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March 02. 2014 11:11PM

UNH Notebook: Home ice, sweet home ice for 'Cats

NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. -- WHAT a weekend.

Going into a regular season-ending series at Merrimack, the University of New Hampshire hockey team appeared to have a decent shot of securing a bye for the first round of the Hockey East playoffs and home ice for the quarterfinals.

The Wildcats beat Merrimack, 5-2, on Saturday night and accomplished that goal. They earned the No. 4 seed for the league tournament and will play host to No. 5 Northeastern in the best-of-three quarterfinals beginning on March 14.

But what a long, strange trip it was to home ice.

"It was wild, for sure, after a Friday night loss and then that first period on Saturday night," said UNH coach Dick Umile on Sunday.

First, the Wildcats dropped that 4-2 decision to Merrimack on Friday night, squandering a chance to move up in the standings when Providence College beat Maine and Boston University upset Northeastern.

The came Saturday and the Wildcats were outshot 20-5 and trailed 1-0 after the first period.

The Warriors, in part taking advantage of power plays, kept pouring on the shots in the second period and when the game hit the halfway point, Merrimack still had its 1-0 lead and now owned a 33-7 advantage in shots.

And then UNH started back. Senior Nick Sorkin made a diving play to keep the puck alive in the Merrimack end and get it to Kevin Goumas behind the net on a UNH power play. Goumas passed out front to sophomore Brett Pesce, who was moving in and drilled a shot into the net to tie it, 1-1.

Seven seconds later, senior left wing Dalton Speelman skated down the left wing and blasted another shot home.

Just like that, UNH had turned the game and its fortunes around.

Umile had changed the Wildcat forecheck to be less aggressive and give Merrimack fewer opportunities and UNH began to take control.

"We slowed it down some and the guys started to get in a flow with what we were doing," Umile said.

Sorkin scored in the last minute of the period for 3-1 and after Merrimack got that one back in the third, Goumas answered to make it a two-goal game again and soon UNH closed things out.

As it turned out, UNH got another huge assist from Boston University, which came from behind to again knock off Northeastern, 4-2, on Saturday and complete a weekend sweep.

That opened the way for UNH to finish in a tie for fourth place with Northeastern. The Wildcats get the No. 4 seed in a tiebreaker because they swept their two games from the Huskies in November.Casey DeSmith, a junior goalie from Rochester, kept the Wildcats in the game early especially on Saturday and finished with 49 saves.

Goumas and Sorkin had huge nights, too. Sorkin added an empty-net goal for his second of the night and also had the assist.

Goumas had the goal and three assists. The last assist came on Sorkin's empty netter and was the 100th of his career.

He became the first Wildcat to hit the 100-assist mark since Darren Haydar did it in 2002. He now has 39 goals and 100 assists for 139 points in 141 career games and is at 14-31-45 for this year.

"The kid's a very smart hockey player," Umile said. "He touches the puck a lot and makes a lot of plays."

UNH is 19-16-1 overall and was 11-9-0 in Hockey East. The Wildcats need to keep winning to have a chance to qualify for the NCAA tournament.

Northeastern is 18-12-4 and was 10-8-2 in Hockey East.(Hockey East tourney pairings, Scoreboard, Page B8.)


PROGRESS is apparently being made toward a $25 million athletic facility that will replace Cowell Stadium and be a new home to the UNH football team.

School president Mark Huddleston announced at the team's annual banquet on Sunday that administrators had, "blown through" the $5 million fundraising goal.

UNH announced in late January that it planned to build the new facility.

At the time, school officials said the project would move forward only after they had raised $5 million in donations. The university said it will seek internal borrowing to cover the rest of the cost of the facility.

UNH had previously announced that some stadium renovations, including the addition of lights that would allow it to play late afternoon and night games, will be made in time for the 2014 season.

Officials have said they intend to have the new stadium — which is being called West Stadium and features the home stands on the opposite side of the field from where they are now located — completed and in use for at least part of the 2015 season.

The team will be able to play games in the stadium while it is being built.


THE women's basketball team plays Vermont in an America East tournament quarterfinal game on Friday at Albany. No. 3 seed New Hampshire and No. 6 Vermont play at 2 p.m.

The women's tournament is being played at Albany from Friday to Monday.

The league men's tournament will have its quarterfinals and semifinals at Albany on Saturday and Sunday. The men's championship game is at the home of the highest seed remaining on Saturday, March 15.

The UNH women lost their season finale at home to Maine, 66-62, on Saturday and have lost their last two games.

The Wildcats beat Vermont twice during the regular season: 60-45, at home on Jan. 20 and 71-50 in Burlington on Feb. 19.

UNH is 18-11 overall and 12-4 mark in America East and Vermont is 7-22 and 4-12.

The winner of the UNH-Vermont game advances to a Sunday semifinal to play the winner of a game between No. 2 seed Stony Brook and No. 7 UMBC. Stony Brook snapped No. 1 Albany's 38-game winning streak against league competition on Saturday.


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