‘Cats ready to take on Minutemen
Published: Thursday, February 28, 2013
Updated: Thursday, February 28, 2013 22:02
The No. 5 University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team will play its final four games of the season, all of which are at home, starting with a weekend series against the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
UNH is tied for the top spot in Hockey East and can clinch home-ice advantage in the Hockey East tournament if it wins out.
It will require some help from the other teams in the conference, but according to UNH Head Coach Dick Umile the team is not concerned about that.
“You can’t try to figure (the standings) out,” Umile said. “(We) just have to focus on (ourselves).”
Conference standings aside, there is plenty of motivation for both the Wildcats and UMass-Amherst going into the series. The Minutemen were responsible for handing UNH its first loss of the season, a 2-1 overtime victory for UMass at Amherst back on Nov. 2.
With this weekend’s match-up coming four months since the last time these teams played, both teams are sure to have a new strategy going in.
The lone loss came during the first stretch of games for the Wildcats where they amassed a record of 11-1-2. Now, UNH is 17-8-5, after struggling since the start of winter break.
The Minutemen went 5-9-2 in the first half of their season and now sit with a record of 11-17-2.
“We can’t overlook anybody,” junior forward Dalton Speelman said. “We’ve been atop Hockey East all season, and everybody wants to beat us.”
UNH increased its productivity on the power play last weekend, scoring three power play goals against Vermont on Friday night.
“Our power play has been excellent – I like what they’ve been able to do,” Umile said. “We’ve been getting men in front of the net, screening the goalies and getting great puck movement.”
The Wildcats’ power play is second in Hockey East (22-122, 18 percent), highlighted by Austin Block’s six power play goals.
Going into the last two weekends of the season, the Wildcats have their work cut out for them.
The standings are extremely close in Hockey East with four teams tied atop the conference standings with 28 points – UNH, UMass-Lowell, Boston College and Providence – with four games to go. Merrimack (No. 5 with 27 points) and Boston University (No. 6 with 26 points) are nipping at the heels of the first-place teams, looking to make a jump in order to get home-ice advantage during the Hockey East tournament.
UMass-Lowell has been the hottest team in the conference, going 15-2-1 in its last 18 games. This weekend should sort out some of the confusion among the standings, with home-and-home series that see UMass-Lowell taking on Merrimack and Providence facing Boston College.
UNH will be without forward Jeff Silengo, who suffered a concussion on Feb. 17 against Boston College, but will have Nick Sorkin available, who is coming off a wrist injury.
Having their final four games at home bodes well for the Wildcats, who are 9-3-1 at the Whittemore Center this season.
UNH has the potential to play seven of nine games in the state of New Hampshire. If the Wildcats finish as a Top 4 team in Hockey East, they will play the quarterfinal round of the Hockey East tournament at the Whittemore Center on the weekend of March 15 through 17.
UNH is also the host school for the Northeast Regional round of the NCAA tournament, which will be held at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester, N.H. UNH is 1-0 in Manchester this season, when they beat Merrimack 6-2 on Jan. 26.