Allen Lessels' UNH Notebook: Time for the Maine attraction
It's not like anything is needed to spice up the Maine-New Hampshire hockey rivalry, but next weekend's latest round of the rivalry does get an added twist.
The team's both have plenty to play for, but this time around they have different targets.
New Hampshire is looking for a Hockey East regular season championship and wants to nail down the top seed for the league tournament.
Maine is battling just to keep its season alive.
"It should be fun," said UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, a sophomore goalie from Rochester. "They're definitely not the team we saw earlier in the year. They're playing a lot better as of late. They're definitely giving teams a run for their money. We're going to have our hands full."
DeSmith stopped 42 shots and New Hampshire beat Maine, 4-0, on Nov. 4 in Orono.
The thing is, the Black Bears may not be playing like they were back then, but the Wildcats hope they are getting back to the way they played in the first half of the season when they worked their way to the No. 1 ranking in the country.
They may be getting there.
The shutout DeSmith had against Maine was one of his four in the first nine games of the season.
His 25-save, 4-0 blanking of Massachusetts on Saturday was his fifth of the season and his first since that initial stretch of shutouts ended with s 3-0 win over UMass Lowell on Nov. 16.
DeSmith has allowed three goals total in his last three starts and has lowered his goals-against average to 2.12 and raised his save percentage to .928.
The Wildcats hope to get a couple of their scorers heated up down the stretch, too.
Senior forward John Henrion, skating on one of coach Dick Umile's tweaked lines, contributed his first career hat trick to the cause in Saturday night's win over Massachusetts.
Henrion and fellow senior Austin Block share the team led in goals with 13 each.
UNH, ranked No. 5 last week and now 18-8-6 overall and 13-7-5 in Hockey East, was on top of Hockey East by a single point going into the UMass Lowell game at Merrimack on Sunday.
Maine, 10-17-7 and 6-12-7, holds a one-point lead on Massachusetts for the eighth and final playoff spot going into the final weekend of the season.
"It's a huge weekend," Henrion said. "The last weekend of the season, obviously the rivalry we have against Maine, at home. It's pretty special."
UNH and Maine meet on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and on Saturday at 4 p.m.
The completion opens on Wednesday and runs through Saturday.
Two of the highest honors went to linebacker Matt Evans and offensive lineman Chris Zarkoskie, who wrapped up their careers last fall.
Evans became only the fifth Wildcat, and first on the defensive side of the ball, to have his number retired.
His No. 52 joins the numbers of running backs Bill Burnham (36) and Jerry Azumah (25), wide receiver David Ball (3) and Ricky Santos (2).
Evans collected a career-best 449 tackles in his career and was named the school's only Buck Buchanan Award winner as the top player in the Football Championship Subdivision as a junior.
"When you talk about retiring numbers, he's the guy that broke every record," head coach Sean McDonnell said. "We haven't had too many Buck Buchanan nominees, let alone won it. I think it's well deserved."
Zarkoskie received the Bill Bowes Coaches Award.
"He's been an exemplary player in the program in everything from outreach to academics to work ethic to leadership," McDonnell said. "A 3.6 grade point average, meet and greet at Pease and he's in church every Sunday. You can't make this stuff up. It's just what he is."
The Wildcats lost a pair of games to the Seawolves in the regular season, 48-44 at Stony Brook on Jan. 5 and 60-47 at home on Feb. 2. Stony Book is 14-15 and 6-10.
UNH improved to 11-17 overall and 6-10 in the league with an 86-63 win at Maine on Saturday.
UNH, Stony Brook and Vermont all finished at 6-10 in the league and tied for fourth in the standings and tiebreakers determined where they were seeded.