Last year, New Hampshire failed to secure playoff home ice for the first time since 1996, a span during which the Wildcats finished first six times. That sustained excellence went by the wayside when they got off to a bad start fueled by poor goaltending and continued with an uncharacteristic inability to finish scoring chances.
The Wildcats lost their first four games, and in mid-November embarked on a 1-7 skid with the only win coming over an Alabama-Huntsville squad that finished 2-28-1.
Not the Wildcats that fans and foes had come to expect.
“It’s going to be real important for us to get off to a good start in October,” coach Dick Umile says. “Our first four games are at home; we’ve got to take that as an advantage. We’re going to play some good teams, St. Cloud and Boston University, so we better be ready to play from the beginning.”
Last year’s first-half goaltending issues disappeared when then-freshman Casey DeSmith came off the bench to take over the position, recording a very UNH-like 2.33 goals against average and .926 save percentage.
“I think he’s going to pick up where he left off, and he was terrific for us the second half,” Umile says. “He proved that he’s going to be one of the top goaltenders out there.”
As to whether UNH forwards can return to their typical sniping ways, the jury remains out. Stevie Moses and his 22 goals are gone, leaving juniors Nick Sorkin and Kevin Goumas as returning 30-plus-point producers, but they recorded only nine goals each in the process. Other than sophomore Grayson Downing’s 10 goals, no other forward tallied more than five.
No New Hampshire player cracked the top 15 in league scoring and only Vermont scored fewer league goals. Holy (Darren) Haydar!
“We need to get several guys scoring,” Umile says. “I think there’s a good group coming back in our sophomore and junior classes. Our junior class with Greg Burke, John Henrion and Austin Block has to score. I think the scoring is going to be there, but it’s probably going to take three or four guys to put up the numbers that one or two guys did before.”
But will the Wildcats repeat last season’s tendency to control territorial play only to fall short of burying the puck?
“That was a big problem,” Umile says. “We didn’t score a lot of goals and in the first half we didn’t play very well defensively from the net out. That’s not a good combination for success. Hopefully that’s going to change.”
On the plus side, UNH returns five of its top six defensemen with sophomore Trevor van Riemsdyk and senior captain Connor Hardowa leading the way. Freshman Brett Pesce ranks as the favorite to fill the void, but Harry Quast could also challenge for time.
“Having five of six coming back is a good thing and they played well,” Umile says. “We need one of the freshmen to step up, if not both of them rotating in there, but we feel good about that position. Our defense is going to be solid.”
About the Wildcats
2011-12 overall record: 15-19-3
2011-12 Hockey East record: 11-14-2 (sixth)
2012-13 predicted finish: Jim: third; Dave: third
Key losses: F Stevie Moses, D Damon Kipp
Players to watch: G Casey DeSmith, D Trevor van Riemsdyk, F Nick Sorkin, F Kevin Goumas
Impact rookies: F Collin MacDonald, F Dan Correale, D Brett Pesce
Why the Wildcats will finish higher than predicted: Don’t they always? Besides, this year the goaltending will be strong right out of the gate, a major contrast with last season.
Why the Wildcats will finish lower than predicted: The goalscoring again proves to be a problem.