Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Things went from sour to sweet for the 'Cats on the ice
DURHAM - The University of New Hampshire hockey team treated a packed Whittemore Center house to a much-needed, gut-check of a win over defending national champion Boston College on Saturday night.
The 2-1 triumph was UNH's first after six straight setbacks against BC, including a disheartening 5-2 loss at Conte Forum on Friday night, and keeps the Wildcats among the country's top-rated teams while setting them up for a month-long run against a couple of foes looking to displace them.
After Friday's loss, Saturday's game was a long time coming for the Wildcats.
"It is a quick turnaround," said UNH coach Dick Umile after the win. "But it was a long day, to be quite honest with you. You get back here last night after that performance and you just want to play again."
Friday night's game, when the Eagles cruised to a 5-1 lead after two periods, did not sit well with any of the Wildcats, said senior forward John Henrion.
"It was a very sour taste in the locker room," Henrion said. "We haven't played like that in a while and we felt it was very disappointing. I think everyone felt that way, from the coaches down to every single player, so this one was even a little bit personal."
The Wildcats went out and pressured the Eagles on both offense and defense and outshot them, 39-23, for the game.
They dealt with adversity, too. UNH failed to score on a five-minute power play late in the second period that included two minutes of a two-man advantage.
Less than a minute after the power play ended, sophomore Matt Willows put UNH up, 1-0, with 47 seconds left in the period with his first career goal.
A bad UNH turnover allowed Brooks Dyroff to tie the game at 7:57 of the third period, but the Wildcats survived that, too.
Henrion scored UNH's first power=play goal of the weekend with 4:48 to go in the game.
He became the fifth Wildcat with a pair of game-winning goals for the season.
UNH, ranked No. 4 in the country last week, improved to 14-4-2 overall and 9-3-1 in Hockey East. No. 3 BC fell to 13-4-2 and 10-3-1. BC holds on to the top spot in the league, two points in front of Umile's team.
The Wildcat task over the next month is to hold off and put some distance between themselves and Providence and Merrimack.
Six of UNH's next seven games are against the Friars and Warriors, starting with a home game against PC on Saturday night.
Providence is 9-8-3 overall and coming off a weekend sweep of Massachusetts. The Friars are 7-4-2 in Hockey East and are in fourth place, two points behind third-place Boston University and three behind UNH. They play at UMass Lowell on Tuesday night.
UNH-Providence sends the goalies with the best numbers in the league against each other.
Providence's Jon Gillies, a 6-foot-5 freshman out of South Portland, Maine, leads the league with a .931 save percentage and 1.95 goals-against average and had 44 saves in a 2-0 win over Massachusetts on Saturday night.
Casey DeSmith, a UNH sophomore out of Rochester, is at .928 and 2.05.
Bruce Gillies, Jon's father, was a standout goalie at Bishop Brady High School in Concord and at UNH in the mid-1980s.
Tim Schaller, a senior from Merrimack, is a Providence captain and is tied for second on the team in scoring with five goals and eight assists for 13 points.
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WITH NOTRE DAME coming aboard for the 2013-14 Hockey East season and Connecticut for 2014-15, changes are in the works for the league schedules.
The plan is to have teams play each other team twice instead of three times as they have for years, said UNH deputy director of athletics Steve Metcalf.
That means teams would play a total of 20 league games next season and 22 beginning the year after that, which makes room for more non-league games. Teams play 34 regular-season games each year.
UNH's schedule is coming together for next season and Notre Dame will be coming to Durham for a pair of Hockey East games, Metcalf said. Michigan is due in for a pair of nonconference games and the Wildcats are scheduled to play in the annual holiday tournament in Estero, Fla., that features Maine and Cornell.
"When we can make room for games like Michigan, it makes it attractive for our fans," Metcalf said.
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THE MEN'S and women's basketball teams had the weekend off, take on Albany on Wednesday and then face Boston University in a doubleheader at Lundholm Gymnasium on Saturday.
The men play Albany at home on Wednesday at 7 and the women are at Albany on noon that day.
The UNH men are 4-11 overall and 0-3 in America East. Albany is 14-4 and 3-1.
The Wildcat women are 6-9 and 1-2. Albany is 12-3 and 3-0.
The women play Boston University on Saturday at 2 and the men's game follows at 4.
BU, which is on its way to the Patriot League, is playing an America East schedule but is not eligible for the league championship and will not play in the league tournament.
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THE MEN'S and women's track teams host Holy Cross and Stonehill for a meet next Saturday at noon ... The gymnastics team faces North Carolina State on Friday night in Lundholm Gymnasium in the first of three straight home meets. Temple and Brown are due in on Jan. 26 and George Washington and Yale on Feb. 3 ... The women's hockey team, off since playing to a 2-2 tie with Harvard on Dec. 8, finally gets back to action at Union on Tuesday. The Wildcats are 7-11-2 overall and 4-4-1 in Hockey East and are at UConn for games on Saturday and Sunday.
Allen Lessels covers college sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. He may be reached at email@example.com.