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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