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February 13. 2014 9:53PM

College Hockey: 1st-round bye now the goal for UNH

DURHAM -- They've put themselves in quite a bind.

The University of New Hampshire hockey team got swept at home by Vermont last weekend and tumbled in the national tournament picture as a result. The Wildcats fell into a tie for the 23rd spot in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used by the NCAA to determine at-large teams for the Division I tournament.

To get into the NCAA playoffs, UNH must at least advance deep into the Hockey East tournament and may have to win the whole thing to grab the automatic bid that goes to the champion.

The immediate challenge is to win enough games — starting with a series against Boston University that opens tonight at 7:10 at the Whittemore Center — to secure a first-round bye and then home ice for the Hockey East quarterfinals.

The top five teams in the league earn byes for the opening round. The top four will have home ice for the quarterfinals.

Teams that finish sixth, seventh and eighth in the standings will host teams that are ninth, 10th and 11th in single-game series to open the playoffs starting March 6.

The Wildcats are tied for fourth place with Maine going into this weekend, but things are mighty tight in that neighborhood.

"It's unbelievable," said UNH coach Dick Umile of the league race. "I don't even want to look at the last weekend and going to Merrimack for two games."

His team is down to its final four regular season games — UNH has next weekend off and closes out with the two games at Merrimack on Feb. 28 and March 1 — and that's part of the problem, too.

Maine has played two games fewer than UNH and so have Providence in sixth place and Vermont in seventh. The Friars are a point behind UNH and Maine, and the Catamounts are two points back.

Tonight's home game against BU and Saturday's rematch at Agganis Arena in Boston should both be emotion-packed affairs.

It's Senior Night at the Whittemore Center where the Wildcats will honor defensemen Eric Knodel and Justin Agosta, forwards Kevin Goumas, Nick Sorkin, Jeff Silengo and Dalton Speelman and goalie Jeff Wyer.

BU, which has struggled big-time this year, is retiring former coach Jack Parker's number on Saturday night. Parker stepped down after last season.

Knodel and Sorkin and their classmates have all had career years, Umile said.

Sorkin had 14 career goals entering this season and was coming off an injury-plagued junior year when he had two goals and 15 assists for 17 points. He has 16 goals and 16 assists so far this year.

"It seems like a couple of weeks ago I was a freshman and playing in my first game and I was so excited about that," Sorkin said. "I've been through a lot of ups and downs, but it's been a great experience and I wouldn't change a thing."

This weekend, the Wildcats need to pick up their defensive play in particular, Umile said.

They will again play without junior defenseman Trevor van Riemdsyk and junior center Grayson Downing.Downing came back from a separated shoulder last Friday against Vermont, but injured it again in the second period and had to leave the game. He may be able to play in the season finale series against Merrimack, Umile said.Van Riemsdyk probably will not be able to play in a first-round game if UNH has to play one on March 6 or 7, Umile said, and is more apt to be ready for a possible quarterfinal series.

UNH is 16-15-1 overall and 8-8-0 in the league. BU is 8-16-4 and 3-8-3.

The Terriers have won only one game — over Vermont, 4-2, on Jan. 24 - since Nov. 30. They are 1-10-3 in that span.

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THE DARTMOUTH men, 4-16-3 overall and 3-12-1 in the ECAC, are at St. Lawrence, 11-14-3 and 5-8-3, on Friday and at Clarkson, 17-11-2 and 10-6-2, on Saturday ... The St. Anselm men, 9-9-4, have won their last three games and are down to three games left in the regular season. They are at Southern Maine on Friday at 7, at the University of New England in Biddeford, Maine, on Saturday at 4 and at Stonehill on Tuesday night ... New England College, 14-7-1, is at the University of New England on Friday night and at Southern Maine on Saturday at 4 ...

Southern New Hampshire, 13-8-1, had its Thursday night game at Assumption postponed to Sunday at 4:35 p.m. The Penmen finish out the season on Wednesday at Franklin Pierce ... Plymouth State, 9-10-2, was scheduled to play on Thursday night at UMass-Dartmouth. That game was postponed to Tuesday. The Panthers are at Worcester State on Thursday.

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THE St. Anselm women, 20-3-0 and on a five-game winning streak, close out the regular season with games at Southern Maine on Saturday at 4 and Plymouth State on Sunday at 2. ... The UNH women, 9-18-2 overall and 4-11-2 in Hockey East, play a home series against Vermont on Saturday and Sunday with 2 p.m. starts each day ... The Dartmouth women, 7-16-1 overall and 6-11-1 in the ECAC, are at St. Lawrence on Friday and at Clarkson on Saturday.

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