Last year was marked by extreme highs and lows for the New Hampshire Wildcats.
They led Hockey East for 16 straight weeks and won their third regular season title in the last four years. On the other hand, they got bounced in the league quarterfinals for the second straight year.
In their ninth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, they knocked off Cornell in the opening round, leaving only upstart Rochester Institute of Technology between themselves and a Frozen Four berth. The upstarts, however, prevailed.
This year, UNH forwards can once again be expected to fill the net. They always do. Bobby Butler and Peter Leblanc have graduated, but seniors Phil DeSimone, Mike Sislo and Paul Thompson return and are proven offensive threats.
Junior Stevie Moses and sophomore Greg Burke will take the next step and move into larger roles.
“We’ve always had some pretty good goal scorers, and when they graduate someone else steps up,” UNH coach Dick Umile says. “We feel real good about the returning guys and not just the three seniors. We feel good about the juniors and sophomores. We’ll have the ability to score goals.”
Five of six defensemen return, led by All-American Blake Kessel. Kessel adds an offensive dimension to the blue line (and power play), as evidenced by his 38 points last year.
Kessel, Matt Campanale, Brett Kostolansky, Mike Beck and Damon Kipp all played in at least 30 games last year, so experience and depth will be significant assets.
“Matt Campanale is our senior assistant captain,” Umile says. “He plays along with Blake [and is our leader.] We’ll be able to defend and make that first pass. With those five defensemen back, that’s going to be good for our goaltending situation.”
Ah, the goaltending situation.
All-American Brian Foster recorded every decision last year but one, leaving a gaping hole behind following his departure. Junior Matt DiGirolamo has huge skates to fill, but the same held true two years ago when Foster inherited the No. 1 role with little experience in his first two seasons. That worked pretty well.
Freshman Jeff Wyer will look to push DiGirolamo for time.
“Matt DiGirolamo is going to be our goaltender,” Umile says. “He’s a little bit different. He’s smaller but he’s quick and he’s very, very talented.
“He’s our No. 1. The freshman is a good one, but the job right now is going to be Matt’s and we think he’s going to be a good one.”