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January 04. 2014 10:03PM

Wildcats' Agosta doing it all


UNH senior defenseman Justin Agosta is proving to be an effective two-way player for the Wildcats this season. 

DURHAM - University of New Hampshire senior defenseman Justin Agosta did it again on Friday night.

Agosta delivered a pretty pass to Dan Correale and the sophomore forward made a nice move in close and put a backhander past the Nebraska-Omaha goalie for another UNH goal.

This one gave the Wildcats a two-goal, second-period lead and eventually proved to be the game-winner in their 6-3 win over the Mavericks.

"Justin's just been picking it unbelievably lately," said fellow senior defenseman Eric Knodel, who hasn't been shabby himself. "He's been scoring goals on the power play and making great passes like he did tonight, setting up guys for goals. He's been unbelievable for us offensively."

The Wildcats have been looking for ways to pump up the offense - and in particular to get goals at key times in games - as they roll into the stretch run of the season.

They may have just what they need with Agosta's emerging offense giving them a bit of a three-man wrecking crew from the blue line.

Between junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk and Knodel, who are paired together, and Agosta, UNH has three of the top four scorers among defensemen in Hockey East.

Van Riemsdyk led the defensemen in the league with four goals and 18 assists for 22 points heading into Saturday night's rematch against Nebraska-Omaha at the Whittemore Center. He had a season-high three assists on Friday night.

Knodel scored UNH's first two goals, both on the power play, in Friday night's win and trails van Riemsdyk in the league with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points. Friday's was the first two-goal game of his career.

Agosta had the timely setup to Correale on Friday. He was tied for third in the league at 4-10-14 in 22 games. Those numbers matched his career-best point totals from last year that came in 38 games.

Last week, Agosta had two key points in a 3-2 win over Princeton in the consolation game of the Florida College Classic.

He scored a five-on-three goal, with assists to his power-play partner Brett Pesce and Dalton Speelman, to tie the game 2-2 in the second period. Five minutes later, he assisted on a power-play winner by Matt Willows.

"Brett and I aren't usually on the two-man advantage, but coach spoke to us and wanted us to try a different formation and it worked," Agosta said of his power-play goal.

"The play was set up either for him to take the shot or make a play down to Grayson Downing," said coach Dick Umile. "He read the play very well and put it away. It was a good play on his part."

The Wildcats needed the win to snap a three-game losing streak.

Agosta, 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds and out of East Meadow N.Y., has come on strong offensively.

"I've been pretty happy with that, considering in the first eight games I had one assist," he said. "Brett and I have had more and more power-play chances and I've been joining the rush, and the points have started to come."

He had 13 points in the last 14 games going into Saturday night.

"Justin's having his best year," Umile said. "He's a smart hockey player, he handles the puck extremely well and sees the ice very well.

He's probably handling the puck more and getting more into the rush.

He's playing well defensively, too."

The Wildcat defensemen are doing the job collectively at their own end of the ice.

"The defensive corps is a good group for us," Umile said. "They've played well throughout the season and that's one reason we're outshooting our opponents. They don't get shots to the net."

UNH was outshot three times in its first four games and has been outshot only once in its latest 18 contests and averages 34.3 shots a game while holding rivals to 26.3.

There's a potential bonus with Agosta, too. Neither he nor Knodel played in a single game as true freshman.

Knodel is the NHL draft property of the Toronto Maple Leafs and is likely to move on after this season.

There's the chance Agosta could return for a redshirt season.

That, said Umile and Agosta, is something that will be discussed later.

For now, there are goals to be stopped. And goals to be scored and set up, too.

alessels@unionleader.com


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