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January 11. 2014 8:23PM

College Hockey: UNH eyes playoffs


University of New Hampshire goalie Casey DeSmith, of Rochester, makes a save in front of UNH's Dylan Maller(4) and Dartmouth's Jack Barre in the first period of The Riverstone Cup game won by UNH 4-2. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

THE FORMULA and the approach, Justin Agosta pointed out, are quite straightforward.

"It's very simple," the University of New Hampshire senior defenseman said. "Last year in the second half we went .500. And in the first half we did great and we got a second seed for the national tournament. We're in the exact same position now, just reversed."

The Wildcat hockey team took care of the .500 side of things in the first half this season when they posted a 9-9-1 record.

Now there's the matter of the other piece of the equation and putting together the big second half.

That's the plan anyway. And if they can do that, Agosta figures, they'll be ahead of the game.

"It's swapped now," he said "If we can get the kind of momentum we had in that first half, it would be more ideal than last year."

Carry the momentum into the post-season, the thinking goes, and you're off and running.

UNH didn't get the start it was looking for in the second half, dropping a 4-2 decision to Cornell in the first round of the Florida College Classic on Dec. 28.

But the Wildcats rallied for a 3-2 win over Princeton the next night and followed up with a pair of wins at home against No. 19 Nebraska-Omaha, 6-3 and 5-2, last weekend.

The three straight wins going into last night's Battle for the RiverStone Cup game against Dartmouth at Verizon Wireless Arena bounced the Wildcats up to a tie for No. 14 in the PairWise rankings on Saturday morning. The PairWise simulates the method used by the NCAA to select at-large teams for the 16-team NCAA tournament.

Dartmouth completed the nonconference portion of its schedule on Saturday night.

The Big Green look to get things going in the ECAC with four home games in their next five, starting with tests against Colgate and Cornell on Friday and Saturday. They have some ground to make up at 2-8-0 in the league.

The fun begins now in the college hockey world.

Jason Moy at United States College Hockey Online started his first round of "Bracketology" last week. It's a weekly look at how the field for the NCAA tournament is shaping up and eventually aims to predict what the playoff brackets will be when the field is announced after the league tournaments end on March 22.

The early returns for the Wildcats: the initial Bracketology has them pegged as the No. 4 seed in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., playing No. 1 Ferris State in their first game. No. 3 Northeastern and No. 6 Quinnipiac are penciled in as the other first round game.

Might want to hold off on reserving hotel rooms for just a bit, though.

There's an awful lot of hockey - a dozen games for UNH, for example - to be played before even the Hockey East tournament begins.

The Wildcats play nothing but teams above them and around them in the polls and PairWise rankings for the next month, which makes things particularly volatile. Eight of their next nine games are at the Whittemore Center before they close out the regular season with a game at Boston University and two at Merrimack.

First up, Union comes to Durham for a pair next weekend. The Flying Dutchmen were seventh in the Pairwise on Saturday morning.

UNH has a home and home series with Maine - in Durham on Jan. 24 and in Orono the next night - and follows that with two-game home sets with Notre Dame and then Vermont.

Those four teams could not have been any tighter in the PairWise as of Saturday morning. UNH and Vermont were tied at No. 14, Notre Dame was at No. 16 and Maine at No. 17.

There likely won't be room for all of them, all Hockey East rivals, in the NCAAs.

Fact of the matter is, the PairWise rankings and Bracketology are sure interesting to check, but they don't matter a whole lot at the moment.

Winning does.

"Every win for us is important, so we don't have to rely on winning the Hockey East playoffs to get into the NCAA tournament," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "We've got to win some more games here."

Pile up some wins, climb in the rankings and build a cushion that will get you an at-large invitation to the NCAA tournament so you don't need to win the league tournament and the automatic bid that goes with the title.

Simple enough. Right?

alessels@unionleader.com


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