Men's Hockey: UNH stuck in the middle

By Justin Loring
On January 28, 2014

After an emotional 3-2 victory over Maine on Friday night, the UNH men's hockey team fell to the Black Bears by a score of 4-2 on Saturday night in Orono. Leading scorer Devin Shore notched four points for Maine (1 goal, 3 assists) in the win. UNH held a 2-1 lead at the end of the second period, but Maine scored three unanswered goals to deal UNH its first loss when leading after two periods. Brett Pesce netted his second goal of the season on a power play opportunity and Nick Sorkin added another to bring his total to a team-high fifteen goals.  

The Wildcats currently sit in sixth place in Hockey East standings (12 points). However, they have a favorable schedule for the remainder of the season, playing four of five teams who sit below them in Hockey East standings. The 'Cats will host Notre Dame and Vermont in consecutive weekends (Jan. 31-Feb. 1, Feb. 7-8), then finish with a home-and-home series against Boston University and a road trip to Merrimack in the final week of the season. 

UNH started winter break by traveling to Ostero, Fla. for the Florida City Classic, losing to Cornell 4-2 in the first game but rebounded by defeating Princeton 3-2 the next night. 

In its first home series of 2014, UNH beat a talented Nebraska-Omaha team by scores of 6-3 and 5-2 on consecutive nights. UNH trailed 2-1 in the second game, but stormed back in the third period by scoring four unanswered goals to capture the victory of the No. 19-ranked Mavericks. UNH combined to score four power play goals on the weekend, the most the team has scored in a weekend series this season.

"Our power play did a great job of moving the puck," head coach Dick Umile said. "That was something we needed to work on in the past couple of weeks and it really paid off."

In the annual Battle for the Riverstone Cup, UNH was able to top Dartmouth with another third period rally, scoring two goals in the final 2:45 of the game for a 4-2 victory. UNH owns an 8-4-1 record all-time in the series.

The team's three-game winning streak was halted on January 17-18, losing consecutive games to the No. 4-ranked Union Dutchmen by a score of 3-1 in both games. Union got off to a fast start in both games, leading 2-0 in the first seven minutes on Friday night, and UNH was unable to battle back despite generating offensive opportunities late in both games. 

"I was really proud of the way that [the team] played under these circumstances," Umile said on Jan. 18. 

The 'Cats were dealt two huge blows in the Maine series, losing Trevor van Riemsdyk for six weeks with an ankle injury and Grayson Downing for three or four weeks with an injured shoulder. Van Riemsdyk is tied for the team lead in assists (19) and is currently seventh in online voting for the Hobey Baker award. Downing is seventh on the team in points (9 goals, 6 assists) and was one of the team's top power play forwards. 

"It's always tough when you lose key guys to injuries," team captain Eric Knodel said on Jan. 24. " A lot of guys stepped up for us in some key roles." 

Casey DeSmith is posting good numbers in net for the Wildcats, with a goals against average of 2.26 and a save percentage of .921. DeSmith owns a record of 12-11 on the season and, with an injury to back up and alternate captain Jeff Wyer, is expected to start for the rest of the season. 

UNH is still on the cusp of making the NCAA tournament, being ranked just outside the Top 20 by The latest Pairwise rankings, which weigh home and away victories as well as victories over higher-ranked competition, have UNH at No. 22 in the nation. Only 16 teams make the tournament, and the Wildcats find themselves behind North Dakota, Maine, Vermont, Yale and Western Michigan as the first teams out of the tournament. However, UNH can clinch an automatic berth in the tournament by winning the Hockey East tournament a feat they haven't accomplished since the 2003 campaign, which saw them lose in the National Championship game.


Justin Loring can be reached on Twitter @JLo_TNH

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