Early-season battles like we had last weekend between No. 4 Colorado College and No. 6 New Hampshire don’t always live up to the billing, but this one sure did. After broadcasting the series for New Hampshire Public TV along with Dan Parkhurst, I decided to offer some quick thoughts on the two games, won by host UNH, 5-3 and 3-2.
First, these are two very similar teams with no glaring weaknesses. I’m not sure either is the best in the country, but both are very good and I expect to see them deep into March, if not April. Strong in goal, a solid defense and multiple lines that can threaten, and good special teams. I’ve always enjoyed watching (CC coach) Scott Owens’ teams play, and this weekend was no different.
At the same time, both teams had their highs and lows. CC had that great start Friday night, and then played as poorly in the third period in getting outshot 18-3 and giving up three goals. UNH didn’t play that great in the first half of either game, but got stronger as the night went on, coming up with three in the third period on Friday and Saturday.
Maybe it’s a sign of how early in the season it is, or a sign that these were two pretty good, evenly matched teams. I go with the latter.
For CC, besides their depth, two of the players who most impressed me were Eric Walsky and Jack Hillen. Walsky, a transfer from Alaska-Anchorage and a native of Anchorage, played with a lot of energy and it paid off with a goal the first night. He trailed the play and when the first shot by rookie linemate Tyler Johnson — who also stood out last weekend — didn’t get through, he beat the defense to take it in himself and make it 1-0. This guy is going to be a real fan favorite if he isn’t already.
Hillen led his club all weekend, playing terrific in his own end and quarterbacking the offense. Hard to believe that while leading his team in scoring with 1-4–5 in four games, he only had 39 career points in 110 games entering the season. His power play goal on Friday concluded a strong first period for the Tigers, and he nearly had another one on Saturday with teammate Bill Sweatt getting credit for the deflection to tie the game in the first.
But CC looked like a tired team in the third period both nights. I don’t know if it was the travel or the effects of playing four of these early season games against quick opponents in just over a week, but they did seem a bit gassed and UNH took advantage.
The big talk around UNH this year is about rookie James vanRiemsdyk, the 6-3, 190-pound No. 2 pick of the Philadelphia Flyers, and much has already been said about his combination of size and skill. But what I noticed last weekend was his work ethic and hockey sense. I don’t think he was outworked by anyone on the ice, and several times his extra effort helped him draw key penalties on the Tigers. When you see a guy who is that heralded working and working to get to the net until he gets taken down, that’s a player who’s going to go places. We also saw him on the ice near the end of the first game, killing time and preventing CC from getting Drew O’Connell out for the extra attacker, and another time, he didn’t have much of an angle to shoot at but rather than try to stuff it where there was no shot, he knocked the puck free to keep the play going with his team dominating a shift — a whistle and change would have given CC a break.
And while goaltender Kevin Regan figures to again be one of the nation’s best, backup Brian Foster seemed to have earned some more time in the near future with his play on Saturday. Last year, Regan played in all but four games and led the nation in save percentage, while Foster only made four starts as a rookie. Even though Foster came out with a bang — the only goaltender known to have posted shutouts in his first two games — Regan deservedly saw the brunt of the time and lived up to the billing. Again Saturday night, Foster came out strong and saved the Wildcats’ bacon several times as they could never get more than a one goal lead. But I think we’ll see more of him this season, mainly because he’s earned it. He played confidently and aggressively, and you certainly like to see that from your backup tender.
Well, this wasn’t meant to cover all the bases, just a few thoughts here and there. IMO, both teams’ fans have a lot to look forward to this season and will be fun teams to watch.