New Hampshire looks to freshmen, new culture

Vilma Vaattovaara (UNH - 35) - The visiting University of New Hampshire Wildcats defeated the Boston College Eagles 3-1 on Wednesday, October 16, 2013, at Kelley Rink in Conte Forum in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Vilma Vaattovaara is a proven netminder for the Wildcats (Melissa Wade)

New Hampshire Wildcats
USCHO prediction: Seventh
Coaches’ prediction: Sixth
Last season: Sixth (10-23-3, 6-13-2 Hockey East)

The names
A lot of teams start the season with similar goals, but this year, only New Hampshire knows that it will be hosting the Frozen Four.

“I think there’s a lot of reasons to be excited about the Frozen Four being here, one of which is we have a beautiful campus, a beautiful building, and it’s a great atmosphere for any of the teams that get the opportunity to be here,” coach Hilary Witt said. “Everyone’s goal at the beginning of the year is to win a national championship. We’re excited about that, but we’re not looking too far ahead. But it is exciting, and we’ve got a new video board here at the Whittemore Center. It’s just going to be an awesome atmosphere for anybody that’s playing in it, and of course, we hope to be one of those, too.”

Before that can happen, the Wildcats have to make a greater impact in their own league after finishing sixth and falling to Northeastern in a decisive third game in the first round.

“Last year was obviously a year where we were trying to build the team and grow some confidence,” Witt said. “I think as the year went by, we got better every day, and that was our goal. We had a great playoff series and nearly got to the conference championship weekend.”

A coaching staff and team have to put in a lot of effort before it shows up in the record.

“We talk a lot about our culture and our attitude and our belief in ourselves,” Witt said. “We worked really hard last year to make that our culture and continue to do that year in and year out. I think our foundation is fantastic.”

UNH hopes to build on the gains made with this year’s recruits.

“We’re going to rely heavily on the freshman class,” Witt said. “We certainly have a couple kids that we’re really excited to see. Taylor Wenczkowski, she’s just a pure goal scorer, in an area that we really need to upgrade. We have Marie-Jo Pelletier, a small D, coming in; her skills, her hockey I.Q., are really going to help the back end. We brought in two freshman goalies. As great as Vilma [Vaattovaara] played last year, and Ashley Wilkes stepped in playoffs, we need a little more competition at that position. We need to get better there.”

The key to any turnaround is to get greater production from the people already in place.

“I preach every day that I believe our players can do more than they think they’re capable of,” Witt said.

The numbers
The top three scorers — Jonna Curtis, Amy Boucher, and Nicoline Jensen — are back. Those were the only members of the roster to reach 15 points. On the season, the Wildcats scored 62 goals, or 1.72 goals per game.

The prognosis
The good news for a team looking to make a move upward in Hockey East is that the opportunity exists. It can climb a few rungs before it bumps into a national contender. The key is to keep climbing and not stagnate, or worse, start to slide.

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