What better way for the New Hampshire Wildcats to kick off their 2017-18 Hockey East campaign than to open up with a home & home series versus Massachusetts-Lowell. UNH had all off season to dwell on their season ending defeat to UML in last year’s Hockey East tournament. When the schedules were announced over the summer, there’s no doubt their competitive juices kicked into high gear.
Friday night in Lowell, the River Hawks controlled the early momentum, and had a 1st period 1-0 lead to show for it. In the 2nd period UNH hunkered down and came away with a 2-1 lead. The 3rd was a ping pong match, UML tied it @2. UNH pulled away, and with 1:14 left UML tied it @ 3. It was looking like overtime. UNH struck with just :14 left to win the game.
Saturday night in Durham, UNH was dictating the play but UML had the lead 1-0 again going into the 2nd. Whatever Coach Umile tells his players in the first intermission worked again as UNH finished up 2-1 after 2 periods. UML wasn’t able to solve Goalie Daniel Tirone in the 3rd, while UNH added another goal to cap off a 3-1 win, 2 game sweep.
Coach Umile was pleased after Saturday night’s game. He said “It was a great weekend. We played hard all weekend.” He felt that “Danny (Tirone) was huge.” Coach knew that the 2nd period each night was their best periods, and wants to see more like that. Even Lowell’s Norm Bazin was impressed. “They were tenacious, really hustled.” He said at his post game press conference.
“Simplification” is what Senior defenseman Anthony Wyse said about the difference between this year’s squad and last year’s. “We’re trying to make the easiest pass, not the big play pass. That’s what we did last year.” Wyse was certainly a big reason that UNH was able to win both games. He was hitting everyone in UML blue, he was always in a good position out front of goal, and he even scored the eventual game winner on Saturday night.
Sophomore forward Liam Blackburn had a big weekend as well. He had an assist on Friday and 2 goals and an assist on Saturday. He credited “spending the summer on campus” to hone his game as a big factor. Blackburn was happy with “the gritty goals.” He said that “It’s big. It identifies us.” Most of the UNH goals were of the gritty kind, UML’s defense was sloppy, but UNH were playing with no fear. No one characterized that play better than the 4th line of Frankie Cefalu, Justin Fregona, and Eric MacAdams. Every time that they were on the ice they brought the pressure to the River Hawks. UML would start to get some momentum and the 4th line would hop the boards and put an end to that. “They had a good weekend, they gave a lot of jam.” Said Umile after Saturday.
The next two weeks are home contests versus ECAC’s Colgate and the NCHC’s Colorado College. Each team is trying to bounce back from subpar season’s like the Wildcats, but UNH could and should build on this weekend’s play. They’ve made their statement, the ‘Cats are back.