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February 27. 2014 10:12PM

Allen Lessels on College Hockey: Wildcats already in playoff mode

DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team plays two games at Merrimack College this weekend and the goal is to earn a couple of home games in two weeks and jumpstart a long postseason run.

This weekend wraps up the Hockey East regular season and the Wildcats are vying to move up to a top-four spot in the league standings.

The top four teams get a bye next weekend and then home ice for the league tournament quarterfinals from March 14-16. The No. 5 team gets next weekend off, too, but then has to go on the road to play No. 4 on the road in the quarters.

“We’re in playoff mode hockey right now,” said senior captain and defenseman Eric Knodel. “We want to get out on the ice and get after it. Everyone thinks we can keep playing and can go places with this team. Everyone wants to get there. We definitely think we have a lot more in the tank.”

It’s time, Knodel said.

“We’ve seen it multiple times over the last couple of years,” he said.

Your team gets hot at the right time and you can go places. This will be a good weekend for us to get our momentum going, play a good team in their place and with a good atmosphere and take us right into the playoffs and go from there.”

The Wildcats, 18-15-1 overall and 10-8-0 in Hockey East are tied for fifth place with Providence going into the weekend. They may need a little help from the Friars to land a top-four spot.

If the Wildcats can win their two games against Merrimack, and Providence can take a least one point in its series at Maine, UNH will slip into at least the fourth spot. If the Wildcats slip to the sixth or seventh spot, they will face a one-game playoff game at home next weekend.Dick Umile’s team must go deep into the Hockey East playoffs, and may have to win the league tournament, to make the NCAA tournament.

Merrimack is having a tough year at 7-20-3 overall and 2-14-2 in Hockey East but the Warriors always play UNH tough, especially at home in their tight and confined Lawler Rink in North Andover, Mass.

“They’re a very dangerous team and down there, they’re even more dangerous,” Umile said. “How we handle the puck will be very important. Things happen fast in that arena.”

UNH was off last weekend. The weekend before the Wildcats beat Boston University, 4-3 at home on Friday and 3-1, on Monday in Boston in a game delayed a couple of days by a snowstorm.

Umile was pleased with how the team played, especially on defense, in the Monday game.

Junior center Grayson Downing, who has been out with a shoulder injury, is expected to play.

Junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who broke his ankle in a game against Union on Jan. 18, is still a ways from playing, Umile said. The Wildcats are also missing sophomore forward Collin MacDonald, who broke the femur in his right leg during practice on Feb. 16.

- - - - - -  -

THE Dartmouth men have a four-game unbeaten streak going into the last two games of the regular season at Cornell on Friday and at Colgate on Saturday.

The Big Green are tied for 10th place in the ECAC with Harvard, two points behind St. Lawrence in ninth and three behind Brown in eighth.

Dartmouth is 6-12-2 in the league. Cornell is 10-6-4 and Colgate is 12-5-3.

Junior Tyler Sikura, in his first game back from a knee injury that has kept him out since late December, scored 51 seconds into overtime to give Dartmouth a 2-1 win over Brown last Friday.

 - - - - - -  --

The Dartmouth women are at Clarkson for a best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series on Friday and Saturday, Sunday if necessary.

Dartmouth is the No. 8 seed in the league at 8-13-1 and Clarkson is No. 1 at 16-2-4.

- - - - - -  -

The UNH women, the No. 8 seed in Hockey East with a 4-15-2 record, play a single game quarterfinal playoff against No. 1 Boston College, 18-2-1, today.Katie King Crowley, the former softball and hockey star from Salem High School and Brown University and an Olympic hockey gold medalist, is in her seventh season as head coach at BC.

alessels@unionleader.com


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