Monday, October 30, 2017

Benton Maass: Leading UNH Scorer & Freshman Scorer in Nation

Benton Maass
UNH Freshman Defenseman

When I spoke with UNH freshman Benton Maass during the preseason Media Day, he was realistic about the challenges of becoming a top college hockey player:
"I'd say the biggest adjustment I'll need to make is to the speed. It's such a big jump playing against high school players that are 15, 16, 17 years old and to come out here and play against guys who are 18 to 24 years old. Last year, I played junior hockey (Fairbanks Ice Dogs) before and after my senior season at Elk River (Minnesota) high school and got a little bit of an adjustment period. And now, I've had about a month of captain's practices and regular practice which has helped a lot in adjusting to the speed - the faster pace of play."
He was also determined in expressing his personal goals for his future at UNH:
"I would say it's doing my best to help the team get back to that level of hockey that UNH is known for. Whether it be regular season or tournament championships in Hockey East. Obviously, our main goal is to get to the National Championship, to win the National Championship. Whatever role coach puts me in, my goal is to play that role to the best of my ability and to get UNH back to where it's been in the past."
One month into his freshman season, it's obvious the 18-year-old Maass has adjusted quite well to the college game. Over the course of three Hockey East and four non-conference games, Maass has distributed at least one assist in six games for an overall total of 9 assists. Two assists came on the UNH power play.

As of today, the UNH Wildcats have compiled a record of 5-1-1 and are ranked #13 in the National Poll. Right-shot, freshman defenseman Benton Maass is UNH's leading scorer. He has the second most assists in the nation. Among all freshmen playing Division I hockey, Maass is tied for the lead in scoring. All on the strength of 9 assists in 7 games. Here are two of his assists - the first against UMass Lowell at home showed Maass' puck-carrying and passing abilities. The second from the 4-4 tie against Vermont last Saturday came off a rebound of Maass' shot from the point:

Maass, a 6th round draft pick of the Washington Capitals, is also playing well in the defensive zone. His overall +/- rating is +5, second on the team behind sophomore forward Liam Blackburn (+6). He has blocked 10 shots, second to fellow defenseman Cam Marks (16). Finally, he is the only UNH defenseman who has not been penalized.

It's important to note that three of UNH's top scorers - Benton Maass (9 points, 1st), Max Gildon (8, Tied 2nd) and Charlie Kelleher (7, 3rd) - are all freshman. Gildon is tied for 2nd in NCAA goal-scoring with 6 and tied for 3rd in power play goals (3). Among all NCAA freshmen, Gildon has scored the most goals and most power play goals. Over the last 2 games, 5 out of the 6 UNH freshmen - Maass, Gildon, Kelleher, Eric MacAdams, and Kohei Sato - have played. Only freshman backup goalie Mike Robinson, has yet to play a game.

UNH returns to Hockey East action on Saturday at the University of Masschusetts.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

UNH Captain's Corner: Win Streak to Open 2017-18 Season

UNH Captain Dylan Chanter

Snively Arena Circa 1965
(Photo Credit: Don Sieburg)
The 1993-94 UNH Hockey season marked the end of an era. It was the last go-round for beloved "Lively" Snively Arena. Dick Umile was in his fourth season as head coach and Glenn Stewart was the senior captain. The Wildcats won the first 7 games of that season, 3 at Snively Arena and 4 on the road. The 1991-92 team, which also included Umile and Stewart, holds the UNH hockey record for the longest unbeaten streak at the start of a season (8).

Fast forward 24 years from that 93-94 season - Umile is in his 28th year as head coach and Stewart is the associate head coach (along with Mike Souza). The current team was picked to finish 8th out of 11 teams in the Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll. Needless to say, a UNH win streak to start the 2017-18 season was not on anyone's radar. But so far, UNH has turned out to be a formidable opponent.

