Tuesday, December 06, 2016

UNH Captain's Corner: Sweeping Maine

UNH Captain Matias Cleland

For seniors Matias Cleland, Tyler Kelleher, Dylan Maller, and Jamie Hill, last weekend was the last opportunity to sweep neighboring Maine in the annual home-and-home series. The tradition routinely attracts sellout crowds at "White Out the Whitt" night and the rematch at the University of Maine's Alfond Arena. As juniors last season, the group almost earned a sweep but settled for a 5-2 win in Durham and a 3-3 tie in Orono. This year, they did it.

As WUNH-FM play-by-play announcer Ben Nawn described in his latest article for the blog, the Wildcats ran away with a 5-1 victory before a raucous crowd at the Whittemore Center on Friday night and gutted out a 4-3 win the following evening up at Maine. The wins were true team efforts - 11 players tallied one or more points. The UNH power play, currently ranked #10 in the nation (22.55% conversion rate) and #1 in Hockey East (37.21%), generated 2 goals in Friday's win and another 3 on Saturday.

If I was awarding the "stars of the game" for combined achievements over both games, I'd go with 4 Stars. The #1 Star would go to the player who earned the NCAA #1 Star of the Week earlier today - Tyler Kelleher. The senior scored 4 goals, including both game-winning goals, and distributed 2 assists. The game-winner late in the second period on Friday was so extraordinary, the NCAA named it the #4 Play of the Week. Here is Kelleher's unassisted goal:

To date, Tyler Kelleher has scored 12 goals and 18 assists in 16 games. He is the 2nd leading scorer in NCAA Division I. He is also tied for 3rd in goals and T-2 in assists. In 7 Hockey East games, he has scored 6 goals and 12 assists. He is the leading scorer in Hockey East, 1st in assists, and T-1 in goals. Midway through the 2016-17 season, Tyler Kelleher is a serious contender for the Hobey Baker Award.

The #2 Star goes to junior goalie Danny Tirone. On Friday night, only one puck got past Tirone as he handled 23 of the 24 shots on goal. On Sunday at the packed Alfond Arena, Tirone played perhaps his best game of the season. In all, he made 38 saves - the most of the season - and surrendered 3 goals. Here are some of Tirone's acrobatic saves:

Tirone got off to a subpar start over his first three games of the season. He had a 3.74 Goals Against Average and a Save Percentage of .876. Over the last 11 games, Tirone's GAA has improved to 2.28 and his Save% is up to .921. Among all Division I NCAA goalies, he is 18th in GAA and 13th in Save%. When compared to Hockey East goalies, Tirone ranks 5th in GAA and 4th in Save%. His record is 8-4-2 overall and 5-1-1 in Hockey East competition.

Senior Captain Matias Cleland gets the #3 Star. On White Out the Whitt night, Matias dished out 2 assists, fired 5 shots on goal, and blocked 5 shots. At Maine, he had 1 assist, 3 SOG, and another 5 blocked shots. In 16 games, Cleland has tallied a goal and 18 assists. He has the most assists of any Division I defenseman. In 7 Hockey East games, Matias has 1 goal and 10 assists. He is tied for 3rd in Hockey East scoring and has the second most assists.

On the strength of 2 goals and an assist over the weekend, freshman center Liam Blackburn gets the #4 Star. In the 4-3 win at Maine, Blackburn scored UNH's 2nd and 3rd goals - both on the power play. Overall, Blackburn has scored 6 goals and 5 assists in 15 games. He is tied for 12th in scoring among all NCAA freshmen and tied for 6th in goals. Blackburn has 4 goals and 3 assists in 6 Hockey East games. Among Hockey East freshmen, he is T-2 in scoring, 2nd in goals, and T-4 in assists.

Captain's Interview

I had an opportunity to interview UNH Captain Matias Cleland about the weekend sweep of Maine and the Frozen Apple game against Cornell:

Mike Lowry ("C-H-C"): Before we get to the satisfying sweep of the Maine Black Bears, I want to ask you about the team's appearance at the Frozen Apple at Madison Square Garden. If I'm not mistaken, it was the first time UNH has played at an NHL arena, other than the TD Garden, since you came to UNH in 2013. What are some of the memories you will take away from playing at the "World's Most Famous Arena"?

Matias Cleland: I've now been fortunate enough to play in both of the "gardens". It was an experience I'll never forget. I've grown up and seen many sport events being played in Madison Square Garden. It was a very cool experience for myself and all the guys on the team. I know it was also the first time some of the guys had been to New York City, myself included. We were able to get out and see some of the sites the city had to offer which was awesome.

Mike Lowry: After Cornell went ahead 2-1 late in the second period, UNH had decent chances to tie the game, but the penalty shot with 7 minutes left in regulation pretty much sealed the deal for the Big Red. I've watched the replay of Marcus Vela's penalty a few times and noticed that you had the best view of the play. In your opinion, was the infraction that lead to the penalty shot a close call?

Matias Cleland: Yeah, I've watched that play plenty of times as well. I did not think that it was a penalty but this isn't the first time I've disagreed with a call. Although it was frustrating to have a call like that in a game, we had our chances to put the puck in the net prior to that. We had some power play opportunities we needed to capitalize on and we didn't.

Lowry: Your fourth, and final, appearance in "White Out The Whitt" last Friday was your personal best. You had 2 primary assists including the one on Tyler Kelleher's game-winning goal, 5 shots on goal, 5 blocked shots, and a +2 rating. From a player's perspective, what makes the White Out The Whitt games special?

Cleland: It was an awesome atmosphere last Friday night. That game is so special because you know that the fans, especially the students, are going to be the loudest you've ever heard. It definitely is sad knowing that was my last "White Out The Whitt" but it was the outcome we wanted. The crowd was unbelievable, and I want to thank everyone that came out to the game. It was an unforgettable experience.

Lowry: Traditionally, the White Out The Whitt game is part of a home-and-home, weekend series with Maine. This is the first time UNH has swept the series since you arrived at UNH for the 2013-14 season. As the video highlights (above) of the 4-3 win up in Orono show, Danny Tirone played one of his best games as a Wildcat. After a uneven start over his first 3 games this season, Tirone has steadily moved up the goalie rankings. When Tirone is on top of his game, what does he do particularly well?

Cleland: Tirone played a great game up in Maine on Saturday night. He was solid in net for us, and I thought he was our best player that night. He's extremely athletic and sees the puck exceptionally well. He was tracking the puck great and making saves. He made some saves that I was watching over and over again on the highlight reel. He'll continue to be solid for us down the road.


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