UNH Wildcats are confident about weekend NCAA hockey regional in Manchester
The 10th-ranked Wildcats (19-11-7), who haven't played their best hockey since January, received an at-large bid for the NCAA Men's Ice Hockey Championship and face No. 12 Denver (20-13-5) in the Northeast Regional opening round at 8 p.m. UMass Lowell plays Wisconsin in the early game at 4:30 p.m.
Coach Dick Umile's team hasn't played since getting bounced by Providence in the Hockey East tournament quarterfinals March 17.
"We had an excellent first half, but just a .500 second half. It's a whole new season. The positive of it is that our team got a little bit of a rest. I think we're anxious to get back playing, and playing at the Verizon," Umile said. "We love playing over there. It's an American Hockey League Arena. The people go out of their way to make us comfortable. We not only get fans from the Manchester area, but with UMass Lowell being there, it should be one of the best venues. It usually is one of the best regionals because of the fan base and the excitement of college hockey."
The Wildcats, who failed to earn an NCAA bid last season, have a record of 13-17 in the NCAA tourney under Umile. They've won a regional first-round contest in each of their past three appearances, including a 3-1 victory against Miami in 2011.
Sophomore defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk recently earned Hockey East First Team honors, while sophomore goaltender Casey DeSmith of Rochester and junior forward Kevin Goumas earned Hockey East Honorable Mention. Goumas scored a hat track when UNH beat Denver, 6-4, in November.
Which UNH team will show up Friday?
"Overall, we know what we are capable of doing. We need to put together 60-minute games and not have lapses," Umile said during a Tuesday teleconference. "We've had a good week of practice, a little bit of rest and the excitement of knowing this team is playing in the NCAA tournament and needs to win a couple of games to get to the Frozen Four."
UMass Lowell, led by Hockey East Coach of the Year Norm Bazin, has stayed hot since December. The River Hawks (26-10-2), the regional's top seed, have lost only three games since Dec. 8, leading to a Hockey East championship at TD Garden last weekend.
A year ago, UMass Lowell beat Miami in the NCAA opener and lost to Union in the regional final. The 2012-13 squad is more balanced and experienced - and perhaps the favorite to win the region. Freshman goalie Connor Hellebuyck was lights-out in the Hockey East semifinals and final, stopping 70 of 71 shots as the River Hawks captured their first Hockey East Tournament title.
Friday night's winners advance to the regional final on Saturday (6:30 p.m.) at the Big V.
"We feel we're a stronger threat than we were last year," Bazin said. "Wisconsin is going to be a great opponent. It seems like our whole bracket is chock full of great teams. We feel Hockey East has been such a great league this year that it's prepared us well."
The River Hawks, much like UNH, feel they have a home-ice advantage in the first round. It's just over 30 miles from Lowell to Manchester.
"We're ecstatic about allowing our fans to be part of the experience," Bazin said. "I'm sure UNH will have a great following and UMass Lowell will have a great following. It could be one of the best regional sites in the country as far as fan support and energy in the building."
Tickets for the Northeast Regional can be purchased at UNH's Whittemore Center Box Office, the Verizon Wireless Arena or by logging onto NCAA.com/frozenfour or by calling 1-800-745-3000. The three-game package is on sale at $77 for adults and $57 for children ages 2-12 and seniors.