College Roundup: UNH hopeful on final weekendBy ALEX HALL
New Hampshire Union Leader
February 22. 2018 9:44PM
PERHAPS the most comforting — or frustrating — aspect of the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team’s 17-game slump is just how many of those were close encounters.
The Wildcats are 1-11-5 over their last 17 games heading into their regular-season-finale home-and-home series with No. 11 Northeastern University this weekend. Seven of those 11 losses were decided by one goal and another three were by two goals.
UNH (10-16-6, 5-12-5 Hockey East) will play the Huskies (19-8-5, 13-6-3 Hockey East) in Boston tonight before hosting them Saturday night in Durham. Both games are at 7 p.m. Saturday night’s game will be coach Dick Umile’s final regular-season game behind the UNH bench.
One of the Wildcats’ five ties during this stretch came at Northeastern on Feb. 2.
“Obviously, we haven’t won as many games as we’d hoped but we’re right in every game,” UNH junior forward Ara Nazarian said. “No one is blowing us out. We have a lot of one-goal games that easily could have gone our way. ... I think that that’s a positive going into this weekend and going into playoffs.”
Umile echoed Nazarian’s sentiments and said the team is focused on trying to secure home-ice advantage in the first round of the Hockey East tournament.
UNH currently sits in 10th in the 11-team conference standings with 15 points and would need to jump into eighth place to earn home ice. Vermont currently occupies the No. 8 spot with 17 points. Before Thursday’s action, UMass was ninth, with 16 points.
The top five seeds in the Hockey East playoffs earn a first-round bye while teams seeded 6-through-8 will host teams 9-through-11 in the opening round. UVM owns a tiebreaker advantage over UNH by virtue of its 1-0-2 record against the Wildcats. The Wildcats own a tiebreaker over UMass because they went 2-0 against the Minutemen.
“If we win a game — one game — we could still get home ice here depending on what goes on with the other teams and there’s some great matchups,” Umile said. “And when I say great matchups, everybody’s pretty even here in the league, especially from the middle of the pack down to the bottom.
“We know we can play. We know we can win. We haven’t but we’ve had every opportunity to win those games and we’re going into this weekend feeling that way and getting ready for the playoffs.”
If UNH is looking for one last test to prepare itself for the postseason, the Huskies will surely provide that.
Northeastern ranks No. 1 in Hockey East and No. 7 in the nation in scoring offense (3.44 goals per game). Huskies junior forward Adam Gaudette, the reigning Hockey East player of the week, leads the country in scoring with 51 points (27 goals, 24 assists). His linemate, senior forward Dylan Sikura, is No. 2 with 45 points on 15 goals and a nation-leading 30 assists.
Senior Nolan Stevens, the third member of Northeastern’s top line, is tied for eighth in the country in goals per game (.63) and has logged 34 points (20 goals, 14 assists).
Gaudette and Sikura are both nominees for the Hobey Baker Award.
“You just kind of have to play man-on-man, not look at the puck, keep the body in front of them — just do what you can,” UNH senior defenseman Cam Marks said regarding handling Gaudette, Sikura and Stevens. “Because they’re going to get their chances. You’ve just got to limit them.”
Sikura’s older brother, Tyler, played at Dartmouth College and spent part of last season in the ECHL with the Manchester Monarchs. Tyler currently plays for the Rockford IceHogs in the AHL.
UNH ranks third in Hockey East in goals allowed (85). Northeastern has allowed the fewest in the conference (71).
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AS THE UNH men prepare for their league tournament, other programs around the Granite State have already begun or are about to embark on postseason play. Here is a look at matchups for teams around the state that are in the midst of conference playoff runs.
Like its male counterpart, the UNH women’s team is preparing to face Northeastern. The fifth-seeded Wildcats will play at the fourth-seeded Huskies each of the next three days in 2 p.m. matinees at Matthews Arena in the best-of-three quarterfinals of the Women’s Hockey East playoffs.
The Wildcats (14-13-7, 9-10-5 Hockey East) lost to Northeastern (15-16-3, 11-11-2 Hockey East) in both of their regular-season trips to Matthews Arena but defeated the Huskies, 2-1, in overtime on Dec. 1 in Durham.
Northeastern features three New Hampshire residents on its roster in captain Shelby Herrington, a senior forward from Bow, Matti Hartman, a sophomore forward from Hanover, and Paige Capistran, a sophomore defender from Manchester. Plymouth State teams
The Plymouth State University men’s hockey team will enter the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament as the top seed for the third time in four years.
The No. 14 Panthers (19-4-2, 15-2-1 MASCAC) will host the winner of Saturday’s quarterfinal game between No. 5 seed Westfield State and No. 4 seeded UMass Dartmouth next Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Hanaway Rink.
Plymouth State defeated Westfield State, 6-3, at home on Tuesday to conclude its regular-season slate and swept its three-game regular-season series with UMass Dartmouth.
The Plymouth State women’s team is coming off a 3-2 overtime win over the University of New England in the New England Hockey Conference quarterfinals and will play at No. 1 Norwich in the semifinals on Saturday at 3 p.m.
After capturing the Northeast-10 Conference regular-season title, the St. Anselm men’s team will host Southern New Hampshire University in the league semifinals Saturday night (7) at Sullivan Arena.
The top-seeded Hawks are coming off a regular-season-finale home-and-home series sweep of fourth-seeded SNHU (12-8-3, 6-7-2 NE-10). St. Anselm (15-9-1, 11-4 NE-10) also defeated the Penmen, 4-2, on Nov. 10.
St. Anselm owns a 9-1 record against the Penmen in postseason play.
The St. Anselm women’s team will host Franklin Pierce University Saturday at 4 p.m. in the semifinals of the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance tournament. The top-seeded Hawks (20-3-4, 15-2-3 NEWHA) went 3-0-1 against fourth-seeded Franklin Pierce in the regular season.
The Ravens (15-11-2, 9-11-1 NEWHA) advanced to the semifinals by defeating fifth-seeded St. Michael’s, 2-1, on Wednesday.
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The NH College Hockey column runs Fridays during the season.
Alex Hall can be reached at email@example.com.