Another game, another shutout
LOWELL, Mass. - If anybody still questions why the University of New Hampshire ranks first nationally in team defense, just ask UMass Lowell.
Casey DeSmith "pitched" his fourth shutout of the season Friday night and his teammates blocked 18 shots as the Wildcats blanked the River Hawks, 3-0, in a Hockey East game.
The victory was UNH's third consecutive shutout, the first time a Wildcat team has accomplished that feat since the 1928-29 season.
"The team is playing unbelievable defense right now," DeSmith said. "All the credit goes to them.
"They're not letting much through and when they do, it's a good thing that I'm there to make the save. But they're doing a terrific job in front of me."
As a result of that "terrific job" UNH (7-1-1, 5-1-1) lowered its goals-against average to a microscopic 1.22.
In addition, DeSmith (23 saves) extended his scoreless streak to 178 minutes and 52 seconds (the school record is 181 minutes and 31 seconds set in the 1968-69 season) which lowered his goals-against average to 1.21 and upped his save percentage to .957.
"When you get on a run like this, the pucks start not going in, whereas they might have gone in before," DeSmith said. "It's not really a matter of my focusing but I'm confident.
"There were a couple shots from the hash marks tonight that I just knew weren't going in because I'm seeing the puck so well. It's a good roll to be on."
Ironically, while Trevor van Riemsdyk and Connor Hardowa led UNH's blue-liners, they also contributed on offense.
Van Riemsdyk recorded a goal and an assist while Hardowa assisted on the game's final goal - by Austin Block at 19:41 of the third while UNH was on a power play (the Wildcats have scored a power-play goal in each of their seven victories).
What's also noteworthy was the fact UNH was assessed only one penalty.
"We've really bought in as a team this year," van Riemsdyk said. "Everyone's blocking shots.
"They're a really physical team. Maybe in the past when you play a physical team like that, it gets chippy and turns into a mess. But we took their physicality and let them hit us and took advantage of their over-aggressiveness."
The Wildcats and van Riemsdyk gave DeSmith the only goal he would need at 15:53 of the second period when he beat Doug Carr (28 saves) with a wrist shot from the right circle.
Arguably the goal that clipped the wings of the River Hawks (2-5-1, 1-4-1) came at 10:52 of the third.
Settling a rebound, van Riemsdyk fed Grayson Downing, who carried the puck over half the length of the ice and then beat Carr to the upper-right corner.
"Downing's goal was huge for us," coach Dick Umile said. "Overall, it was a gritty game by us. The guys believe in team defense and are playing good, smart hockey.
"Everybody's contributing so I'm pleased with the way the team's playing right now."