Wildcats ready for River Hawks
It has been six days since an upset win over Denver moved the Wildcats up in the rankings to No. 2, and now they are the team with the target on their back. This weekend, UNH will host UMass-Lowell on Friday at the Whittemore Center, and then travel south to play the River Hawks on Saturday at the Tsongas Center in Lowell.
The last time the two teams met was on Nov. 16 in Lowell, where UNH goaltender Casey DeSmith had his third consecutive shutout. The Wildcats took the victory, 3-0.
UML has enjoyed a two-game win streak since then, with a very convincing win over UMass-Amherest 8-2, followed up with a 3-1 win over Princeton. Currently, UMass-Lowell (4-5-1, 2-4-1 Hockey East) is tied for eighth place with Northeastern in the Hockey East standings with five points.
UNH has gone 2-0-1 since their last meeting with the River Hawks, and sits in second place in Hockey East with 13 points, just three behind No. 1 Boston College.
"I think we developed some real character on that trip," UNH coach Dick Umile said.
"We showed how the team can fight back through adversity," forward Austin Block said.
As of Wednesday, Umile said he has not decided who will be starting in net for the Wildcats on Friday. DeSmith is an elite goaltender and leads Hockey East in save percentage (.944), but was pulled after the first 10 minutes of play against Denver after giving up three goals. Backup netminder Jeff Wyer stepped in for the rest of the game and stopped 18 of 19 shots.
Wyer's performance is a testament to his preparation game-to-game. He had not played a single minute up until the Denver game and was suddenly told by Umile to get on the ice following the third goal on DeSmith.
"That's how quickly it happened," Umile said. "He did his job. He was ready to go when asked to and he did a great job... Jeff definitely proved he was confident and can do his part."
The weekend was tough for DeSmith considering how the Friday night game against Colorado College ended, and how the Saturday game against Denver began. It added up to be seven straight unanswered goals on DeSmith.
Wyer could possibly get the start to give DeSmith some time off before playing Boston University on Thursday.
UMass-Lowell is seventh in Hockey East in scoring offense averaging 2.40 goals per game. They have been shut out only twice this season and it has been by the current top two teams in the nation, UNH and BC.
With a win against the River Hawks on Friday night, the Wildcats would be off to their best start ever. This year's UNH squad, which matched its best start in program history on Saturday after beating Denver, is the only team in program history with just one loss in the first 12 games of the season.
"It does feel like a special group," Umile said. "They trust each other, they work together and chemistry is always important."
- Senior forward Greg Burke is out with an injury and will not return until the end of December.
- UNH is currently on a six-game unbeaten streak, the third longest streak in the nation.
- The Wildcats have been playing strong at the Whittemore Center with a home record of 5-0-0 this season. They have outscored opponents at the Whitt 21-9.
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