Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Being shorthanded no disadvantage for UNH, Dartmouth
DURHAM -- Nov. 2, 2012, stands as a watershed moment for the men's hockey teams from the University of New Hampshire and Dartmouth College. At least for the moment.
That night in Amherst, Mass., the University of Massachusetts scored on the power play in overtime to knock off New Hampshire, 2-1.
The same night in Hanover, Dartmouth topped Yale, 7-4, but allowed a power play goal in the process.
Neither Dartmouth nor UNH has given up a power play goal since.
The state's two Division I teams had impressive starts to the season overall as well.
Now they steam into a showdown tonight at 7 at Thompson Arena in Hanover in the first round of the Ledyard National Bank Classic to open the season's second half.
"It's another season and we've got to start it off like we started off the first half," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "They're one of the top teams and I think it's a great opportunity."
Not only is it a matchup of two of the top 10 teams in the land - UNH is ranked No. 2 in the country with a record of 11-2-2 and Dartmouth is No. 10 at 7-2-2 - but it's a battle between two of the best defenses around and the two very best penalty killing units thus far.
So perhaps the Wildcats will score a few power play goals tonight and Dartmouth will match those and the teams will get caught up in a wild, high-scoring affair.
"You never know," said UNH senior defenseman and captain Connor Hardowa. "It's kind of hard to tell."
Yes, it is. But the numbers indicate that no one is apt to be piling up power play scores.
UNH has allowed only 1.80 goals per game through the first half of the season, tied for third-best in the country. Dartmouth allowed 2.27, tied for 13th.
The goals-allowed numbers for each team have been very good.
The penalty killing numbers have been off the charts.
That goal Yale scored was the only power play score allowed by Dartmouth all season. The Big Green have killed off 39 of the 40 power plays against them year, allowing opponents a power play success rate of 2.5 percent.
The only other power play goal UNH allowed came in the first game of the season against St. Cloud. The Wildcats overall have killed of 52 of 54 power plays for an opposition rate of 3.7 percent.
Success rates come and go and by their nature tend to fluctuate, said Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet.
"I think it's more about principles and when one guy does something everyone has to react or it just doesn't work," he said. "There are no individuals on the penalty kill. The mentality has to be the same you take when you're five-on-five, when to pressure and when to contain, when to angle and how to angle."
Hardowa puts it about the same.
"Penalty killing has a lot to do with everyone being on the same page," he said. "If we're being aggressive and one guy's going the next guy is following up. If you make mistakes when you're being aggressive, good teams will catch you and take advantage of it."
Dartmouth and UNH have seldom allowed that to happen so far.
The teams both like to generally play an aggressive style of penalty kill, Umile said.
"Some teams like to play a passive box, but they're aggressive," Umile said. "They like to come after you. That's how we play. Both teams play similarly in their style."
Senior defenseman and captain Mike Keenan and junior defenseman Taylor Boldt are a couple of the penalty killing regulars on the back end for the Big Green and sophomore Tyler Sikura and junior Matt Lindblad work up front.
Hardowa and fellow senior Brett Kostolansky are among the defensemen who kill penalties for UNH, and sophomore Grayson Downing and junior Kevin Goumas, in particular, have led the way not only in killing them but have become a threat to score shorthanded.
Dartmouth has two short-handed goals, both from Sikura, against its one power play goal allowed.
The Wildcats have four shorthanded goals overall and Downing has three of them since UNH last gave up a power play goal.
Goalies are key to penalty killing and Dartmouth has been getting good play from junior Cab Morris and freshman Charles Grant, while Casey DeSmith, the UNH sophomore from Rochester, had an outstanding first half whether playing five-on-five or on the penalty kill.
Tonight, power play groups from each team will try to dent the opposing penalty killing units whenever they get the chance and maybe chip in a goal.
"The big thing, I think, is we need to move the puck quickly," said Greg Burke, the UNH senior forward from Lee, who returns to the lineup after sitting out six games with a shoulder injury. "It's going to be important to get the puck in the crease and shoot pucks when we can and make plays and outnumber them and finish chances when we get them."
Dartmouth is no doubt plotting a similar strategy.
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BEMIDJI STATE and Massachusetts meet in the first game of the Ledyard tournament at 4 today.
UNH plays either Bemidji State or Massachusetts on Monday and the game is at 4 p.m., whether it's a consolation game or tournament championship. Dartmouth plays at 7.
Bemidji State, 5-8-3, and UMass, 5-9-2, are both under .500, but are dangerous. Bemidji State took three points from the University of Denver with a 1-1 tie and 5-1 win in its last two games on Dec. 14 and 15.
UMass handed UNH one of its two losses.
Burke had three goals and two assists for five points in his first nine games before he was hurt at UMass-Lowell on Nov. 16.
Umile had Burke skating at center between senior John Henrion and junior Nick Sorkin this week.
Dartmouth officials plan to have a limited number of tickets available for walk-up sale today, but do expect the game to be a sellout.
Plenty of tickets are available for Monday.\
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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.