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College Hockey:
After early stumble, New Hampshire finds right time to come on strong

— Not many expected them to win.

The New Hampshire Wildcats had finished the regular season on a sour note, getting swept in the final weekend to lose that title to Boston College. They finished the Hockey East tournament on a sour note, losing to Merrimack in the semifinals. And according to a fatalist segment of their fans, the Wildcats always lose in the playoffs.

While they would be playing what amounted to a home game at Manchester, they were facing Miami, the Northeast Regional’s No. 1 seed and a team on a 13-game unbeaten streak. The RedHawks had suffered some mighty painful losses themselves but had a senior class that had advanced to two Frozen Fours and had just won the CCHA tournament.

And not just won it. The RedHawks had demolished all competition, sweeping Alaska 4-1 and 4-1 in the quarterfinals before dismantling Notre Dame in the semifinals, 6-2, and Western Michigan in the championship game, 5-2.

Nope, not many expected the UNH Wildcats to win. For those picking NCAA tournament brackets, UNH was the long shot designed to separate the picker from the rest of the field just in case a miracle took place.

Not even the hometown crowd believed. The cheers sounded tepid. The fans were going through the motions for their boys. At least some of them. They deserved some credit, but they were going through the motions and it sounded it.

Then Miami scored 53 seconds into the game.

Uh-oh. This had the potential to get ugly. Ugly fast.

You could almost sense the UNH partisans glancing at their watches, wondering how long they’d have to stick around. They would for appearances’ sake. Out of obligation, though certainly not because anything good was going to come of it. They’d seen this movie before and weren’t interested in a rerun.

Then a funny thing happened. Kevin Goumas scored exactly a minute after the Miami goal. But even more importantly, the Wildcats began to play an increasingly perfect game, throttling the high-powered RedHawks, who came into the game with the nation’s fourth best offense.

The Wildcats were blocking shots like madmen en route to a total of 20 by the game’s end while also taking away the Grade-A opportunities.

One minute into the third, Mike Sislo gave them their first lead of the night, putting away a perfect setup from Blake Kessel. Goumas added an empty netter in the closing minutes.

By game’s end, the tepid support from the hometown fans had quadrupled in intensity. They hadn’t believed when the game started or even well into it. But they did by the end of the third period.

And for good reason.

“We played well all night,” UNH coach Dick Umile said. “We took away space and didn’t give them a whole lot of room to create plays because they can really create offense. We just wanted to be blocking shots and get into them quickly and not give them a whole lot of time.”

Mission accomplished. Miami mustered only 22 shots and a single goal.

“We bounced back from that [first-minute goal] great,” Sislo said. “We worked hard. We did all the little things. We were very disciplined and very smart. It was one of the most complete games we played all year.”

Arguably, Miami needed to put away the Wildcats early when perhaps their confidence was its most fragile. But Miami couldn’t. UNH’s superior play wouldn’t allow it.

“No doubt about it, our confidence grew as the game went on,” Umile said. “We had confidence — it was a matter of putting it together.

“We knew we had to work hard and as the game went along and guys worked hard, good things happened. We moved the puck. We got out of the zone. We didn’t get hemmed in.

“We got some offense and we’ve got the goaltender. That added to our confidence and we just took it and ran with it.”

For all the abuse UNH has taken for its playoff frustrations — a good portion of it from its own fans — it is the only school that can now claim at least one win in the NCAA tournament for each of the last three years.

But neither Umile nor the team wants to hear about that now.

“It’s all about the next step,” Umile said. “That’s all we’re going to focus on now.”

Sislo put it best.

“Winning the national championship is the ultimate goal,” he said. “We have a few more steps to go.”


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  • catsonskates

    Yeah, you definitely get that “how will they blow it this time?” vibe from a lot of the UNH “fans”. You would think that a team that has made it to the quarterfinals for three straight years as third and fourth seeds (not to mention 10 straight trips to the tournament) would inspire a more positive attitude and more pride… I’m afraid that even a win tonight won’t cure those “fans”.
    Some people just enjoy being miserable, I guess.

