‘Cats look to stay sharp
Hockey East to test UNH down the stretch
Published: Friday, February 1, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, February 13, 2013 16:02
With just eleven games remaining in the season, the No. 3 UNH men’s hockey team is looking to wrap up their season series with Northeastern and Merrimack this weekend. The Wildcats will be at Matthews Arena in Boston to take on the Huskies, then play at home against the Warriors.
In those final eleven games, the Wildcats will face seven different opponents.
“That makes this weekend interesting,” UNH head coach Dick Umile said. “To be honest, playing down in Boston first, this week we’ve focused on Northeastern. We just played Merrimack this past weekend, so we can come here on Saturday and get right back to focusing on Merrimack.”
Northeastern, which last played the Wildcats in October, was ranked as high as No. 15 in the country to start the season but has struggled to a 7-12-3 record. It is also the only team to shutout the Wildcats this season, when it played New Hampshire to a 0-0 draw on Oct. 27.
NU has a pair of senior goaltenders in Chris Rawlings and Bryan Mountain, and while Rawlings has had a majority of the starts this season, he’s struggled against the Wildcats.
In the Huskies’ first meeting against New Hampshire, Rawlings allowed three goals on eleven shots in just 26:40 of playing time. Mountain was subbed in and allowed the eventual game-winner with 53 seconds left in a 4-3 win for UNH.
“Rawlings hasn’t had a lot of luck against us,” Umile said about NU’s goaltender situation at his press conference on Wednesday. “I would expect [to see] Mountain [in net on Saturday]; he stoned us the last time we played against him.”
UNH is coming off a two-game series against Merrimack, losing 3-2 in the first game last Friday and winning 6-2 at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester Saturday to win the Riverstone Cup.
Merrimack boasts a record of 10-10-5, a down season after being ranked as high No. 1 in the country 2011-12 season. According to Umile, the most important thing for his team is to play with consistency this weekend.
“We were opportunistic on Saturday night, but I think we got out-chanced in the second period,” Umile said. “The good thing is we played a much better team in the third period. We need to be a tougher team to play against.”
Despite the hot start in the first half of the season, the Wildcats have struggled to a 4-4 record since Christmas.
According to senior captain Connor Hardowa, the captains held a players-only meeting before their game on Saturday.
“We needed a reminder of what we are, where we are (in the season) and where we need to go,” Hardowa said.
“We control our own destiny (this late in the season),” sophomore Grayson Downing said. “We’re not relying on different teams to win or lose; it’s all what we do (as a team).”
UNH leap-frogged BC in the national standings this weekend after the Eagles were swept by Maine, who is currently sitting in dead last in the Hockey East standings.
UNH is just two points behind the Eagles for first in Hockey East, but only five points separate the top six teams in the conference.
“Everybody’s tough [in this league],” Downing said. “That just kept BC from moving ahead of the pack and brought them back with the rest of us. If you can get four points it’s a fabulous weekend. If you split [the series] it’s a good weekend and if you don’t it’s misery. Depending on when you lose, it can be long-term misery.”
It’s with this mindset that New Hampshire will go into its remaining slate of games.
“You look at the rankings right now, it’s so close,” Downing said. “You have to go in with that playoff mentality because if you don’t, you’re not going to win games.”