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November 25. 2012 6:24PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Wildcats are riding a Rocky Mountain high

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team took a four-game winning streak and the No. 3 ranking in the country West early on Thanksgiving morning, bound for a couple of major tests.

The Wildcats passed the tests - at Colorado College on Friday night and at the University of Denver on Saturday - and headed home.

"We're a happy group," said UNH coach Dick Umile on Sunday morning from Denver International Airport. "We had a successful weekend and we're feeling good today."

They should.

The Wildcats played a couple of topsy-turvy games and returned with their winning streak knocked down to an unbeaten stretch of six games, but they likely will move up a notch to No. 2 in the nation behind Boston College when this week's rankings are released today.

UNH and No. 14 Colorado College tied, 4-4, on Friday night and the Wildcats knocked off No. 2 Denver, 6-4, on the strength of hat tricks by both sophomore Grayson Downing and junior Kevin Goumas on Saturday night.

"The weekend said an awful lot about the team," Umile said. "There's no quit in them. They had composure and really handled the puck well and managed special teams well."

Friday night was a little disappointing, Umile said, in that his team had a 4-0 lead but could not hold on for the win.

"The tying goal was unfortunate. It bounced off the boards and off a skate and into the net," he said.

Still, Umile was happy with the way the team responded and created chances to win in overtime.

Saturday night was the opposite scenario and all about responding.

Denver jumped in front, 3-0, before the first period was half over.

"It was not from being outplayed," Umile said. "The shots were pretty even, but their shots just went in. It happened pretty quickly."

Umile replaced starting goalie Casey DeSmith, a sophomore from Rochester, with junior Jeff Wyer after the third goal and the Wildcats started back.

They trailed, 4-2, after two periods.

"We just played great in the third period," Umile said. "We played fabulous."

Downing's third goal of the game cut the lead to 4-3. Goumas scored the first of his three straight to tie it 4-4 with 6:36 left. He scored the game winner with 3:20 to go and added an empty-net goal in the last minute.

"Both of them played great both nights," Umile said.

Goumas assisted on two of Downing's goals for a five-point night and also had two assists on Friday night. Goumas, who centered a new second line with sophomore Casey Thrush and freshman Maxim Gaudreault on Saturday, leads Hockey East in scoring with six goals and 14 assists for 20 points.

Wyer made 18 saves to pick up his first win in relief of DeSmith, who, along with a solid defense, has led UNH to its strong start.

"There's no stress about it, nobody's worried about it," said Umile of DeSmith's weekend. "This wasn't his best weekend, but he'll put that behind him and move on."

The Wildcats get back to league play with a home-and-home series against UMass Lowell next weekend. The teams play at the Whittemore Center on Friday night at 7:30 and in Lowell on Saturday at 7.

______


THE UNH FOOTBALL TEAM was back practicing on Sunday, after a break for Thanksgiving.

The Wildcats go up against Wofford College in the second round of the NCAA Football Championship Subdivision tournament in Spartanburg, S.C., on Saturday at 2.

UNH was 8-3 overall and 6-2 in the Colonial Athletic Association and Wofford was 8-3 overall and 6-2 on the Southern Conference. Both teams received first-round byes.

The winner of the game advances to play the winner of the South Dakota State at North Dakota State game. North Dakota State is the No. 1 seed in the tournament and the defending national champion.

South Dakota State crushed Eastern Illinois, 58-10, in a first-round game on Saturday to earn a another shot at North Dakota State. North Dakota State beat South Dakota State, 20-17, at home on Nov. 10 to help clinch the Missouri Valley Football Conference title.

UNH faces a Wofford offense that runs an option and puts up 348.2 yards a game on the ground, which is the second-highest total in FCS.

"They run the wingbone offense, or whatever you want to call it, and are very, very, very good at it," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "They have an excellent offensive line with four guys who returned this year and their fullback, Eric Breitenstein, is everything that's been written about him."

A 5-foot-11 and 230-pound senior, Breitenstein was the Southern Conference Player of the Year for the second year in a row this season. He ran for 1,653 yards with averages of 6.8 yards a carry and 150.3 yards a game.

"He's athletic and a big, strong physical kid who runs real well and has great vision," McDonnell said.

Wofford averages fewer than seven pass attempts a game and its 52 yards a game passing is last of the 121 teams in the FCS.

"They have passed very little, just enough to keep you off balance," McDonnell said. "But you know what they're going to do. They're going to give it to the fullback and the quarterback has his pitch stuff. That's been their philosophy and they've been doing it a long time and they're very good at it."

______


THE MEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM, after winning its first two games, has lost its last three, including a 60-50 setback at Holy Cross on Saturday.

The Wildcats play the University of Connecticut on Thursday in the XL Center in Hartford at 7 p.m.

Junior guard Shabazz Napier averages 21.2 points a game for UConn, which took a 4-1 record into a home game against Stony Brook on Sunday.

UNH gave UConn a scare two years ago in Storrs before falling, 62-55. UNH led by a point at halftime, was up 34-30 with 15:42 left and was down a point at 49-48 with 8:06 to play.

alessels@unionleader.com


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