Athlete of the Month: The puck stops at UNH's DeSmith
Casey DeSmith of Rochester took people by surprise last year when he stepped into the starting goaltender's role with the University of New Hampshire as a freshman, blossoming into one of the best in Hockey East.
His success raised expectations for this year and DeSmith has been equal to the challenge, helping elevate the Wildcats to the No. 1 ranking in the country at one point this season.
DeSmith was nothing short of incredible during one November stretch when he posted three straight shutouts and set a program record by going 203:32 without allowing a goal. He finished the month with a 5-1-1 record, a 1.65 goals-against average and .951 save percentage, earning the November Athlete of the Month award as voted on by the New Hampshire Union Leader Board of Judges.
"As far as people's expectations for me, I think that has changed the most this year," DeSmith said. "And (after the streak), I feel expectations have risen even more and I don't think that's a bad thing."
DeSmith topped a ballot that included Exeter High running back Tyler Grant, the Union Leader's football player of year, quarterback Connor Benjamin of Goffstown High and Deanna Purcell of Hudson (Alvirne), a sophomore standout basketball player at Rivier College in Nashua.
Others receiving votes were champion high school cross country runner Elizabeth Conway of Manchester Central, running back Manny Latimore of Pinkerton Academy of Derry, quarterback Donavan Phanor of Portsmouth High, quarterback James Caparell of Bedford High and soccer player Samuel Binogono of Manchester Central.
DeSmith was named the Hockey East Goaltender of the Month in November after recording four games with 30 or more saves, including two with 40 or more.
DeSmith said there are times when the bounce of the puck or a deflection off a post goes against a goalie and times when everything breaks right. Most everything has seemed to go right for DeSmith this year - he was also named Hockey East Goaltender of the Month in October - and he credits a stout defense and soaring confidence for being ranked rank 10th nationally in goals-against average (1.81), ninth in save percentage (.939) and fourth in shutouts, with four.
DeSmith, who prepped at schools in Maine and Massachusetts and spent a year in junior hockey with the Indiana Ice of the USHL, said it was a dream come true to play for UNH.
"I grew up watching UNH," DeSmith said. "This is where I always wanted to be."
To submit a nomination for future Athlete of the Month consideration, email the Union Leader Sports Department at email@example.com and enter "Athlete of the Month" in the subject line.
Previous 2012 winners: January, Drew Ledwith, Keene (swimming); February, Zach Bridson, Sandown (wrestling); March, Curtis Arsenault, Berlin (basketball); April, Peter Williamson, Hanover (golf); May, Morgan Andrews, Milford (soccer); June, Hillary Holmes, Exeter (track); July, Lauren Thibodeau, Hampstead (golf); August, Sarah Groff, Hanover (triathlon); September, Victoria Arlen, Exeter (swimming); October, Chelso Barrett, Keene (golf).