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January 30. 2014 11:42PM

Allen Lessels on College Hockey: For UNH, time is now

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team is pretty much down to its last couple of weekends to make a serious move in the national picture.

The Wildcats have eight games left in the regular season. The first four — a pair at home this weekend against Hockey East newcomer Notre Dame and two more at home next weekend against Vermont — are against teams that are battling for playoff position along with UNH.

The final four are against Boston University and Merrimack, who are both well below .500 for the season. It will be important to get wins in those games for the Hockey East standings, but they won’t be worth much in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used by the NCAA to select at-large teams for the 16-team Division I tournament.

It’s about picking up momentum at this point, said senior defenseman and captain Eric Knodel.

“We can’t take many more losses,” he said. “It’s more getting on a roll, getting two wins to string together. It’s more of a confidence booster that the next week you can do the same thing, no matter who it is. At the end of the year you want to be able to win games, win tight games and have the confidence on your side. From a confidence standpoint, winning two games this weekend would be great for us.”

Taking a couple from Notre Dame — in games Friday night at 7:30 and Saturday afternoon at 4 — would be great in the rankings and league standings as well.

Notre Dame and Vermont are close behind the Wildcats in the Hockey East standings and are a bit ahead of them in the PairWise.

UNH is 14-13-1 overall and at 6-6-0 is in sixth place in Hockey East, three points out of third.

Notre Dame is 13-9-3 overall and at 3-6-0 in the league is in eighth, three points behind the Wildcats. Vermont is in between the two, two points behind UNH.

The PairWise rankings flip the numbers with Notre Dame at No. 12, Vermont at No. 19 and UNH tied at No. 22.

The goals are to climb as high as possible in the PairWise rankings so a team does not have to win the league tournament to get into the national tournament, but rather stays in the running to earn an at-large berth.

Finishing in the top four is the target in the league. The top five teams receive first-round byes and the top four have home ice for the quarterfinals.

This will be the first time UNH and Notre Dame have played in the regular season since 1999. The Wildcats knocked off the fighting Irish, 2-1, that year at the Whittemore Center.

Notre Dame has beaten UNH twice in the NCAA tournament in the last two games between the teams. The Fighting Irish eliminated the Wildcats from the playoffs with a 2-1 win at the Verizon Wireless Arena in the Northeast Regional finals in 2011 and took the Wildcats out, 7-3, in a West Regional semifinal in 2008 in Colorado Springs.

The Fighting Irish are coming in off a split. They lost to Northeastern, 4-0, on Friday night at home and then won, 3-0, on Saturday.

Senior goalie Steve Summerhays stopped eight of the 12 shots he saw on Friday before he was replaced late in the second period. He came back with a 36-save shutout on Saturday.

UNH coach Dick Umile said he is likely to break up what has been his top line for most of two months and move senior Nick Sorkin from left wing to center.

The loss of a couple of centers, first, Grayson Downing with a shoulder injury and then Kyle Smith last weekend to a concussion, may make the moves necessary.

Saturday is the sixth annual Operation Hat Trick game, which recognizes the program started by the UNH athletics department that generates support, awareness and funding for the recovery of America’s wounded warriors.

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DARTMOUTH, 3-14-3 overall and 2-10-1 in the ECAC, faces No. 3-ranked Quinnipiac, 18-4-5 and 8-2-3, at home today at 7 p.m. and Princeton, 4-15-0 and 3-9-0, on Saturday at 7.

Quinnipiac is a point behind first-place Union and Princeton is one point in front of Dartmouth, which is in 12th place.

Dartmouth’s leading scorer, Eric Neiley, is expected back in the lineup on Saturday. He will sit out tonight’s game as the second game of a two-game suspension he received after picking up charging and misconduct penalties after the team’s Jan. 18 game against Cornell ended.

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THE St. Anselm men, 6-8-4, play home games against St. Michael’s, 3-14-1, tonight at 7 and Norwich, 10-1-1, on Saturday at 3 ... The Hawk women, 15-3-0, are at Manhattanville on Friday at 3:30 and at Nichols on Saturday at 4:40 ...

The Southern New Hampshire men, 12-6-1, play Assumption at home on Saturday at 7:30 and are at St. Anselm on Tuesday at 7 ...

The Plymouth State men, 7-10-0 going into Thursday night’s game at Framingham State, are at Westfield State on Saturday ...

The UNH women, 9-14-2 overall and 4-7-2 in Hockey East, are at Maine, 3-16-5 and 1-10-3, for games on Saturday and Sunday at 3. . . . The New England College men, 12-6-1, play Norwich at home tonight at 7 and St. Michael’s on Saturday at 4.

alessels@unionleader.com


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