The Wildcats swept 5th-ranked UMass Lowell in a home-and-home series on opening weekend (see "UNH Captain's Corner: Season Opening Sweep of Lowell") and earned the #20 ranking on the Division I Men's Poll. It was the first time UNH had been nationally ranked since the 2014-15 season. It was also the best start to a season since 2012-13.

On the second weekend, UNH swept Colgate University (ECAC) at home 5-0 and 5-3. The 4-game win streak to begin the season started to create more buzz. It tied the streak posted by the 2012-13 Wildcats, the last UNH squad to advance to the NCAA Tournament, and the 1998-99 team which lost the National Championship game in overtime. UNH moved up to #17 in the USCHO national poll and senior centerman Michael McNicholas earned the Hockey East Player of the Week honor (1 Goal, 4 Assists).

When UNH defeated the Colorado College Tigers (NCHC) at the Whittemore Center last Friday, the 7-game win streak to start the 1993-94 season and the team record, 8-game streak in 1991-92 became realistic targets. My article "UNH Plays of the Game: UNH 6 CC 3" includes the key offensive and defensive plays including freshman defenseman Max Gildon scoring his hat trick goal. On Saturday night, UNH barraged CC goalie Alex Leclerc with 40 shots on goal but lost 2-1 in overtime.

Although the UNH record for most consecutive wins to start a season is no longer in play, the Wildcats 5-game win streak helped move them up to #14 in the USCHO National Poll. In addition, Max Gildon earned the Hockey East Rookie of the Week honors.

Captain's Interview

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Dylan Chanter about the successful start to the 2017-18 season.

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Congratulation on the best start since the 1993-94 season. Back then, Coach Umile was in his 4th season as head coach and Coach Stewart was the team's captain. As the current streak was progressing, did the team talk about trying to keep it going or did you try to ignore it as a distraction?

Dylan Chanter: The streak was something new for many of the guys, especially to have it so early in the season, but I believe it was a testament to our hard work in the preseason and this season thus far. For the most part, we just try to keep our sights on the game ahead of us, so I can’t say it really affected us too much.

Mike Lowry: Danny Tirone is also off to an outstanding start. Compared to last season, his Goals Against Average has dropped from 2.99 to 2.00 and Save Percentage has risen from .910 to .932. Have you noticed any changes in his method or approach to goaltending that may have contributed to this improvement?

Dylan Chanter: Danny is a guy with tremendous work ethic. That has remained true coming into this season. As a team, we hung him out to dry on many occasions last season and his stats were tarnished because of our poor play in front of him. With more improved defensive play and Danny’s natural ability to make game-changing saves, we have a great chance to win a lot of hockey games this season.

Lowry: The team is playing a more physical style as compared to recent seasons, both in terms of body checks and physically enforcing a no-go area around Tirone. Is this a deliberate, strategic change?

Chanter: Defending our net is a crucial ingredient in winning hockey games and one we are trying to implement to our play. In terms of our physical style, I think that is due to our bigger roster this season. The addition of more size and great offseasons by our returning guys gives us the ability to be more physical.

Lowry: Freshman defenseman Max Gildon currently leads the team in goals (6), power play goals (3), and the +/- stat (+6). As a fellow defenseman with over three years of NCAA experience, which of his skills are you most impressed by?

Chanter: The fact that Max is 18 years old is truly impressive. I am extremely impressed by Max’s poise and confidence when he has the puck in all areas of the ice. His shot is also something that is a threat whenever he has the puck in the offensive zone. On top of these traits, Max is a great guy in our locker room and will hopefully be there for years to come.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

UNH Plays of the Game: UNH 6 CC 3

UNH's Max Gildon
1st NCAA Hat Trick

UNH's 6-3 victory over Colorado College (CC) last night marks the first time the program has won their first 5 games since the 1993-94 season. That team was captained by current Associate Head Coach Glenn Stewart. Freshman defensemen Max Gildon, a third-round draft pick of the Florida Panthers, lead the team with his first NCAA hat trick.

