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December 02. 2012 8:26PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Whatever the ranking, UNH hockey team is flying

LET THE PLAYOFFS BEGIN.

University of New Hampshire hockey coach Dick Umile chuckled at the thought.

"It would be nice if we were in the playoffs right now, the way we're playing," Umile said on Sunday. "The guys are playing well. I thought last night was as good a 60 minutes as we've played. We played with good composure and did a lot of things well and beat a good team."

Umile was referencing Saturday night's 5-2 win at UMass Lowell that completed a weekend and season sweep of the River Hawks, who were picked in the pre-season coaches poll to finish second in Hockey East to Boston College.

UNH also registered a 5-2 win over UMass-Lowell on Friday night at home and won a 3-0 game at Lowell on Nov. 16.

Casey DeSmith, a sophomore goalie from Rochester, bounced back nicely from a rough weekend in Denver to post both wins in goal. He leads Hockey East with a .943 save percentage and is second in goals-against average at 1.72.

The Wildcats are unbeaten in their last eight at 7-0-1 and at 11-1-2 overall are the only team in the country with just one loss.

They were ranked No. 2 in the country behind Boston College last week.

If the Wildcats are not No. 1 when today's rankings are released, they are going to be darn close to the top spot.

Boston College split a pair of games with Boston University over the weekend. BU won a Friday night game at home, 4-2, and BC got the Terriers back, 5-2, on Saturday night at Conte Forum.

The Eagles are 10-2-0 overall.

"We'll probably be No. 2 and that's OK," Umile said. Well stay right there. That's where we want to be. We want to be at the top of our league. That's our first goal, to win the regular season championship. That's what we're trying to do."

The Wildcats are 8-1-1 in Hockey East at the moment and trail BC by a point. The Eagles have played one more game than UNH.

BC on Sunday still owned a slight edge on UNH in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used to pick teams for the NCAA tournament come March.

And while Umile and his high-flying Wildcats continue to fine-tune their game, they must wait three months for the post-season to begin.

They get a peek at what's to come in the weeks ahead.

After BC and UNH at No. 1 and 2, the top five in the PairWise rankings were Dartmouth at No. 3, Yale at No. 4 and BU at No. 5.

Four of UNH's next six games are against BU, Dartmouth and BC.

BU brings an 8-5-0 overall record and 6-4-0 mark in Hockey East to the Whittemore Center for a game on Thursday night at 7.

"The rankings don't matter," Umile said. "The important thing is playing BU on Thursday night. That could be our Christmas gift. We know what BU and UNH games are always like."

The Wildcats play the United States Under-18 team in an exhibition on Sunday at 4.

Then they're off for three weeks until taking on Dartmouth in the first round of its Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover on Dec. 30 at 7. They play ether Bemidji State or Massachusetts the next night.

Rensselaer is at UNH on Jan. 5, and a home-and-home series with Boston College follows, on Jan. 11 at BC and in Durham on Jan. 12.

Some big games await, short and long term, whether the Wildcats are No. 1, No. 2, or whatever.

"Obviously it feels nice (to be highly ranked)," said UNH senior forward Austin Block. "I think it's easy to get content if you think about it too much. I like that we have a target on our backs and teams are going to give it their best. I think it's going to make the team better as long as we stay aggressive and don't get content and lay back."

_____


THE WOMEN'S BASKETBALL TEAM faces Dartmouth and the men take on Central Connecticut in a doubleheader on Wednesday night in Lundholm Gymnasium. The women's game is at 5:30 and the men are scheduled to play at 7:30.

The Wildcat men snapped a three-game losing streak and improved to 3-4 with a 63-50 win over Brown on Saturday at home.

Central Connecticut is 3-3 and coming off an 80-77 loss at Hartford.

The Wildcats play Yale at home on Saturday at 1 to close out a three-game homestand.

The UNH women took a 3-3 record into a game against Brown on Sunday.

Dartmouth is 1-5 overall and lost its fifth straight game at Old Dominion, 73-59, on Sunday.

alessels@unionleader.com


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