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Allen Lessels' College Hockey: Another chance for UNH



LAST WEEKEND, the University of New Hampshire hockey team left things up to others.

That didn't work out so well.

The Wildcats get another chance to take care of business for themselves when they open a best-of-three Hockey East quarterfinal series at Schneider Arena at Providence College tonight at 7. Game 2 is on Saturday at 4 p.m. and Game 3, if it's necessary, is on Sunday at 4:30.

"It's going to be a challenge," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "It's a whole new season."

Dartmouth is in its next season, too. The Big Green came from behind to win their first-round ECAC series at home against Harvard last weekend and move on to a quarterfinal series at Union in Schenectady, N.Y., starting tonight.

UNH's first season - the regular season - ended poorly last weekend when the Wildcats managed to get only a single point out of a two-game set with Maine with a 4-4 tie on Saturday at the Whittemore Center.

The results proved costly when the league's final standings were calculated and UNH ended up in a three-way tie with Boston University and Providence for third place. Given the league tiebreakers, BU was awarded the No. 3 seed for the tournament, Providence the No. 4 and UNH the No. 5.

All of a sudden, the challenge ahead for the Wildcats, who went into last weekend with a shot at the league's regular-season title and looking to wrap up home ice for the quarterfinals, got much tougher.

They must take on the Friars, a team that gave them trouble this season, on the road.

The winner of the series moves on to Boston and the TD Garden for the Hockey East championship round next weekend.

Not winning this weekend could conceivably prove much more costly to the Wildcats than losing last weekend.

One of the primary goals all season has been to qualify for the NCAA tournament and nail down a spot in the four-team Northeast Regional to be held at the Verizon Wireless Arena the last weekend of the month.

The Wildcats built up an impressive tournament resume with a great first half of the season and that start has kept them in good stead through a second half that has been up and down.

This week, UNH slipped in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used to select at-large teams for the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were No. 8 in the PairWise on Thursday.

They were still in decent shape in the ratings, but two more losses could be a problem.

At the least, two losses would likely make for plenty of anxious moments between now and the end of next weekend when the NCAA tournament field is announced.

Chances are, two losses leave things up to others again.

All of the issues, on the other hand, would be cured with a big weekend in Providence and a series win and trip to the Hockey East semifinals.

"We're right there in the PairWise," Umile said. "Things are still ahead of us. We have an opportunity to compete in the Hockey East playoffs and hopefully we play well enough to give us an opportunity to play in the bigger one."




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THE WILDCATS, ranked No. 7 in the country, take an 18-9-7 overall record to Providence, which is 15-12-7.

UNH lost two of its three games against the Friars this season and tied the third. Providence opened a 4-0 lead on UNH at the Whittemore Center on Jan. 19 and held on for a 6-5 win; the teams played to a 3-3 tie in Durham on Feb. 10; and PC freshman Jon Gillies won a goaltending duel against Casey DeSmith, UNH's sophomore from Rochester, for a 1-0 decision in Providence on Feb, 13.

"All three games were extremely tight and could have gone either way and we obviously tied with them in the standings," said Providence coach Nate Leaman. "That's Hockey East. Things are very tight."

Gillies has a goals-against average of 2.06 and a save percentage of .932. DeSmith is at 2.23 and .924.

Providence senior center Tim Schaller of Merrimack has seven goals and 14 assists for 21 points. He scored a third-period goal that pulled the Friars into a 1-1 tie against UMass-Lowell on Saturday night in a game for the regular season championship.

Lowell went on to win, 4-1, which helped set up the third-place tie and send UNH to Providence.




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DARTMOUTH, the No. 5 seed in the ECAC tournament, lost the series opener to Harvard, 2-1, at Thompson Arena on Friday night and bounced back with 4-1 and 6-3 wins to advance to the quarterfinals.

Junior Cab Morris played the opener and freshman goalie Charles Grant was in net for both of the wins.

No. 4 seed Union finished two points ahead of Dartmouth in the standings and earned a bye last weekend. Games are tonight, Saturday and, if necessary, Sunday at 7.

The winner advances to the ECAC championship round next weekend in Atlantic City.

Dartmouth beat Union, 3-2, on Nov. 10 in Hanover and the teams tied, 2-2, at Union on Feb. 1.

Two years ago, the Big Green took a three-game quarterfinal set from Harvard and moved on to the semifinals where they lost to Cornell. Dartmouth lost in the quarterfinals at Cornell last season.




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CORNELL'S Lauren Slebodnick, the junior goalie out of Manchester and Cushing Academy, and her team are back in the NCAA tournament.

Slebodnick made 18 saves in a 2-1 win over Harvard on Sunday in the ECAC championship game.

Cornell, the No. 2 seed for the tournament, plays at home against No. 8 Mercyhurst on Saturday at 1 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Frozen Four. Slebodnick stopped 19 shots in a 4-0 Cornell in over Mercyhurst at home on Jan. 29.

The Big Red have made it to the Frozen Four the last three seasons. They lost to eventual champion Minnesota, 3-1, in the semifinals last year.



alessels@unionleader.com




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