Many ingredients go into a win - goals, saves, team defense, coaching decisions, etc. Here's a video review of what I believe were the key plays of the game.

Play of the Game: Max Gildon

Every hockey game has a turning point, often several. It's a key play at a critical moment which shifts the momentum toward the win. In the UNH win over CC, I think the key play of the game came early in the third period. UNH was leading 4-2 but CC had outshot them 32-25 and was pressing to get to within one goal. The Tigers broke out of their zone on a 3-on-2 break but Gildon stole the puck in the neutral zone, carried it back into the CC end, and dumped it off to the UNH forwards. Moments later, Brendan van Riemsdyk set up Liam Blackburn for UNH's 5th goal and a 3 goal lead.

Goal of the Game: Max Gildon

With under 6 minutes remaining in the second period, freshman Max Gildon completed his first NCAA hat trick. Less than 2 minutes before, he had scored his second goal of the game. Gildon joined a 4-on-2 UNH rush through the neutral zone, glided down the left wing, and snapped a wrist shot into the top corner. It was Gildon's fifth goal of the season. He leads UNH in goal-scoring.

Assist of the Game: Chris Miller

Junior forward Chris Miller made an outstanding lead pass to send Brendan van Riemsdyk off on a breakaway. BvR buried a wrister to put UNH ahead 2-0.

Save of the Game: Danny Tirone

Senior goalie Danny Tirone made a season high 45 saves in Game 1 in the Colorado College series. The most outstanding happened early in the second period. At the time, UNH was only ahead 1-0 and was being outshot 20-12.

Hits of the Game: Cefalu & MacAdams

UNH has made good on their preseason goal of playing a more physical game. Two of the best examples from last night happened in rapid succession early in the second period. UNH's fourth line of Frankie Cefalu, Eric MacAdams, and Justin Fregona pressured CC with aggressive forechecking. Cefalu then MacAdams through these checks into the end wall behind the Tigers' goalie:

Loss of the Game: Anthony Wyse

In the press conference after the 6-3 win, Coach Umile said that sophomore defenseman Anthony Wyse left the game in the second period and is undergoing the concussion protocal. Here's the collision which may have contributed to Wyse's condition:

UNH will seek to win the sixth consecutive game of the season tonight. They face Colorado College at the Whittemore Center beginning at 7:00.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

UNH Commits Update: October-19-2017

Angus Crookshank
2018 UNH Commit

Player Spotlight - Angus Crookshank

Resilience in the face of adversity. For the second consecutive year, UNH commit Angus Crookshank missed the beginning of the BCHL season due to injury. He broke his collar bone in the first period of the first game of the Langley Rivermen 2016-17 season and missed 28 games. During training camp this summer, he sustained an upper body injury, missed all 6 exhibition games, and the first 8 games of the regular season. Each time, Crookshank returned to the lineup and made an immediate impact. In his first game back in December, 2016, he tallied a goal and an assist. Over the first 8 games, he contributed 3 goals and 6 assists.

This season, Crookshank didn't score in his first game back but the next night, he thrilled the hometown crowd scoring the game-winner against the Coquitlam Express with only 27 seconds left in the third period. In the next game, the centerman scored a first-period goal against Salmon Arm and tied the game with just 4 seconds left in regulation. Langley won in overtime. Last Saturday, in a home game against the Prince George Spruce Kings, Angus put the Rivermen ahead 2-1 in the first period. At the end of regulation, the teams were tied 4-4. Once again, Crookshank scored the game-winning goal, this time with only 22 seconds left in overtime. Here are the video highlights of these exciting goals:

In the 7 games since his return to action, Angus Crookshank has scored 5 goals and 2 assists. His 1.00 points per game is tied for 16th in the British Columbia Hockey League. Angus signed a National Letter of Intent with UNH last November. He is on track to enroll next fall.