    • Bharvey13

      its not that we enjoy being miserable, but if you are a red sox fan as well (pre-2004) of which many UNH fans are (i am not) then I’m sure you understand. We don’t have a legacy of winning. We have a legacy of getting close but never being able to seal the deal. When you get emotionally invested (irrationally) and your team loses you tend to get crushed. Its hard to overcome that pessimism. Maybe 2011 is their year, and the way they played last night its possible. But I’m not holding out hope. Remember last year? We came out and looked great against a heavily favored Cornell team then got embarrassed by RIT (lowest ranked team in the tournament).

      • catsonskates

        Maybe we define the word fan differently. Or maybe I’m just strange, but I always believed in the Red Sox. So you get crushed – that’s what the off-season is for.
        It just bothers me when I read/hear “But I’m not holding out hope.” and “I would have bet my 2 boys that UNH wasn’t winning last night.” and the other stuff – especially in the UNH section at away games.
        And I’m not new to this: I’ve been a fan of the ‘cats since I first saw them in the ’77 ECAC’s and a season ticket holder since came back east in ’96. I’ll admit that I was away for some of the real tough years, but I can still appreciate the NCAA streak and the 20-win seasons. Was I disgusted with the loss to St. Lawrence and to Dartmouth? Of course. Do I think that they often don’t make the in-game adjustments that they need to? Of course.
        But I have to have faith. What can I say… I’m a fan.

        BTW Snively, who said “not enough reliable support”?

        • Layzebon

          A lousy NCAA record?? Give them credit for compiling one. 10 straight appearances. They might not lose again this year if they play like they did against Miami.

  • Snively

    Thank you, Bharvey13. Perfect post. Hey, at least we have rabid fans who want the best.

    The pre 2004 Red Sox fan experience is a good analogy, as is last year’s against RIT (after bundling off an oustanding Cornell squad).

    Cubs fans will also understand.

    • Cattucks

      True, many of us are critical. He’ll, we have a right to be after all these years of playoff losses, but we are always there, almost always sell out at home, and love our team above all else. (This is a lot better than BC which has little true support even when playing well.)

  • Snively

    Not enough relliable support? Are you freaking kidding me?

    Never mind the sellouts. Check the Score Updates thread on this board on ANY regular season game — even ones in November. While there might be 20 or 30 for a BC (national champs) or BU (recently ditto) game, there are routinely close to 200 or so for UNH contests — even those in November.

    I’ve loved these guys since 1974 — have checked their scores from China, El Salvador, you name it. And no — I’m not happy when then come up short. But I love them all the same…

  • Alwalks

    Back in the 60′s when I was at UNH, we had winners and we packed Snively Arena. We were not involved in the big dance back then, but look at em now. I do remember seeing Mike Ontkean play (Slapshot/Paul Newman et al), and we had another player that was Jay Silverheels’ nephew (Jay played Tonto w/the Lone Ranger). All the rest were just blue collar players that loved the game. 2011 may be the long awaited year, but don’t put em on the cover of SI, cause that will be the curse. Go Wildcats

