Win over Denver shows contrast to 2011-12 season

From The Bullpen

By Nick Stoico
On November 27, 2012

 

Three games into last year's UNH men's ice hockey campaign, and the season was already being called historical. "Wildcats off to worst start in 23 years," was the headline that stretched across the main sports page in the Oct. 18, 2011 issue of The New Hampshire. The article was published following New Hampshire's 5-1 loss to the eventual national champions, Boston College, bringing the Wildcats to a 0-3 record to start the season. The last time the Wildcats had started the season with three losses was 1988.

The tone set at the opening of the season resonated with the team throughout the rest of year. For the first time since 2001, New Hampshire failed to make the playoffs and ended the season with an overall record of 15-19-3.

At this point in the season last year, the Wildcats were 6-6-2 and continuously searching for the root of their problems. The season was slipping away with every misstep.

Jump forward to present time.

The Wildcats sit at No. 2 team in the nation following an upset win over Denver, 6-4. New Hampshire holds an overall record of 9-1-2.

Hockey is the backbone of the athletic element of the UNH community and last season's disappointments were difficult to sit through, but this season's early successes are a testament to the mentality of the team that coach Dick Umile and the senior leaders have instilled in the program. 

The ignominy of last year and all the disappointments that contributed to it have been buried and forgotten. 

Yes Wildcat fans, New Hampshire hockey is back where it belongs. 

Last year, the Wildcats faced off with Boston University twice before the start of December. New Hampshire lost each of those games with a combined score of 9-2.

So far this season, UNH has met the Terriers twice as well, although this time it was the Wildcats kicking the dogs out the door. In their first meeting of the season New Hampshire surprised a clearly frustrated BU team with a 4-1 win. Less than a month later, the Wildcats traveled down to Agganis Arena and beat the Terriers once again, this time 3-1.

The Wildcats' early season travel last year was to Minnesota to take on St. Cloud State. UNH fell 7-5 in the first meeting and then managed to hold on to a tie in the second game.

St. Cloud came to Durham for the regular season opener and UNH took both games of the doubleheader. This season's trip was 2000 miles to Colorado, but playing in an unfamiliar place did not seem to have a negative affect on these Wildcats.

UNH held on to Colorado College and recorded a tie. Without a day to rest, Umile and the Wildcats traveled to Denver and took on the Pioneers. 

Grayson Downing and Kevin Goumas each recorded hat tricks - first of each of their careers - and lifted the 'Cats to an upset over Denver. New Hampshire was down by four goals before Downing and Goumas threw up six unanswered points and lifted the Wildcats past Denver 6-4.

This game exemplifies the precise difference between this year's team and the one that took the ice last year.

Road games are crucial to a team and can define precisely what a team is about and represents. Before heading into these recent road games, including games at UMass Lowell and BU, players and coach Umile alike noted on the importance of getting a few wins on the road. 

"We can make a statement here," Goumas said.

The statement has been made.

The season is still young though, and the Wildcats are over a month out from their first meeting with No. 1 Boston College. They will travel to BC on Jan. 11 and then return to Durham to host the Eagles on Jan. 12.

If the two teams maintain their performance and composure as the top teams in the nation until then, we will certainly be in for a quality game of hockey.

The Wildcats were out of the conversation last year. Now, they are the talk of the nation.


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