2017-18 Statistics

The statistics for the commits, presented in the following table, are categorized by the projected year they will enroll in UNH. For example, the "2018 Commits" are projected to begin playing for UNH in the Fall of 2018. I have based these projections on a number of factors including:
~ If a National Letter of Intent has been signed.
~ The year the commit and UNH coaches originally targeted for enrollment in UNH.
~ How old the commit would be upon admission.
~ Number of years in junior hockey prior to admission.
~ The commit's performance in recent seasons as well as injuries.
~ Anticipated date of high school graduation.
~ Number of UNH players leaving the team at the end of the previous season and the position they played.

Player Team League GP Goals Asst Pts PIM
2018 Commits
Joey Cipollone  (F) Junior Bruins NCDC 12 3 12 15 2
Angus Crookshank*  (F) Langley Rivermen BCHL 7 5 2 7 0
Liam Darcy  (D) Islanders Hockey Club NCDC 9 0 4 4 2
Eric Esposito*  (F) Youngstown Phantoms USHL 4 1 0 1 4
Corson Green  (D) Sioux Falls Stampede USHL 5 1 0 1 12
2018 or '19 Commits
Ryan Verrier  (D) Green Bay Gamblers USHL 3 0 1 1 2
2019 Commits
Lucas Bahn  (D) Sioux City Musketeers USHL 3 0 0 0 0
2019 or '20 Commits
Jackson Pierson  (F) Culver Academy Prep - - - - -
Connor Sweeney  (F) Lawrence Academy NE Prep - - - - -
Marek Wazny  (F) Brookings Blizzard NAHL 7 0 0 0 0
* = Signed National Letter of Intent

News & Notes

United States Hockey League:

~ For the 2017-18 season, 4 UNH Commits are playing in the United States Hockey League. Defenseman Corson Green, in his second season in the USHL, plays for the Sioux Falls Stampede. Forward Eric Esposito is an Alternate Captain in his third season with the Youngstown Phantoms. Defenseman Ryan Verrier is in his first season with the Green Bay Gamblers. Finally, 18-year-old Lucas Bahn is in his first season with the Green Bay Gamblers.

National Collegiate Development Conference

~ 2018 UNH Commit Joey Cipollone has scored 3 goals and 12 assists over the first 12 games of the NCDC season. The Junior Bruin is tied for 3rd in scoring in the league.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Preview of UNH Freshman Forwards With Mike Souza

UNH Associate Head Coach
Mike Souza
"I'm excited to get going, to get the (freshmen) guys up to speed with their teammates. Hopefully hit the ground running when we play Lowell. I think that the guys are excited just in talking with them. This coaching staff's excited. Hopefully we'll have better results this year than we had last year." Mike Souza, UNH Associate Head Coach
The student-athletes who joined the UNH men's hockey team this season form one of the most talented and interesting freshman classes in recent years. Three players - defensemen Max Gildon (pronounced Gil-DON) and Benton Maass (pronounced Mass), and goalie Mike Robinson - are NHL draft picks. That's the most NHL draftees since the 2003-04 freshman class when John Doherty, Brett Hemingway, Dan Travis, and Daniel Winnik matriculated.

Max Gildon was selected 66th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft. Only 3 former UNH defensemen have been drafted higher - Adrien Plavsic (30th, 1988), Rod Langway (36th, 1977), and John Doherty (57th, 2003). Interestingly, former UNH defenseman Brett Pesce, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract, with the Carolina Hurricanes, was also drafted 66th overall in 2013. Incoming goalie Mike Robinson was the 86th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. That's higher than any former UNH goalie.

