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January 23. 2014 10:16PM

Allen Lessels' College Hockey: A Maine focus for Wildcats

DURHAM -- The level of urgency spikes up a bit for the University of New Hampshire hockey team in a two-game set against No. 20 Maine this weekend.

The Wildcats are coming off a tough series in which they dropped a pair of 3-1 games to Union, which moved up to No. 4 in the country with the wins. Worse yet, UNH lost two of its key performers for an extended period of time when junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk went down with a broken ankle and junior center Grayson Downing suffered a sprained shoulder.

Coach Dick Umile said van Riemsdyk, a first-team All-American last season and playing even better this year, will likely be out six weeks. Downing could be gone for three to four weeks.

Now comes Maine, starting with the annual Whiteout the Whit game at home on tonight at 7:30, followed by a game in Orono on Saturday at 7.

"This is crunch time, especially how the past weekend went and not being able to get a win," said UNH goalie Casey DeSmith, a junior from Rochester. "It stresses the importance of weekends like Maine and Notre Dame that are really huge for us coming up."

After Maine this weekend, Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame will be at the Whittemore Center for games on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1 and Vermont is due in for two more on Feb. 7 and 8.

UNH is competing with all three teams for position nationally with an eye on the NCAA tournament as well as for home ice in the Hockey East tournament.

The Wildcats are 13-12-1 overall and 5-5-0 in Hockey East and have 10 games left, all of them league contests.

They are in sixth place in Hockey East going into the weekend and are a point behind fifth-place UMass-Lowell and two behind fourth-place Maine.

Maine is 11-8-3 overall and 5-3-2 in the league.

The top five teams in Hockey East earn a bye for the first round of the tournament and the top four get home ice for the quarterfinals.

The teams that rank No. 6 through No. 11 will square off in a one-game series in the first round.

"Single elimination," said UNH coach Dick Umile. "You prefer not to be in that. You can run into a hot goalie, home ice."

Teams at Nos. 6-8 will host the first-round games and winners move on to best-of-three quarterfinals hosted by the top four teams.

Senior defenseman and captain Eric Knodel helped the team overcome the loss of van Riemsdyk on Saturday night and Umile is looking for him and others to do it again.

"Eric Knodel's had a fabulous season and I thought on Saturday night that he really stepped it up," Umile said. "He was great."

Van Riemsdyk leads Hockey East defensemen in scoring with four goals and 19 assists for 23 points and will be difficult, at best, to replace.

"He might be the best in the country," Umile said. "The country, let alone Hockey East. He does a lot."

- - - - - - - -

DARTMOUTH COLLEGE will look for a little revenge on Friday night in Troy, N.Y., against Rensselaer.

The Big Green are 3-13-3 overall and are 2-9-1 in the ECAC. They lost at home to RPI, 7-1, on Nov. 2. RPI is 8-10-4 and 3-5-3.

Sophomore James Kruger made 23 saves in his second career start to lead Dartmouth to a 1-1 tie with No. 12-ranked Cornell on Saturday night.

- - - - - -

PLYMOUTH STATE sophomore goalie Gordon Ceasar, who transferred in from Utica and began playing at the start of the second semester, made 25 saves for a 3-0 shutout of UMass-Dartmouth on Saturday. Ceasar has allowed 12 goals in his six games and has a save percentage of .938 to go with his 3-3-0 record.

The Panthers, 7-9-0, play Worcester State at home on Saturday at 6 p.m.

- - - - - - -

THE ST. ANSELM MEN, 5-7-3, are at Skidmore, 6-7-5, on Friday night and play at Castleton State, 9-8-1, on Saturday at 4 p.m. ... The St. Anselm women, 14-2-0, have a couple of home games with St. Michael's, 1-12-2, on Friday night at 7 followed by a showdown with Norwich, 12-3-0, on Saturday at 3 p.m. ... The New England College men, 11-5-1, are at Castleton on Friday night and at Skidmore on Saturday. ... The UNH women, 9-12-2 overall and 4-5-2 in Hockey East, are at league-leading Boston College on Saturday at 2 p.m. and play the Eagles at home on Sunday, also at 2. BC is 11-1-1 in the league ... The Dartmouth women, 9-12-2 overall and 4-5-2 in the ECAC, play Rensselaer at home on Friday night at 7 and have Union in on Saturday at 4.

alessels@unionleader.com


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