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February 24. 2013 11:02PM

Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: It's crowded - very crowded - at the top

DURHAM -- THE UNIVERSITY of New Hampshire hockey team went into the weekend in third place in the Hockey East standings.

For a couple of hours on Saturday evening the Wildcats held sole possession of first place and for most of the day on Sunday they were tied for first place with just Providence College.

Then Boston College's Quinn Smith scored with 2:37 left in overtime and the Eagles won at Merrimack, 2-1, on Sunday.

This morning, three teams - UNH, PC and BC - are tied for the top spot.

Such is the wild and crazy nature of Hockey East with two weekends left in the regular season UNH picked up three points in the standings with a 4-3 win on Friday night and 1-1 tie on Saturday.

The Wildcats have four games left, all at home. They play a pair against Massachusetts on Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday at 7 p.m. and then close out with two against Maine on March 8 at 7 p.m. and March 9 at 4 p.m. The March 9 start time was announced on Saturday; the game will be shown on NESN.

Where UNH will be in the standings come Friday night remains to be seen.

Merrimack plays at Boston University and UMass Lowell is at Boston College on Tuesday night in makeup games.

Massachusetts and Maine are out of the running for home ice for the playoffs, but both are desperate teams fighting to make the playoffs.

The Minutemen hold down the eighth and final playoff this morning, a single point in front of Maine. The two teams split a pair of games at UMass over the weekend.

Maine handed UMass its fifth straight loss, 2-0, on Friday night. The Minutemen responded with a 5-2 win on Saturday.

UNH held Vermont to just 14 shots in Friday's win and scored three goals on its eight power-play chances. Senior Austin Block scored a couple of goals, sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk had three assists and junior Kevin Goumas added two.

Casey DeSmith, a sophomore from Rochester, had 30 saves on Saturday and van Riemsdyk scored the sole goal on the power play.

The top five teams in the league are within two points of each other. UNH, BC and Providence have 28 points, Merrimack has 27 and UMass-Lowell 26.

At least one of those five will be playing on the road when the Hockey East quarterfinals begin.

UNH and Providence have each played one more game than the other top contenders.
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THE MEN'S and women's basketball teams, down to their final two regular-season games, are looking to gain some momentum going into the America East tournament.

The women, who fell to 10-16 overall and 5-9 in the league with a 55-42 loss to Binghamton on Saturday, play host to league-leading Albany on Wednesday at 7.

"It's going to be a tough one," said UNH coach Maureen Magarity. "They've really got them playing well and they've been blowing people out. They're going to stay in their zone and we'll have to shoot well."

Albany won at Vermont, 68-52, on Sunday afternoon to improve to 23-3 and 14-0.

The women finish up at Maine on Saturday at noon.

The men, 8-18 and 4-10 after Saturday's 68-56 win over Binghamton, are at Albany, 19-9 and 8-6, on Thursday night.

The Wildcats finish out the regular season with a home game against Maine on Sunday at 1.
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JARED SMITH, a Wildcat defensive tackle the last four years, is scheduled to work out today at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis with defensive linemen and linebackers.

"He's worked very, very hard to get where he is right now," said UNH coach Sean McDonnell. "Athletically, he's a gifted kid. He's got size - he's 6-foot-4 and 307 pounds - and he's very athletic for a kid that size. He's a 4.9 40 kid and they may have clocked him faster than that at some of the workouts he's done."

Smith had 40 tackles, four sacks, two forced fumbles, four pass breakups and three blocked kicks for UNH last season.

He's been impressive when going against players from bigger teams and conferences, including in the Texas vs. Nation all-star game earlier this month, McDonnell said.

"He had a good game against Minnesota this year, played very, very well against a Big Ten team and that opened some scouts' eyes," McDonnell said. "He went down to the all-star game and you listen to some guys, he opened some more eyes. I think if he pays attention to detail and does the little things well, he'll have a heck of a Combine. I think he'll surprise some people because he's got a lot of physical skills."
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KUDOS to coach Josh Willman and his staff and their UNH swimming and diving team, which captured its fifth America East championship at Maine last weekend.

The Wildcats won their first title since going back-to-back in 2005 and 2006.
______
THE SKI TEAM finished third behind Vermont and Dartmouth at the EISA Regional championships hosted by Bates College over the weekend in their final warmup before the NCAA championships.

The Wildcats were a point in front of fourth-place Middlebury and finished third in four of the carnivals this season. They were fourth in the other two.

The NCAAs are set for March 6-9 at the Middlebury College Snow Bowl and Rikert Nordic Center.
______
THE LACROSSE TEAM fell to 0-2 on the season with an 18-9 loss at Massachusetts on Saturday. The Wildcats are at Dartmouth on Wednesday.

alessels@unionleader.com


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