  • Sean

    I watched the game on TV last night for many of the reasons expressed above, despite the fact that I live an easy 45 mins. away from Manchester (and 20 minutes from Durham) and have been a season ticket holder for 17 years. I had 3 tickets to yesterday’s game (that were given to me) yet I chose to watch the game from home rather than go to it. I am guilty of many of the charges/breaches of support previously referenced and I too would have bet my 2 boys that there was no way UNH was winning yesterdays game…be it against an opponent like Miami or almost any other. I couldn’t bear the thought of another ride (in years past they’ve been flights home) home from another dissapointing loss resulting from another under-achieving effort. As Dave said in his article “Not even the hometown crowd believed. The cheers sounded tepid. The fans were going through the motions for their boys. At least some of them. They deserved some credit, but they were going through the motions and it sounded it.” I was one of them and, even worse, I was sitting on my couch. I’m delighted at having been so wrong and am dissapointed at my lack of support and confidence. So, that said and out of the way, I’ll stop with the confessional and get to what’s now important: UNH won yesterday because they played a very uncharacteristic (by their standards) UNH style of hockey. They grinded, they banged down low and in the corners (not to be confused with cycling ie. grinding for girls hockey), they were willing to get hit and scramble for pucks (esp. behind Miami’s net) and they weren’t looking for the highlight plays…they also blocked shots. I saw somewhere that they blocked 20 shots…can’t remember a game when theyblocked 5 shots, never mind 20. A few years back when UNH was playing Michigan State in the NCAA’s, Barry Melrose (who knew very little about UNH Hockey) started the ESPN broadcast by saying this (almost verbatim…I’ll never forget it) about UNH in his pre-game comments “Once again, UNH is loaded, especially up front and have as skilled a group of forwards as any team in the country. But the rap against UNH is that they like to win without working”….can’t know whether Barry really was that perceptive or if someone gave him the script but he was dead right…UNH lost to Michigan State that day, despite being a way more talented team. From the looks of last nite’s game against Merrimack, ND should not be able to “play” with UNH….here’s to hoping they won’t outwork ‘em, either. Go Blue .

    Read more: http://www.uscho.com/2011/03/26/after-early-stumble-new-hampshire-finds-right-time-to-come-on-strong/#ixzz1HpDQKeg7

  • Snively

    I find it ironic that Dave — whose writing I love — takes us to task for not quite believing that we’d win yesterday (“the fans were going though the motions for their boys”), when it’s clear that he himself clearly didn’t.

    Notre Dame are an outstanding team, who walzting through the CCHA playoffs.

    The folks I tend to denegrate on this board are those whose don’t respect the quality of other teams — not those who do. :-)

    • Dave Hendrickson

      Snively,

      Glad to hear you love my writing. Thank you!

      As for my comments, I’ll stand by them. The noise level until mid-third period wasn’t what I would have expected. The UNH fans had the opportunity to make it a real home ice advantage, but the noise and enthusiasm levels for two periods were disappointing.

      (FWIW, a lot of people have told me I hit the nail on the head.)

      As for me not believing, I wrote before the regional started that I thought UNH had a real shot at Miami even though the RedHawks had been playing so well that they were still the favorite. But crowd noise and enthusiasm have nothing to do with what I believe and everything to do with what the fans believe. It’s not my job; it is the fan’s job.

      Sean’s comments below reflected what other UNH fans told me. They weren’t going to attend because this clearly wasn’t the year. They didn’t believe. I feel that was reflected in the overall energy level in the building prior to the third period.

      Thanks again for the kind words. I really wish the Wildcats had won on Saturday night.

      They ARE going to win a national championship one of these years. I look forward to writing the feature that night.

      Dave

  • Snively

    Hi, catson skates (and I too loved ’77 — despite the loss in the ECAC final to BC… Beating Cornell 10-9 in 2OT in the semi-final was good terrific).

    On “who said not enough support”, I meant assertions like this”

    “You could almost sense the UNH partisans glancing at their watches, wondering how long they’d have to stick around.”

    Meets meets definition for an NCAA playoffs game attitude… :-)

  • Snively

    Sorry — typos above. Corrected reads like this:

    Hi, catson skates (and I too loved ’77 — despite the loss in the ECAC final to BC… Beating Cornell 10-9 in 2OT in the semi-final was just terrific).

    On “who said not enough support”, I meant assertions like this:

    “You could almost sense the UNH partisans glancing at their watches, wondering how long they’d have to stick around.”

    Meets my definition for an NCAA playoffs game attitude… :-)

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