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March 01. 2012 11:44PM

Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Maine focus before tourney

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team heads for the not-so-friendly confines of Alfond Arena at the University of Maine on Saturday afternoon looking for a little momentum going into the Hockey East playoffs.

The Wildcats wouldn't mind messing up Maine's plans for the post-season a bit along the way.

“We're excited and looking forward to playing them,” said UNH coach Dick Umile. “It's going to be great for us. It will be a challenge and that's what we want before the playoffs.”

UNH is 14-16-3 overall and 11-13-2 in Hockey East and will be either the No. 6 or No. 7 seed for the league tournament. The Wildcats are sixth this morning, a point ahead of Providence. But they have just Saturday's game (4 p.m., NESN) remaining in the regular season and Providence plays UMass-Lowell tonight at home and Saturday night in Lowell.

Maine is 19-11-3 and 14-10-2 and holds down fourth, a point in front of Merrimack.

Merrimack, too, has a pair of games to go and Maine has just one.

If the Black Bears can't hold hold off Merrimack in the standings, they will be on the road for the first round of the Hockey East tournament as well.

“They're our rival,” said sophomore Kevin Goumas. “If you give them a home seed, they can be a dangerous team in the long run. Maybe if they get on the road in the playoffs, they can get beat by a couple of teams.”

This is the rubber game in the season series. UNH beat Maine, 3-2, in Durham on Nov. 5. Maine knocked off UNH, 5-4 in overtime, at Fenway Park on Jan. 7.

The Fenway game was the first of 15 straight starts for freshman goalie Casey DeSmith of Rochester, who led UNH's rebound from a rough first half of the season.

DeSmith has the second-best save percentage in Hockey East at .926 going into the weekend and fourth-best goals-against average at 2.28 and is 8-7-1.

Sophomore Dan Sullivan has won the starting job for Maine and has an 18-8-3 record with a .905 save percentage and 2.65 goals-against average.

The high-scoring unit of senior Brian Flynn (17 goals, 28 assists for 45 points) centering for senior Spencer Abbott (19-37-56) and junior Joey Diamond (22-19-41) leads the Black Bears.

The Wildcats will try to at least slow that group, see if they can muddle up Senior Night at Alfond and then see where that leaves them at the end of the night as far as seeding for the league tournament.

Chances are, Umile said, his team will either be playing its first round series at Boston University or UMass-Lowell.

“You play it out and that's probably the scenario,” he said. “You know what? We'll play either one of them.”

If Lowell plays a home series next week, the games are apt to be on Thursday and Friday and, if necessary, Sunday. BU may be on the same schedule, depending on what happens in the America East basketball tournament. If the Terriers end up hosting a basketball championship game, the hockey series may start on Thursday.

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The Dartmouth men lost to St Lawrence, 3-1, at home on Saturday night in the last game of the regular season and the setback cost them home ice for the first round of the ECAC playoffs.

Instead, the Big Green, 11-14-4 overall and 8-11-3 in the ECAC, open a best-of-three set at St. Lawrence's Appleton Arena tonight at 7. Dartmouth is the ninth seed in the tournament, St. Lawrence the eighth. The teams meet again on Saturday night and, if necessary, on Sunday night.

Dartmouth beat the Saints, 3-1, on the road on Nov. 18. The teams played to a 2-2 tie in the Ledyard National Bank Classic championship game on Dec. 31 in Hanover and St. Lawrence won the tournament title in a shootout.

Sophomore Eric Robinson at 12-11-23 and senior Doug Jones at 9-14-23 lead Dartmouth in scoring.

The other ECAC first-round matchups are: No. 12 Brown at No. 5 Quinnipiac; No. 11 Princeton at No. 6 Yale, and No. 10 RPI at No. 7 Clarkson. Union, Cornell, Harvard and Colgate finished 1-through-4 received byes and home ice the quarterfinals, set for next weekend.

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THE ST. ANSELM men face Stonehill on Saturday at home at 3 in the Thomas F. Sullivan Arena in the NEC-10 championship game.

Mike Richard, a junior forward out of Derry and Pinkerton Academy, scored the goal in St. Anselm's 1-0 win over St. Michael's last Saturday in the tournament semifinals.

The Hawks go into the title game at 13-8-5 and Stonehill is 10-11-3.

The teams tied 1-1 at Stonehill on Feb. 23 and Richard had the St. Anselm goal in that game, too.

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PLYMOUTH STATE takes on Salem State in search of its first Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletics Conference championship in sold-out Hanaway Rink on Saturday at 6.

The No. 1-seeded Panthers are 16-6-3 overall, won the MASCAC regular season championship and are 7-0-1 in their last eight games.

No. 2 Salem State is 15-8-3 and won the MASCAC tournament title in 2010 and was runnerup last year.

Plymouth won 3-2 and 4-3 games at Salem State this season. Salem State took a 3-1 game at Plymouth.

Allen Lessels covers college hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at alessels@unionleader.com.


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