Turning the page
After their first losing season in 16 years, the Wildcats seek redemption.
The last time Wildcat fans saw the University of New Hampshire men's hockey team was last March in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, where the Wildcats pushed the Boston University Terriers into a decisive game three only to lose 5-4 in double overtime after accumulating a significant lead early on.
The heartbreaking loss came at the tail end of a historical rough season for New Hampshire, where the team ended with a losing record of 15-19-3.
One of the bright spots from the 2011-12 campaign, however, was the opportunity that it provided the team's freshmen to step up and play a bigger role. Defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, forward Grayson Downing and goaltender Casey DeSmith all seized those opportunities, and now this year that experience will help a team that is bringing back seven of its top eight goal scorers as well as skilled defensemen.
Along with on-ice experience is the experience those returners have as a team; playing together through one of UNH's most difficult seasons. A fact that players, such as senior and alternate captain Greg Burke, are fully aware of.
"We're returning so many guys. We all kind of experienced the same frustrations and setbacks that we did last year, some hiccups and some growing pains," Burke said. "But we started to play well at the end of the year, and to make it where we wanted to make it and to lose in the way that we did, it left a bitter taste in everyone's mouths."
It is with this taste that this year's Wildcat team comes in with. And while the team lost top goal-scorer Stevie Moses, the team has a solid group of returners aside from the three impact freshmen who will be critical to UNH's success during the 2012-13 campaign.
Senior and captain Connor Hardowa will set the pace back on the blue line, and he will be joined with fellow senior and alternate captain Brett Kostolansky.
Hardowa played in 36 of New Hampshire's 37 games last season, and scored 16 points on six goals and 10 assists. Kostolansky, on the other hand, has scored 36 points on seven goals and 29 assists over the span of his 104 games through the past three seasons and will look to bring that experience back to the defense.
UNH head coach Dick Umile's team will also be bringing back three other defensemen who have had ice on experience to this year's team in juniors Eric Knodel and Justin Agosta as well as sophomore van Riemsdyk, who made the Hockey East All-Rookie Team last season.
On the offensive side of things, UNH will be looking for several individuals to step up to fill the void left by Moses. Umile made it clear that he is looking for his four senior forwards - Austin Block, Burke, John Henrion and Scott Pavelski - to be big contributors for the Wildcats offensively.
Look for Burke, who spent much of last season either hurt or playing hurt, to be a playmaker in the opposing zone.
"He'll be a big playmaker for us," Umile said. "Whether he's scoring it, making the play or making the check. He does a lot of things well. He's got a physical presence to him."
Another big boost on offense for New Hampshire will be the return of junior Dalton Speelman who was out much of last season with an injury. Speelman received another year of eligibility after going down with an injury on Nov. 28, 2011.
Junior Nick Sorkin - who tied with Moses for the team lead in points last season - will also be returning, as well fellow juniors Jeff Silengo and Kevin Goumas. To round out the list of returners on the offensive end is the quartet of sophomores Downing, Matt Willows, Casey Thrush and Jay Camper.
In order for New Hampshire to complete this turnaround, Umile's squad will need to open up strong. Kostolansky sad that a fast start will be helpful toward setting the pace for the rest of the season.
"I think it is very crucial to get off to a good start. We start off at home for a lot of our games for the first bit." Kostolansky said. "I think that's so important to get off to the right foot, be positive and really take that into the later parts of the season with that good start."
UNH opens up its season with a doubleheader against St. Cloud St. on Oct. 12 and 13. The Wildcats then follow that up with games against Boston University and Northeastern on Oct. 20 and Oct. 26 respectively.
With the humbling reminder of the team's performance last season, New Hampshire is chomping at the bit for the start of this season. With expectations low considering that the team comes in unranked, Umile and his team are looking forward to trying to putt the past behind them.
"We're an anxious group here, and a little bit angry as to what went on last season," Umile said. "We're looking forward to changing that."
The Wildcats will take on St. Francis Xavier in an exhibition match on Saturday at 7:00 at the Whittemore center.
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