Men's Hockey: 'Cats to host Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame
With five of its final eight games at home, the UNH Wildcats are putting pressure on themselves to play their best hockey of the season.
"Our motto is 'playoff hockey' from here on out," defenseman Justin Agosta said. "We can't keep splitting series, now is the time to string together a couple of wins in a row." This weekend will mark the first matchup between the Wildcats and the Irish since the 2011 Northeast Regional Final, which Notre Dame won 2-1.
"They're a highly-talented team, they have some guys that are high draft picks in the NHL," Eric Knodel said on Wednesday. "I think just going out there, being aggressive and not giving up ground will be something that will be key for us."
With 11 NHL prospects, the Irish aren't short on talent. Despite an overall record of 15-9-1 and being ranked No. 15 in the country, Notre Dame has struggled in conference play with a record of 4-6-0 and sits in eighth place (eight points) in Hockey East.
INJURY BUG BITES WILDCATS
With Trevor van Riemsdyk still out, Umile has ruled Grayson Downing and Jeff Wyer "doubtful" for the weekend series versus No. 15 Notre Dame.
"Grayson did some skating on his own [on Wednesday] and we'll see how he feels [on Thursday], but he's a long shot for this weekend," Umile said.
He was optimistic about his return the following week, however, saying Downing's status is "probable" for the series against Vermont. Kyle Smith is also inactive for the Wildcats, suffering a concussion in the second period against Maine on Jan. 24.
CHANGING OF THE GUARD
With the losses of the two centers, Downing and Smith, Umile plans on changing the lines to spread out the scoring. He is expected to break up the top line of Nick Sorkin, Kevin Goumas and Matt Willows, who have been playing together since Nov. 8.
"We're not going to change much as to how we play. We're going to probably use Nick Sorkin as the centerman on the second line ... but I haven't decided that yet."
If Sorkin is moved to the second line, he is likely play with Jeff Silengo and Dan Correale. As for the top line, Tyler Kelleher could make the jump to the open wing spot after spending ten of the first twelve games on the first line. Dalton Speelman and Casey Thrush could also be plugged in, although Umile never specified who might take the open spot.
Since the loss of van Riemsdyk, UNH's defensive pairings haven't been set in stone. Eric Knodel, Justin Agosta and Brett Pesce have been the cornerstones of the defense, each playing over 30 minutes in both Maine games.
"I played 35 and 37 [shifts] on Friday and Saturday," Agosta said on Wednesday.
Harry Quast has been the most recent addition to the D corps, playing valuable minutes for the Wildcats, including being on the ice in the last minute against Maine on Saturday.
"He was out there in a new situation for himself, with only a minute left, so that'll help for his confidence," Agosta said.
THE FIGHT FOR FOURTH
UNH currently sits in sixth place in Hockey East with a conference record of 6-6-0 (12 points). With the Hockey East tournament a little more than a month away, UNH is battling to capture at least the No. 4 seed for the Hockey East tournament.
"No. 5 will get you home ice in the first round," Umile said on Wednesday, "but you don't get it in the quarterfinal."
With the first round games being one-game series and the top four teams getting a bye, earning a top four spot is crucial to giving the team some much needed rest. The quarterfinals will be a best-of-3 series played at the home of the higher seed, with the semifinals and finals played at the TD Garden in a single elimination format.
"We need to win some hockey games. ...This is obviously an important weekend against a talented team," Umile said.
Justin Loring can be reached on Twitter @JLo_TNH
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