UNH Captain's Corner: 4-Game Unbeaten Streak
|UNH Captain Matias Cleland|
What a difference two weeks makes. After starting the season with a 1-3-0 record, the UNH Wildcats have beaten Hockey East opponents UMass and Merrimack College, tied Sacred Heart, and defeated Mercyhurst. The turnaround began at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 28th. From my rink-side vantage point, I thought the team played a complete, 60-minute game for the first time this season.
Junior goalie Danny Tirone, who had not played up to his standards in his first three starts (.847 Average Save Percentage), effectively kept the Minutemen off the scoreboard until UNH junior Michael McNicholas converted on a power play with 4 minutes left in the first period. Freshman Liam Blackburn chose an opportune time to score his first NCAA goal. Early in the second period, Blackburn scored the game-winning goal off a nifty, back-hand pass from freshman linemate Brendan van Riemsdyk.
UNH went on to score two more goals, one be senior defenseman Dylan Maller, his second of the season, and another by junior Shane Eiserman, his first of the season. UNH's 4-1 victory is described in the article "UNH Downs UMass in Hockey East Opener".
The following evening, UNH accomplished something that happened only one time last season - they defeated a Hockey East opponent at the Whittemore Center. The Wildcats blitzed Merrimack College 6-2 and were lead by a remarkable 4-goal game by freshman Patrick Grasso. Here are the video highlights of Grasso's four goals:
In all, Patrick Grasso scored 8 goals and 2 assists in 6 October games. He was named the Hockey East Rookie of the Month and the Hockey Coaches Association's National Rookie of the Month. Here's a link to Ben Nawn's game report entitled "Tricks & Treats: 4 Grasso Goals Lead Wildcats to 6-2 Victory Over Warriors".
The first weekend in November saw two Atlantic Hockey Conference opponents come to town. On Friday night, November 4th, UNH and Sacred Heart University tied 2-2. The downside was the Wildcats falling behind 2-0 - a troubling pattern over the first four games of the season. The good news was UNH's ability to come from behind and score two big goals in the waning minutes of regulation. Liam Blackburn added a game-tying goal to his NCAA stats with just 27 seconds left in regulation. Here's Ben's game report - "Wildcats' Late Surge Helps Tie Sacred Heart Pioneers 2-2".
Last Saturday night, UNH extended its unbeaten streak to four games by downing Mercyhurst University 3-0. Here's a link to the article "Tirone & UNH Shut Out Mercyhurst 3-0". Danny Tirone earned his first shut out of the 2016-17 season. During the unbeaten streak, Tirone's average save percentage improved to .908. Jason Salvaggio scored this game-winning goal at the 3:08 mark of the second period:
Captain's InterviewI had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Matias Cleland about the 4-game unbeaten street.
Matias Cleland: Thank you. The team has gained some confidence by winning games and the younger guys are getting more comfortable with college hockey. I think we have been playing good team defense and that has allowed us to win games. Tirone has looked awesome and that has obviously been a big positive for our team. We just have to keep taking it one game at a time.
Mike Lowry: Last week, Coach Umile said he reminded the team about the program's tradition of winning, particularly at the Whittemore Center. Almost all freshman players come to Durham without ties to UNH. For example, you grew up playing youth hockey in your native Colorado, then junior hockey in Iowa and Nebraska. What have the coaches and you, as the senior captain, done to instill pride in the UNH hockey tradition?
Matias Cleland: We watched a video about the history of hockey here at UNH. It showed the winning tradition UNH has had in the past years and what it means to put that jersey on. I think it hit home for a lot of guys. As you mentioned, I grew up in Colorado but I was well aware of the hockey program here. I think this is the case for kids on our team no matter where they come from. We are trying to get back to that tradition.
Lowry: After not playing in the first 3 games of the season, junior Michael McNicholas has scored 2 goals and 3 assists in the last 5 games. He has moved up to centering the first line and is on the team's first power play unit. What strengths does McNicholas bring to the team?
Cleland: He's been great for us and has been making great plays. He's a very skilled player and can do a lot of things with the puck. He's been playing well, and has worked hard to earn the spot he's in now.