Sticky Notes: UNH outplayed expectations
Hockey fans are not hard to come by here at UNH. When the Wildcats are set to faceoff with a rival such as Maine or maybe Boston College, lines form early at the Whittemore Center as students wait patiently to pick up their tickets.
Hockey is part of being a UNH student, plain and simple.
Unfortunately, the nature of being a fan comes with that empty feeling of disappointment following a loss. This is what Wildcat fanatics have been going through in the last few days since New Hampshire's NCAA tournament run ended at the hands of UMass-Lowell.
I have taken the last couple of days to gather my own thoughts on the season and to discuss the year with other students.
This week, I was lucky enough to sit down and talk hockey with probably the two biggest Wildcat hockey fans, seniors Joe Landry and Tristan Donovan.
But wait, who says these two guys are the most devoted UNH fans on campus?
You hear that cowbell ringing out through the Whitt during any game? That's Landry keeping the beat steady as Donovan leads the student section through a series of celebrated chants.
Landry and Donovan are the first and second in command, respectively, of the Wildcat Army. As their Twitter page describes, Wildcat Army consists of the "Leaders of the Whittemore Center student section & die-hard UNH hockey fans." Using Twitter and Facebook, Wildcat Army communicates with other UNH fans about Wildcat hockey news to what chants they will be using in the upcoming game.
Missing a game simply is not an option for these guys, or any of the other "core people" in the group. Having followed New Hampshire hockey so closely throughout their careers at UNH, Landry and Donovan had more than a few thoughts to offer during our discussion of the past season.
From the early season fast-paced ascent to the top of college hockey, to their early exit from the Hockey East Tournament and short run in the NCAA tourney, Landry and Donovan agreed that it was overall a successful year for the Wildcats.
"Obviously, you would love the national title," Landry said. "But everyone would love the national title. Not everybody can get it .... You got to look at last year. They couldn't get the puck in the net last season. The defense was just trying to find itself. Seeing them improve coming into this year was great."
In case you missed it, the Wildcats had an absolutely dismal 2011-12 campaign where they started the season losing four of their first five games and went 15-19-3.
"My personal goal for them was to see them play in Manchester and they did that," Landry said.
This season was another year of development for the Wildcats. Since the 2010-11 season where the Wildcats went 22-11-6 and Hobey Baker contender Paul Thompson tallied 52 points, the Wildcats have been trying to find their new identity.
But when UNH is one of the top-three teams in the nation for seven weeks of the season, can you really call it a rebuilding season?
That is the whole point of why this season was a success, according to Donovan.
"This was supposed to just be another transition year," Donovan said. "If you look at the preseason polls, UNH wasn't even part of the talk. They got to the NCAA tournament and they weren't even supposed to be there.
"They made something out of nothing."
So, where do the Wildcats go from here? This season, the team experienced extreme highs and lows and ultimately proved how hard it is to stay in the race in college hockey. The No. 1 team in November may not even be in the NCAA tournament come March. Nothing is guaranteed, and that rings true throughout the world of sports.
"It was a good learning experience," Donovan said. "The young players saw success. And at the end of the year, they saw the failure that can come if you get complacent and stop playing good hockey."
Now the Wildcats can take their experiences from this season and look to next year where expectations will be at their highest since recent years.
"I definitely think they have a shot at the national title," Landry said of the 2013-14 season. "Its just matter of if they can deal with the problems they encountered this year. I hope next year we can at least make the Frozen Four. I think that is a very realistic goal to have.
Nick Stoico can be reached on Twitter @NickStoico.
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