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December 27. 2012 11:31PM

Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Granite State hockey showdown looming

PERHAPS AS EARLY as late March and definitely just over a year from now, the hockey teams from the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College will play again at the Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.

For the moment though, college hockey fans interested in seeing the state's two Division I programs - both of which are ranked in the Top 10 in the nation - play will need to get to the Thompson Arena in Hanover on Sunday.

There, No. 2 UNH and No. 10 Dartmouth meet at 7 p.m. in a first-round game in the Ledyard National Bank Classic.

"It should be fun," said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet. "It should be really fun. UNH has got a great team and it's a high-octane team that plays really hard and is very skilled."

Gaudet's gang is not too shabby, either.

The Big Green hit the holiday break with a 7-2-2 record. UNH is 11-2-2.

The Wildcats last played in Hanover in December of 2000 and lost 6-2 to Dartmouth, also in the first round of the holiday tournament.

In the 11 years since, UNH and Dartmouth have played an annual game at the Verizon.

Gaudet invited UNH back to the tournament and the schools decided to change things up for this year. They are due to return to the Verizon and play in Manchester in January of next year.

Bemidji State and Massachusetts are the other two teams in the Ledyard National Bank Classic and they play at 4 p.m. on Sunday. UNH plays either Bemidji State or UMass on Monday at 4 and Dartmouth plays the other at 7.

The longer term goal for the Wildcats and Big Green is to be playing at the Verizon in late March this season when UNH again hosts the Northeast Regional of the NCAA tournament.

As the host team, the Wildcats automatically get to play in Manchester if they qualify as one of the 16 teams selected for the NCAA tournament. Dartmouth hopes to first qualify for the tournament and if so, could be placed in Manchester as well.

There is much hockey to go before league tournaments are played and NCAA selections are made, however, and Sunday night's game is valuable for both teams in the ratings used in the selection process.

"UNH, obviously, is a team that has that tournament experience and those expectations," Gaudet said. "We just have to keep clawing away and see what happens. I like this group. It's a team that skates well and is aggressive and we know how hard we have to work to have a chance."

The Big Green are a young group with only two seniors on the roster and are led in scoring by sophomore Tyler Sikura, who has seven goals and 10 assists for 17 points. The seniors are forward Dustin Walsh with four goals and four assists and defenseman Mike Keenan at 2-6-8.

Cab Morris, a junior, and Charles Grant, a freshman, have split the goaltending chores. Morris has a 1.97 goals against average and .917 save percentage and a record of 4-1-1. Grant, who has played three of the last four games, has a 2.38 gaa, .921 save percentage and record of 3-1-1.

Dartmouth is rated No. 1 in penalty killing in the country and UNH is right behind with the second-best numbers. The Big Green have allowed one goal in 40 opponent power play chances and UNH has allowed two in 54.

Junior Kevin Goumas leads UNH in scoring with eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points and sophomore forward Grayson Downing (7-6-13) and sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk (5-8-13) are tied for second on the scoring list.

Senior Austin Bock entered the year with 10 goals in 97 career games and has a team-high nine goals in 15 contests this year.

Goalie Casey DeSmith, a sophomore out of Rochester, leads Hockey East with a 1.82 goals against average and .939 save percentage.

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PLYMOUTH STATE takes its 8-1-0 record and seven-game win streak to the Pathfinder Bank/Oswego Classic at Oswego (N.Y.) State this weekend.

The Panthers face host Oswego, which is 9-2-0, in their first-round game on Sunday at 7 p.m. Lawrence University of Appleton, Wisc., and Castleton State of Vermont play in the other first- round game.

Plymouth State meets either Lawrence or Castleton on Monday at 1 p.m.

Sophomore Mike Freitag leads Plymouth State in scoring with four goals and nine assists for 13 points and senior Alex Cottle (3-9-12) and junior Travis Stevens (6-6-12) are just a point back.

Senior goalie Jack Asteg has a 2.37 goals against average, .923 save percentage and 4-1-0 record. Junior Tyler Ingerson of Concord is at .974 and 0.67 with a 3-0-0 mark.


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