Neutral Zone, a top amateur hockey scouting service, ranked the 2017-18 UNH recruiting class as the 8th highest in all of Division I hockey utilizing their measurement of overall quality of recruits. Neutral Zone rated the UNH frosh an average score of 3.93 Stars on a 5-Star scale - a higher overall quality score than all Hockey East programs except Boston University (4.22) and Boston College (4.05). Two UNH freshmen were awarded ratings of 4 stars or above - Max Gildon (4.75 Stars) and Charlie Kelleher (4.25 Stars). On their weighted, algorithm point system, Neutral Zone rated UNH as the 14th best recruiting class in Division I.

The 2021 class is noteworthy for other reasons. Both Gildon and Maass are 18-year-old, "true" freshmen. While it's relatively common for schools such as Boston University (7), Boston College (3), Michigan (3) and Minnesota (4) to have multiple 18-year-olds, this is unusual for UNH. Since 2000, UNH has had two 18-year-old freshmen only three times (Kolanas, Anderson 02-03; JvR, Vanek 07-08; Eiserman, Foegele 14-15).

The 2017-18 season also features the continuation of UNH family traditions. Charlie Kelleher is the younger brother of All-American and Hobey Baker finalist Tyler Kelleher. The Kellehers are the fourth set of brothers to play for UNH since 1998. They join Darren and Jeff Haydar, Colin and Brett Hemingway, and James, Trevor and Brendan van Riemsdyk.

Finally, the 2017-18 freshman class bares the distinct mark of the Mike Souza-Glenn Stewart recruiting era. Associate Head Coach Souza, who will succeed Head Coach Dick Umile after this season, joined the UNH staff in August, 2015. Associate Head Coach Stewart came on board in August, 2014. Of the seven-member freshmen class announced in June, five verbally committed to UNH after Souza and Stewart returned to their alma mater.

Prior to the preseason game against St. Francis Xavier, I sat down with Mike Souza to discuss the six freshmen on the current 2017-18 roster. His observations on the four freshman defenders - goalie Mike Robinson and defensemen Max Gildon, Benton Maass, and James Miller were included in my recent article "Preview of UNH Freshman Defenders With Mike Souza".

Here is the same type of preview of the two freshman forwards on the current 2017-18 roster - Charlie Kelleher and Eric MacAdams. In addition to Coach Souza's thoughts and observations on Kelleher and MacAdams, each section provides background information on the player including a link (highlighted in orange) to the player's profile and statistics from, a link to an article announcing the player's verbal commitment to UNH, and video highlights from the player's 2016-17 season.


Charlie Kelleher
Forward, 5'8", 185 lbs. Shoots Right
Hometown: Longmeadow, Massachusetts
DOB: 2-4-1997 Turned 20 in February
Last Team: Sioux City Musketeers, Tri-City Storm
United States Hockey League
Commit to UNH: August, 2012 at Age 15 years, 6 months.
Neutral Zone Rating: 4.25 Stars

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Charlie Kelleher is 5'8", 185 lbs., bigger than his brother Tyler who’s listed at 5'6", 161. They're both from Longmeadow, Massachusetts. Charlie turned 20 in February, and, of course, last year he had a big season, his only season out in the USHL. He started off with the Tri-City Storm, and ended up with the Sioux City Musketeers, and he got all the way to the USHL Finals.

Charlie verbally committed to UNH quite a bit before your time, back in August 2012, and he was 15 and a half at that point.

Coach Mike Souza:: Wow.

Mike Lowry: Yeah. So he was an early commit. In terms of skill level, what do you see? What do you really like about Charlie?

Coach Souza: He's got really good hockey sense. He's good on the offensive side. You mentioned before he played for really good coaches leading up to this year with Peter Masters, with the Jr. Bruins, and Billy Muckalt and Jay Varady out in the USHL.

Charlie’s a guy who's rounding into a pretty good all around player who has a really good stick. So we're very excited about him coming here. It's interesting, I love the brother combos, the van Riemsdyks and the Kellehers so it's exciting. I think we'll see some good things from Charlie this year, and I know he'll have a great career here.

