Men's Hockey: After break, Wildcats ready for Warriors

By Max Sullivan
On February 28, 2014

It was nice to win at Boston University, but head coach Dick Umile knows there's still work to be done this weekend in Merrimack.

"I like the way we played our last game at BU, but that's been a while now," Umile said. "We all made a decision that we wanted to play, committed to it and hopefully we'll do the same thing this weekend."

After having last weekend off, the UNH men's hockey team is preparing for its final two games of the year. If it can collect four points from Merrimack this weekend, it'll have a chance at fourth place and a home game in the playoffs. Currently, it is tied for fifth with Providence, Maine holding fourth place by one point with 21. 

Eric Knodel said it was nice to have the weekend off to rest up, but the past week's practice has been all about amping up for the final games of the regular season. In fact, Knodel said that the Wildcats are already in "playoff mode."

"I think, all week in practice, we've been trying to get back to the competitiveness of every game," Knodel said. "Having the weekend off, having a couple days off ... last week, where we're able to recover and get our body back in shape and get some injuries and sickness to come out of the team and get rid of all that, so I think this week during practice, getting back to the competitiveness, getting that edge back in our game for the weekend, is really important so far."

J. Thom Lawler Rink is one of the smallest rinks in Hockey East with a 200 by 85 sheet of ice. It's a big shift from the 200 by 100 Olympic-sized rink at the Whittemore Center.

"It's going to be a little bit of an adjustment, the first minute or two of a game, everyone's first shift," Knodel said, "but I think the team will be able to adapt to it and get back to pretty much old style of hockey for us, back when we were younger and playing in small rinks, stuff like that."

Knodel said he and his teammates need to prepare for scoring opportunities that might not exist in a bigger rink, the narrow rink making for a much smaller offensive zone.

"Team defense is going to be huge for us this weekend, being in a place where you can shoot from any angle," Knodel said. "Pretty much anywhere on the ice, if they throw it to the net, it's a good scoring opportunity."

 Merrimack also plays a different style than most teams in Hockey East - a one-three-one-meaning their aim is to clog up the neutral zone with a lot of traffic.

"Obviously they play a little different," sophomore forward Maxim Gaudreault said. "They play kind of one-three-one, really to clog it up. Works well with their ice, such a small surface."

Knodel acknowledged Merrimack's skill players, in spite of their poor record. 

Senior forward Mike Collins leads their offense with 23 points. Last season he finished tied for fifth with 38 points. 

"You know they have some talented players on their team," Knodel said. "Things haven't turned out as well as they would have hoped, but they have a talented team that can score goals and can make things happen."

Umile said that the rink and its conduciveness to their style of play could lead to a trap weekend if the Wildcats aren't careful.

"This will be a difficult series to play, just because it's their style of play," Umile said. 

"We need to take care of business," Knodel said. "Get a win Friday, worry about Saturday after Friday night's game is over, but it's a huge weekend for everybody, I think, in the league, but for us it's all about what we need to do - get out there and get four points."

Faceoff on Friday night at Merrimack College is 7 p.m.

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