason Salvaggio and Michael McNicholas. What are the keys to the power play's success this season?

Matias Cleland: We have had some success on the power play so far this year which is very important. I think the keys to our power play is shooting pucks and getting pucks back. Obviously the forwards on that unit are very skilled, so you know they are going to make plays. We've been moving the puck quick and then attacking the net which is why I think we've been successful.

Lowry: Two key players - second line center Ara Nazarian and second pair defenseman Dylan Maller - were injured and out of the lineup for several recent games. Nazarian has missed 5 games so far and Dylan Maller missed 4 games before returning to the lineup last Friday against UMass. Given the philosophy of "next man up", how well has the team done in filling these gap?

Cleland: I'm proud of the guys that have had to step in to fill those spots. Those are two important guys that we lost and the team handled it well. We had to shake some lines up but that's expected throughout the year when there's injuries. We were able to have Maller back for UMASS and hopefully Nazarian will be back soon.


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