ML: I won't say he's a more accomplished passer than Tyler because obviously Tyler was an extraordinary passer. But Charlie is a really good passer as well. He got 34 assists altogether last year in 61 games, and that ended up being the sixth highest in the USHL. So he makes his linemates score. He also is a real tenacious kid. He plays really hard in all three zones.

Souza: The one thing I can say about the Kellehers is that they love hockey, like they love being at the rink, and those type of guys are infectious. They make other guys want to be at the rink more. So I'm just excited that he's another true rink rat because Tyler is a true rink rat. We're looking forward to being a part of his development, too.


Eric MacAdams
Forward, 5'11", 175 lbs. Shoots Right
Hometown: Salem, Massachusetts
DOB: 4-29-1997 Turned 20 in April
Last Team: Dubuque Fighting Saints, Sioux Falls Stampede
United States Hockey League
Commit to UNH: November, 2015 at Age 18 years, 7 months.
Neutral Zone Rating: 3.75 Stars

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Eric MacAdams is 5'11", 175 lbs., a right shot forward, from Salem, Mass. He turned 20 in April. He verbally committed in November 2015. I think he was the first one to commit since you returned to UNH.

Coach Mike Souza:: He was, yeah, correct.

Mike Lowry: He was 18 and a half at that point. Now, as you probably know, he played for the Valley Jr. Warriors based in Haverhill, and then he played split season with Austin Prep in Reading, and you obviously are from that neck of the woods.

Coach Souza: Oh, yeah.

ML: You played for Wakefield High School, which is right next to Reading. Was he someone that you had an eye on in his high school career or did he get on the radar later?

Souza: No. We'd seen Eric play for a while. He played for a dear friend of mine, Louis Finocchiaro at Austin Prep. I knew Eric’s dad in a professional sense, good family, a very competitive kid, had a good stick in high school, and showed that in the USHL. So we think he's going to help us. I think it's a very well-rounded class. And so we're excited to have him. But I think his competitiveness and tenacity is something that we hope he brings to our team.

ML: Yeah. When you mention that a guy has a good stick, I think I pretty much know what you mean, but what do you mean?

Souza: Just the way they handle it. It means when the puck is on their stick, if you pass it to them, they catch it and there's going to be a play made. They can make the next point.

ML: Gotcha.

Souza: It's usually a guy you see handling the puck more than some of the other guys. So that's what I mean. Most of our guys for the most part, the reason they get to this level is because they've got a good stick at the previous level. It's another way of saying that they're probably skilled with the stick. I usually say good stick as opposed to he's real skilled.

ML: You mentioned that MacAdam's a competitive kid. He had quite a few penalty minutes last year. He had 106 penalty minutes in 54 games, and that was the 15th most in the USHL, so it wasn't ridiculously out of control, but he's a physical kid. So you sort of see him as a prototypical power forward, primarily plays the wing. I don't think he plays the center.

Souza: Yeah. He's a winger. We just think he brings great energy, and we think he brings an element of competitiveness that every team needs, and I think he's a guy that anyone would love to have on their team. So we're excited, again, about him. I think he'll be a nice piece of the puzzle for us.


It is important to emphasize that Kohei Sato (KO-Hey SAH-Toe) is not currently on the 2017-18 UNH roster. I am including him in this preview article because he was included in the seven-member freshmen class announced in June. Sato verbally committed to UNH in April, 2017. Nick Stoico of the Concord Monitor has reported that, according to UNH athletics communications:
"Kohei Sato, a UNH recruit, hasn’t been on (the) roster because of an eligibility issue with the NCAA involving his high school credits. Sato is on campus and taking classes...It is possible he could be on the ice later this season."
Kohei Sato (KO-Hey SAH-Toe)
Forward, 6'1", 185 lbs. Shoots Left
Hometown: Nishitokyo, Japan
DOB: 9-26-1996 Will turn 21 in September
Last Team: Northeast Generals
North American Hockey League
Commit to UNH: April, 2017 at Age 20 years, 7 months.
Neutral Zone Rating: 3.5 Stars

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

UNH Captain's Corner: Season Opening Sweep of Lowell

UNH Captain Dylan Chanter

For the third consecutive season, The UNH Men's Hockey Blog will include the "UNH Captain's Corner" feature. Beginning with this article, I will periodically interview UNH Captain Dylan Chanter about the team's performance in recent games and overall progress.

