Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Wildcats turn focus to defense
DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team played a part in tightening up the Hockey East standings last weekend.
The Wildcats will try to avoid doing that again when they take on Merrimack College Friday night at 7:30 at Lawler Arena in North Andover, Mass. The teams also play on Saturday at 5 p.m. at Verizon Wireless Arena in Manchester.
Providence outlasted UNH, 6-5, last Saturday night at the Whittemore Center, Boston College split its two games and Boston University dropped a pair and those results clogged things up at the top of the standings.
"We're still in a great spot," said junior defenseman Justin Agosta. "In the Pairwise, if it ended right now, we'd still be a No. 1 seed. We have two games in hand and we're four points behind BC so it's there. The ball's in our court for us to do well this year."
The first order of business is getting back to playing better defense and getting back on the kind of roll the Wildcats were on in the first half of the season.
They are 3-4-1 since losing to Boston University, 2-1, in their last game of the first semester on Dec. 6.
In two of their last three games, Casey DeSmith, the sophomore goalie out of Rochester, has been pulled and junior Jeff Wyer has come on in relief. In those game, against Boston College and Providence, UNH lost. In the game in between, Smith bounced back with 22 saves in a 2-1 win over BC.
The Wildcats drilled hard on getting back and covering people this week and DeSmith spent time with goalie coach Mike Buckley.
"Obviously, it wasn't his best night," said UNH coach Dick Umile of DeSmith's rough outing against Providence. "He's working on it. He's working with his goalie coach and hopefully he'll be ready to go."
UNH is ranked No. 4 in the country with a 14-5-2 overall record. The Wildcats are second in Hockey East with 19 points to BC's 23. BU and Providence are tied for third, a point behind UNH. The Friars and Terriers play a home-and-home series this weekend.
Merrimack is trying to get into the discussion for one of the four home ice spots for the Hockey East tournament as well as for the NCAA tournament.
The Warriors took three of four points in their series at Maine last weekend and are 9-9-5 overall and at 7-5-2 in Hockey East trail UNH by three points.
The Wildcats hope Saturday is the first of three games they play at the Verizon this season.
The NCAA Northeast Regionals are coming back to Manchester on March 29 and 30. If the Wildcats can nail down one of the 16 berths in the tournament, they are guaranteed to be at the Verizon as the host team for the Regional.
Merrimack junior goalie Sam Marotta took over the top spot in goals-against average in Hockey East last weekend and has given up 2.04 goals a game. He is second to Providence's Jon Gillies in save percentage at .927. DeSmith is third in GAA at 2.21 and save percentage at .923.
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NO. 12-RANKED DARTMOUTH plays a pair of 7 p.m. home games this weekend. St. Lawrence comes to Thompson Arena Friday night, Clarkson on Saturday.
The Big Green are 10-6-2 overall and 6-4-1 in the ECAC. They are tied for fourth place in the league (with Princeton), two points behind Yale and Union, who are tied for second.
St. Lawrence is 9-10-3 and 2-5-3 and Clarkson is 4-12-6 and 3-5-2.
The Dartmouth women, 12-5-3 overall and 7-4-2, are at St. Lawrence tonight and at Clarkson on Saturday. Dartmouth is in sixth place in the ECAC, one point behind St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac, and four behind Cornell and Clarkson, who are tied for second place.
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THE ST. ANSELM MEN, 9-4-2 overall, play Skidmore at home on Friday at 7 and Castleton is in on Saturday at 4. All three teams are among five teams with 13 points in the ECAC East standings.
Skidmore is 9-7-2 overall and Castleton is 11-5-2.
The St. Anselm women, 11-3-3 and 7-1-3, play Manhattanville at home today at 4 and Nichols at home on Saturday at 1.
The Hawks and Manhattanville, 10-6-1 and 8-1-1, are tied for second in the ECAC. Nichols is 3-14-0 and 1-9-0.
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THE PLYMOUTH STATE men played UMass-Dartmouth on Thursday night and are at Fitchburg State on Saturday at 4.
The Panthers were 12-5-0 overall and 8-2-0 in the MASCAC going into the UMass-Dartmouth game. Fitchburg State is 6-8-2 and 5-4-1.
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The UNH women tied Northeastern, 2-2, at home on Thursday and take on Boston University at home on Sunday at 3 p.m. The Wildcats are 10-11-2 overall and 6-4-1 mark in Hockey East. BU takes a 15-3-3 overall record and 10-2-1 Hockey East mark into the weekend. The Terriers are tied at the top of the league with BC and UNH is tied for third with Northeastern.