Durham NH – UNH needed wins heading into this weekend but Notre Dame did as well. The Irish sat on the bubble of the national tournament picture and UNH was on the outside looking in. But UNH was the team this weekend that pounced on opportunities and was able to respond well to its opponents charges. New Hampshire took the first game of the series last night on Friday night, defeating the Irish 4-2.
New Hampshire took an early lead midway through the first period at 10 minutes, 21 seconds when Tyler Kelleher fed a trailing Maxim Gaudreault on a 2 on 1. Mario Lucia answered seven minutes later for the Irish on a wicked snipe from the slot to send the game into the first intermission tied at one. The two teams traded goals in the early stages of the first period, as Tynan and Speelman scored. But UNH would get a late highlight reel goal by Matt Willows late in the period and cruise from there to a 5-2 win over Notre Dame. UNH lifts itself into fourth place in Hockey East with the win and to a record of 16-13-1, 8-6-0 Hockey East. UND falls to 15-11-1, 4-8-1 and is in a tie for eighth place in the conference.
What I Saw.
- UNH responded well to everything that Notre Dame threw at them, but were unable at times to get as much possession as it normally does. Notre Dame does a great job in possessing the puck and that was on full display tonight. Although UNH struggled with possession, it got the better of the opportunities because of its willingness to take the puck to the net. UNH was opportunistic on the weekend and took advantage of Notre Dame’s mistakes.
- Notre Dame had a ton of possession time in the UNH zone but it settled for shots from the outside that were of poor quality. At times, it seemed to be unwilling to get to the net and get quality shots. When it took quality shots it was successful, unfortunately for them only the Lucia-Hinostroza line was the only one willing to do the work needed to find the back of the net.
What I Thought
- It is funny how injuries can often bring a team together, but that is exactly what has happened for UNH. The Wildcats are without top flight players, Trevor van Riemsdyk and Grayson Downing but that hasn’t stopped them from going out and playing hockey. Since those two went down in the same game against Union, New Hampshire is 3-1-0 and have looked great in its three wins. Defensively it has looked solid and in all facets of its game it looks like a more cohesive unit. This sometimes happens with teams, as they are rallying around. For UNH, it is playing better hockey now than when those two went down.
- Notre Dame’s struggles on the road are much documented. What I noticed tonight is its inability or unwillingness to do the little thing that are necessary to get wins. It wasn’t blocking shots, it wasn’t getting quality shots, it wasn’t winning battles and it wasn’t getting back quick enough to stop odd-man rushes. It allowed a lot of odd-man rushes and UNH was able to capitalize on a few on them. UNH won the block battle 17-4, meaning that the Irish blocked jut four UNH shots. Four is a really low number for blocks on UNH’s big sheet, but in the end it just showed the unwillingness to fight for the win.
- This was probably UNH’s best weekend of the season, as It received great efforts up and down its lineup. It fought for pucks and it had active sticks. Right now they are playing well and have won three of four games. The task is up to them in Hockey East and in the Pairwise, but its schedule should allow them to move up in both. It really is in control of its own destiny down the stretch. A regular season title is out of reach but a first round bye and a first round home game is well within its reach, those have to be the goals for them going forward.
What They Said
Notre Dame coach Jeff Jackson said,
“We shoot ourselves in the foot too many times. Tonight, we gave up too many odd man rushes. You can’t play like that one the road.”
“I always say that the biggest factor on the road is goaltending and special teams. UNH won both of those battles this weekend.”
“They defend well, have good defensive systems and they cover the slot very well. It was hard generate anything. They blocked a lot shots. When you can’t get the puck to the net you aren’t going to score.”
UNH coach Dick Umile,
“The whole weekend was great for us and they took it to another compete level tonight. Our penalty kills was great tonight and I was proud of the way the guys played. It was a good opportunity for us and a great team effort led by our captain.”
UNH forward Matt Willows said,
“The shorthanded goal was huge. It is great just to kill the penalty and its a huge momentum swing. But to get a goal on shorthand is a bigger momentum swing. It was good and we fed off it from there.”
What They Didn’t Say
UNH’s injuries seem to be progressing on schedule. Grayson Downing was slated to be out 3-4 weeks and he has begun light skating but has not begun to fully practice yet, nor has he been cleared to do so. This weekend was the second weekend that he missed so he should be slated to be out for another week or two, that seems to be on schedule. van Riemsdyk seems to be on schedule, as well. He was originally slated to be out six weeks so his timetable appears to be four more weeks. Kyle Smith also has a concussion and it is unknown when he will return.
What Else You Should Know
UNH will host Vermont next weekend for a pair. The Catamounts are well rested, having this weekend off. It comes off a win against Boston University on January 25th. The Wildcats are 8-6-1 at home on the season, while Vermont enters the weekend 5-5-1 on the road.
Notre Dame will head home to the comfortable confines of the Compton Family Ice Arena, where it will take on a well rested Maine team. The Irish are 12-4-1 at home, but a paltry 3-6-1 on the road.