Allen Lessels' College Hockey: For UNH, it's win, and there's still a chance for NCAAs
DURHAM -- The University of New Hampshire hockey team is down to its last two hockey games of the season. Perhaps.
The goal of the Wildcats, to be sure, is to play a bunch more hockey games before they pack up their gear for another season and the rink crew at the Whittemore Center melts the ice in the arena.
To keep playing, UNH needs to win some more games.
The Wildcats, the No. 4 seeds in the Hockey East tournament, play No. 5 Northeastern in a best-of-three quarterfinal series starting tonight at 7 at the Whittemore Center. The teams meet again on Saturday at 7 p.m. and, if necessary, on Sunday at 4:30 p.m.
Saturday’s game will be telecast on WBIN. Tickets are available for all games.
Playing at home, said senior forward Kevin Goumas, can only help.
“The home ice plays a big factor in this,” he said. “On the road, it’s their rink, their atmosphere and it’s tough to beat a team twice on the road. Playing at home can definitely help and make a difference.”
UNH and Northeastern tied for fourth place in the league during the regular season. The Wildcats got the nod for the fourth seed and home ice because they swept the regular-season series against the Huskies.
The four winners of this weekend’s quarterfinal series meet next week at the TD Garden in Boston for the Hockey East championship round. The other quarterfinal matchups have No. 8 Notre Dame at No. 1 Boston College, No. 7 Vermont at UMass-Lowell and No. 6 Maine at No. 3 Providence.
Home ice has helped each season Goumas has spent with the Wildcats.
His freshman year, UNH beat Vermont in a couple of home games in the quarterfinals and advanced to the semifinals in Boston.
Two years ago, the Wildcats lost a tight series in three games at Boston University and last year they fell at Providence, also in three games.
Last year, UNH had done enough overall in the season to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite being ousted in the quarterfinals.
That’s not the case this season.
The Wildcats are on the outside looking in at playoff scenarios at this point and need to get to Boston and probably need to win at least a semifinal game there to have even a shot at the NCAAs.
The only way to ensure an NCAA bid is to win the Hockey East tournament.
Northeastern needs to get to Boston, too.
UNH is 19-16-1 overall and is No. 20 in the PairWise rankings that mimic the system used by the NCAA to select at-large teams for the tournament.
Northeastern is 18-12-4 and tied at No. 14 in the PairWise.
Sixteen teams make the NCAAs.
The Wildcats will again be without junior defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, who broke his ankle in a game against Union on Jan. 18. Van Riemsdyk has not begun skating and UNH coach Dick Umile said no date has been set for his return.
Senior forward Jeff Silengo has had the flu and Umile said he is questionable for this weekend.
Goumas will again center for senior Nick Sorkin and junior Matt Willows. The three were reunited as a unit late in the Friday night game during UNH’s last series at Merrimack.
They played together in Saturday’s 5-2 win over Merrimack that helped seal the No. 4 seed. Sorkin had two goals and an assist and Goumas a goal and three assists in that game. Goumas has at least a point in each of UNH’s last nine games and 4-13-17 totals in that stretch.
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THE Dartmouth men are also looking to extend their season and they have to do it on the road.
The Big Green were the No. 10 seed in the ECAC tournament and went to Troy, N.Y., and rallied big-time to upset No. 7 Rensselaer last weekend.
Now they face No. 1 Union in Schenectady, N.Y., in a best-of-three set starting tonight.
Dartmouth is 10-18-4 overall.
Union is not only ranked No. 3 in the country at 24-6-4, but the Dutchmen are on a roll. They are 8-0-1 in their last nine games and have won three of their last four by shutout.
Junior Colin Stevens has two of the shutouts, 5-0 over Clarkson and 2-0 over Yale. He has a .927 save percentage and 2.02 goals-against average with five shutouts to go with a 20-4-2 record.
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GOALIE Lauren Slebodnick — a senior out of Manchester and Cushing Academy in Ashburnham, Mass. — and her Cornell University teammates play Mercyhurst at home on Saturday at 3 p.m. in an NCAA quarterfinal game.
The winner advances to the Frozen Four hosted by Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn., on March 21 and 23.
Slebodnik made 26 saves to beat Clarkson, 1-0, in the ECAC championship game last weekend. It was her first shutout of the season.