In the series of 9 Captain's Corner articles last season, Captain Matias Cleland provided insight into the 2016-17 team's ups and downs and the progress of individual players. After his graduation last spring, Matias signed a professional contract with the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. He begins this season with the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League, an affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Finale of the 2016-17 Season

The Wildcats' 2016-17 season ended with an exciting, and ultimately disappointing, Hockey East Quarterfinal Playoff series against UMass Lowell. The Riverhawks, who had won the Hockey East regular season title and earned the top seed in the playoffs, were ranked #4 in the USCHO National Poll. The UNH Wildcats, seeded 10th in Hockey East, had advanced to the quarterfinals by winning the final two games in a best-of-three series against 7th-seeded Merrimack College.

In the quarterfinals, UNH upset Lowell 3-1 in Game 1. Facing elimination, the Riverhawks bounced back 3-1 in Game 2. In the finale, Marcus Vela tied the game 1-1 early in the first period but it was all downhill after that. Lowell tallied five unanswered goals in the remainder of Period 1 and two more in Period 2. UNH headed to the locker room after the second period trailing 8-1. As Nick Stoico reported in the Concord Monitor, UNH goalie Danny Tirone, who had faced 26 shots on goal, told Head Coach Dick Umile he wanted to go back into the net. “Danny wanted to stay in there and we went with his decision. He wanted to compete and that just shows you who he is.” In our final "UNH Captain's Corner" last season, Matias Cleland reflected on the 8-2 loss:
"The biggest disappointment (of the season) was losing to Lowell at the end of the year. We turned it up at the end and that loss obviously ended the year and my career at UNH. I was really proud of how the guys came together and fought until the end."

Opening Weekend vs. Highly Ranked UMass Lowell

Fast-forward to last Friday night. Whether by design or accident, the 2017-18 UNH hockey schedule featured an intriguing matchup on opening weekend. The near-capacity crowd at the Tsongas Center witnessed the raising of the 2017 Hockey East Championship banner. Many, if not most, anticipated the Riverhawks would pick up where they left off last season. The Hockey East Preseason Coaches Poll predicted Lowell and Boston University in a virtual tie for the #1 team. UNH was ranked #8. On the national scene, USCHO ranked Lowell #5. UNH was unranked.

In a pattern prevalent last season, UNH surrendered the first goal of the game in the first period. But this version of the Wildcats began to distinguish itself. The addition of freshman defensemen Max Gildon and Benton Maass, both NHL draft picks, and a renewed commitment to team defense by the upperclassmen held the Riverhawks to 23 shots on goal. A balanced, tenacious performance by all four forward lines lead to 29 shots on goal.

As the video highlights at the end of this article show, UNH took a 2-1 lead on a Frankie Cefalu goal and 3-2 on an Ara Nazarian goal. But each time, Lowell tied the game. The final Lowell goal was a potential back-breaker. With two minutes remaining, junior Marcus Vela (who had scored the first UNH goal) was sent to the penalty box on a questionable hooking call. The Riverhawks pulled their goalie for a 6-on-4 advantage and scored the tying goal with 1:14 left in regulation.

Given the way last season ended and the big discrepancy between the teams in the preseason polls, there was little reason to think UNH would pull out a victory in the last minute of Friday's game. But they did. With 19 seconds remaining, Lowell tried to clear the puck along the boards and out of their zone. Max Gildon leaned into the moving puck at the blue line with a 3/4 slap shot. Senior Shane Eiserman pounced on the rebound and backhanded it past goalie Tyler Wall.

