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History awaits UNH's Umile
UNH men’s hockey coach Dick Umile watches practice Tuesday at the Whittemore Center in Durham. The longtime Wildcats bench boss goes into tonight’s season opener against St. Cloud State with 499 career wins. (MARK BOLTON/Union Leader)
DURHAM — Dick Umile’s first win as the University of New Hampshire men’s hockey coach came in Burlington, Vt., on Oct. 26, 1990.
His most recent milestone victories came on the road, too.
He and the Wildcats will attempt to get the latest career accomplishment out of the way tonight at home in their season opener against St. Cloud State at the Whittemore Center at 7:30 p.m.
Umile has 499 wins as head coach, all at UNH, and is about to join an elite group. Only five active coaches have collected 500 wins.
At least some of his players have gotten wind of the mark.
“We’ve got to make sure we grab that puck,” said junior defenseman Justin Agosta. “Hopefully, at the end of the first game on Friday night.”
UNH and St. Cloud State meet again on Saturday night at 7.
Umile is concerned about No. 500 only because he wants No. 1 for this year.
He and his team have focused on getting off to a good start to the season. A rough start last year led to a rare under-.500 season for the Wildcats.
They finished 15-19-3 overall and 11-14-2 in Hockey East and had their streak of consecutive NCAA tournament appearances snapped at 10.
The Wildcats lost their opener at Boston University, 5-0, and their next game at Northeastern, 4-0, and fell at home to Boston College, 5-1.
They then went to St. Cloud and lost 7-5 the first night before managing a 3-3 tie the next.
“It’s tough to get out of the hole when you fall behind,” Umile said.
Casey DeSmith, the sophomore out of Rochester, will likely get the start in goal tonight. He helped UNH rally in the second half last year finished with a .926 save percentage and 2.33 goals against average.
The defense, led by seniors Connor Hardowa and Brett Kostolansky, is more experienced and should be better from the start of the season, Umile said.
Dalton Speelman, who shattered his left wrist and hand during a game against Lowell in November, returns to the lineup and will start out on a top line with sophomore center Grayson Downing and junior Nick Sorkin.
Sorkin had nine goals and 26 assists for 35 points and was tied with Stevie Moses last season for the team lead in scoring. Downing was one of only two Wildcats, along with Moses, to hit double figures in goals at 10-13-23.
Speelman received a medical redshirt and will be a junior again. He had three goals and three assists last year before being hurt in the 11th game of the season.
Speelman had one of the goals in a 5-2 exhibition win over St. Francis Xavier last week.
“It was a great transition play, a great pass by Downing,” Umile said. “It was good to see. It’s good to have him back in the lineup.”
Agosta had three assists in the exhibition game and sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk had a pair of power play goals.
One of the other lines will likely have senior Austin Block, senior Greg Burke and junior Kevin Goumas skating together and Umile indicated another could have sophomore Casey Thrush skating with junior Jeff Silengo and senior John Henrion.
St. Cloud State finished 17-17-5 last season and features senior forward Ben Hanowski, who led the Huskies with 23 goals last season.