Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: No. 1 Wildcat skaters eye payback against BU
DURHAM -- The Boston University hockey team finished off No. 1-ranked New Hampshire twice last season: Once early and then again late.
The Wildcats hope to return the first part of the favor tonight when the two teams meet for the third and final time during the regular season at the Whittemore Center at 7.
"Everybody talks about how they knocked us out last year," said UNH junior defenseman Justin Agosta. "And I think they swept us during the year. It's nice to kind of give that back to them and it would be great to go into the break at No. 1."
BU did sweep the three-game regular season series last year and closed it out with a 2-1 win at the Whitt on Dec. 8.
It was the first time UNH had been swept by any Hockey East team during the regular season since the Terriers did it during the 1996-97 campaign.
The Terriers then followed up in a hard-fought Hockey East quarterfinal series and ended the Wildcats' season, two games to one, in March.
UNH beat the Terriers at home, 4-1, on Oct. 20, and in Boston, 3-1, on Nov. 18 in this turnaround season and will try to make it three straight tonight.
The Wildcats are 11-1-2 overall, 8-1-1 in Hockey East and 6-0-0 at home. They trail Boston College in the league standings by a point.
Boston University is 8-5-0 overall and 6-4-0 in the league and ranked No. 7.
UNH took over the No. 1 national ranking on Monday from BC and is on top for the first time since the poll of Jan. 29, 2007. That stay lasted a week. The Wildcats split a pair of games with Maine and the next week they were at No. 3.
"They earned it," said UNH coach Dick Umile of the lofty perch. "They accept the challenge. The target gets a little bigger."
Agosta and junior forward Kevin Goumas said the Wildcats don't mind that.
"It's pretty special," said Goumas, who leads UNH and Hockey East with 23 points on seven goals and 16 assists. "Obviously it doesn't mean anything at this point. Anything can happen this week. We could lose and be out of No. 1."
The Wildcats figure they have to be that much more focused.
"Being No. 1 is a little harder," Goumas said. "Everyone is looking at you and trying to chase you down, rather than you hanging out at 4 or 5 and chasing the other people down. You've just got to work hard every game. There are other teams that are out there that are very good that easily could take over the No. 1 spot."
BU has been climbing in the rankings and split a series with Boston College last weekend. The Terriers snapped BC's 10-game win streak with a 4-2 triumph at Agganis Arena last Friday. BC won the rematch, 5-2, at home the next night.
The Wildcats have been led defensively by goalie Casey DeSmith, a sophomore out of Rochester, and have been outstanding at killing penalties.
They have scored four shorthanded goals and allowed only two power play goals in 50 opponent chances. They have killed off 30 straight penalties since allowing their last power play goal on Nov. 2 at UMass. UNH has scored three of its shorties in that same span.
The Wildcats face the United States Under-18 team in an exhibition game on Sunday at 4 at the Whit.
After that, they're off until they play Dartmouth in the first round of the Ledyard National Bank Classic in Hanover on Dec. 30. Bemidji State and Massachusetts are also in that tournament.
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The men's basketball team wraps up a three-game home-stand against Yale on Saturday at 1.
The Wildcats played Central Connecticut in the nightcap of a doubleheader in Lundholm Gymnasium on Wednesday night.
The UNH and Dartmouth women squared off in the first game.
The Wildcat men close out the calendar year with three Sunday road games: They are at Boston College on Dec. 16, at Penn State on Dec. 23 and at Colgate on Dec. 30.
The women play their next two games at home: against Central Connecticut on Sunday at 2 and against Wagner on Dec. 17.
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Allen Lessels covers college sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.