In the first period of the home opener at the Whittemore Center on Saturday night, UMass Lowell again jumped out to a 1-0 lead. However, UNH was playing an aggressive, physical game and the shots on goal were fairly even (UNH 9, Lowell 13). On the second shift of the second period, mobile Benton Maass carried the puck along the half-wall and behind the goal line, then centered a pass to sophomore Liam Blackburn. He one-timed it into the back of the net. Midway through the second period on the second UNH power play of the game, sophomore defenseman Anthony Wyse sent a rising, 3/4 slap shot from the blueline past the Lowell goalie for a 2-1 lead.

Six minutes into the final stanza, Ara Nazarian lead a 2-on-1 break and fired a shot from the right faceoff dot. Blackburn banged home the rebound for his second goal of the night and a 3-1 lead. UMass Lowell cranked up the pressure but Danny Tirone prevented any further goals with several key saves. Yesterday, Tirone was named the Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week.

This is the first time since 2012-13 that UNH has won the first two games of the season. The 2012-13 team was ranked #1 in the nation midway through the season and advanced to the Final 8 of the NCAA Tournament. With top scorers Kevin Goumas and Grayson Downing out of the lineup with injuries sustained in the win over Denver the night before, UNH lost to - you guessed it - UMass-Lowell.

Captain's Interview

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Dylan Chanter about the exciting sweep of UMass Lowell.

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Before we review the weekend sweep of 5th-ranked UMass Lowell, I'd like to ask about your captaincy of the 2017-18 Wildcats. Most of the important functions of a captain take place beyond the view of fans - in the locker room, during practice, on road trips, etc. How would you describe your style of leadership? What do you believe are your most important responsibilities?

Dylan Chanter: I try to lead by example both on the ice and off. If someone were to talk about me as a leader, I would hope they would say that I’m a vocal guy that motivates people around me. For the most part, I try to do my job on the ice by keeping the game simple. Hard work has been a staple throughout my career and I try to make sure that the guys know we won’t get anywhere without hard work not only in games, but in practice, in the gym, and in the classroom.

Mike Lowry: An article in the Union Leader last March called "Lowell Blasts UNH Out of Postseason" has a picture of you providing support to Danny Tirone after the 8-2 loss to Lowell in last season's Hockey East Quarterfinals. How did you use that loss to motivate yourself and the team for the season-opening, home-and-home series against Lowell?

Dylan Chanter: It was something that was obviously in the back of our minds, but it was a new season with a new group. We knew we were ready to turn some heads and have some retribution after what happened last spring.

Lowry: At the preseason Media Day, Coach Umile, Danny Tirone, and Patrick Grasso all talked about the need to improve team defense. Last season, UNH allowed an average of 35 shots on goal per game, the second highest in Hockey East. In the two-game sweep over the weekend, Lowell registered 23 and 33 shots on goal. Did you see specific improvements in the team defense as compared to last season? Is there room for improvement in specific facets of team defense?

Chanter: It was clear that we had a lot of work to do on our team defense. Coming into this preseason we made it a priority to improve on all aspects of our defensive zone and I think it was evident this past weekend. There will always be room for improvement, but I think we are headed in the right direction.

Lowry: The official "Stars of the Game" on Friday night were awarded to Shane Eiserman (#1) and Ara Nazarian (#3) and on Saturday, Liam Blackburn earned the #1 Star, Danny Tirone got the #2, and Anthony Wyse nabbed #3. Were there other individual efforts that stood out as positive in your mind?

Chanter: It was clear that it was a team effort all weekend. Those five guys had great opening weekends, but the team as a whole came together both nights. The “never quit” attitude was on display on the bench with guys staying positive no matter what happened, especially with the penalty trouble we got into late in the game on Friday night.

Here are the video highlights of the 4-3 and 3-1 UNH victories courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics and UNH Wildcats Productions:

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